It’s a pleasant two-hour drive down through the Nantahala Forest to the southwest tip of North Carolina, to Brasstown, home of the JC Campbell Folk School. We were there over a year ago and liked the experience, so this time we took a weekend course followed by a week long one. It’s a rustic, almost off-the-grid experience. The food is all fresh (grown there or nearby) and classes run all day and often into the evenings. We build/create things by hand under the guidance of skilled instructors. Most of the students (not all) are retired folks. One of my NCS cartoonist pals, Jack Cassady, lives and teaches down there. He and his lovely spouse, Brenda, took us out to a local eatery in Murphy. Many smiles.
I learned how to carve a wood spirit with a chisel – the face of an old bearded man in a large piece of butternut wood. Facial anatomy was stressed so that was familiar. Sharpening the chisels and gouges and using them to remove all the wood that wasn’t the face was similar to wood carving but on a larger scale. Facial measurements and angles, planning and learning which tool to use kept us busy over a full two days.”Ta Dah!”
The woodworking class project was building a tri-legged table with a top that can fold up vertically. The design is centuries old. (I brought along my grandmother’s similar old table in hopes of learning how to fix and restore it as a future project.
I’m a novice in a woodworking shop but an eager learner. It seemed like a basic-to-moderately difficult project. Our very well equipped studio had lathes, sanders, band and circular saws, drill presses, routers, and every sort of hand tool. We used them all. The instructors: Dan and John had planned our week in great detail, bringing enormous amounts of materials and tools.
Veneering and marquetry (artistic inlaid veneer patterns) were a big part of the project. Oy! John had created the palm-sized marquetry inserts for the centers of our veneered tabletops. We taped and turned and fitted and glued and pressed and cleaned and sanded the tabletop. Veneer is 1/40th of an inch thick, so don’t sand too long. The attachment base, spindle and legs were fashioned from solid walnut. The spirit of my recently departed friend, Murray, was standing behind me as I shaped the curves of the table shaft on the lathe. During the five days my classmates and I would help each other when we were at a pause in our projects. That would never happen in a painting or carving class. Nice. It all came together on the last day for my second “Ta Dah!”
Sam had two interesting courses as well. It was very nice to sit down for a half an hour at the end of our days and share what we had learned.
I thought a lot about the process of teaching and learning a new skill. Most of my life I’ve given presentations designed to inform and entertain. In the eight years, I’ve started teaching skills – basic drawing and cartooning. This is very different. I’ve been very impressed by Josh Kaufman’s 20-hour approach to learning new skills. link Often teaching basics is not particularly engaging. Simple exercises can be too simple. So I plan to try more challenging projects and to walk beside the students to help ensure they have a product of which they can be proud. We’ll see. Meanwhile, my instructors paid the price.