Jan Davidson doesn’t have to exaggerate — although he does wax poetic — when he talks about the place where he works, the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. And when his staff puts together an annual catalog inviting people to come and learn, the photographs are real. No need to gild the lily.
This folk school — sandwiched between Murphy and Hayesville in the Smoky Mountains — is a parcel of paradise, a place where you can smell bread baking and wood fires burning and chocolate cooling. You can hear lathes turning and blacksmiths hammering and voices singing. The school teaches a version of just about everything — from autoharp to weaving a bulrush hat.
“Brasstown has always had a magic about it,” says Davidson, school director.
He should know. He’s been at the school for 20 years, and he has seen “people start careers and find soul-mates, realize life-long dreams and check off bucket-list items, every week of the year.”
In the meantime, he says, they relieve stress, unleash creativity and achieve flow.
The “flow” part stumped me, so I asked. Well, Davidson says, “it happens to people when they’re so engrossed in something, they forget everything else. We all do this … sometimes. People working on a craft, especially in a group — it takes hold of them. It’s one of the highest states of bliss that a human can reach.”
A few minutes of flow, he says, can be more restorative than a good night’s sleep.
This dispenser of flow, the folk school, is big on tradition and history. But, most of all, Davidson says, it’s big on things that are human.
“The individual expression and social interaction that are encouraged through music, crafts, nature studies, gardening, cooking, and dance are still meaningful to people today, regardless of where they live,” he writes in the 2013 course catalog.
So people from all over the nation sign up for a week or a weekend, and they come to immerse themselves in their work, surrounded by the most serene scenery in the South.
It’s certainly not their regular life. It’s more like what people look for in a vacation, Davidson says, but it’s even more than that. People take vacations often to kick back and be lazy. At the folk school, people are learning; they’re concentrating on a different kind of work, something that’s challenging, but also rewarding.
I hope to sign up in 2013, Jan. For 20 years or more, I’ve been promising myself a week or a weekend at the folk school. I have a guitar my wife gave me that’s hardly been touched; I have two lathes that are gathering dust but no sawdust; if nothing else, I could learn to make truffles. “If you want to be universally loved and admired,” the director says, “become a chocolate-maker.”
It’s comforting to know that a school like this is still thriving, keeping alive a tradition that started 87 years ago. We all need comfort in this uncomfortable world. And a little flow would make it even better.
— Hudgins, a former community newspaper editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.