Tuesday, May 25, 2010

John C. Campbell Folk School, 2010

If you have never gone to the John C. Campbell Folk School then go sign up for a class today! You will not be disappointed. This was my fourth time to the folk school and I am already looking forward to next year. My class was taught by JoAnn and Steve Catsos, black ash masters. JoAnn and Steve make all of their own molds, handles, rims and splints, but this time we got our turn to make our own materials (at least partially) ourselves.
This one one of the many beautiful views I had on my drive through Tennessee
From St. Louis you end up drive along the Ocoee river, which in the warm month is flowing with rapids. The road is a bit winding, but as long as it is light out and not icy it is a fun drive.
I usually choose the dorm room option as it is the most economical and it saves more money to buy things! It is also nice as you get a chance to meet some of the many other like minded crafts people. There are all levels of accommodations at the Folk School, from the rustic (like the dorm room above in the Keith House) to the brand new posh single and double rooms.
These are some of the basic tools we used to process the black ash log into splints for weaving.
Steve gets us started by splitting the log in half with wedges. The log is then halved again into quarters, then split into billets which we then set to work on with the draw knife and the mallets.
Since the log was just cut a week or so before class the sap was still rising so JoAnn and Steve were able to peel the bark off in one big sheet. We were then able to play around and fold it into buckets to be stitched with elm bark. I had never tried anything like that before and it was so cool. I thought it was wild to just be able to bend the bark like it was a big sheet of paper, but the stitching with elm bark was even better. The elm was like working with leather lacing, it was so strong and flexible I couldn't believe it.
After a quick pounding demonstration, which Steve made look much easier than it was, he demonstrated splitting the single growth ring in half to reveal the beautiful satin surface. Here Steve is using a splint chute to help with the splitting.
Here is my billet all ready for me to start pounding, but before I could do that I had to clean up the edges a bit on the shaving horse with a draw knife.
And so the pounding begins and continues and continues. While it did take hundreds of hits it was so rewarding as the rings began to separate and fortunately every layer was that much easier to peel apart.
Here is my pile of splints. They were thick enough I could have easily split them to satin and maybe even a few to double satin, but for the basket I was making I needed extra heavy splints so I left them as they were.
The scraping actually was more work than the pounding as you had to measure the thickness along the length of the splint with a micrometer to make sure it was consistent from end to end and was consistent from piece to piece.
After the splints were scraped to the desirable thickness it was time to cut them into weavers and uprights. Here Steve demonstrates using a bank of knives to cut multiple weavers from a single length of splint.
The grounds of the Folk School are so picturesque. In a small tree right next to the front porch of the cafeteria was a next of baby robins. We checked on them everyday at every meal, you just couldn't help it.
After all the prep work the actual weaving of the basket went pretty quickly. I brought my own mold so made the handle and rims ahead of time. This was a "bump bottom" puzzle mold that I have had for a while, but had never woven on. It is about 10" in diameter and the largest in a nesting set of 4.
Here is the happy class with our completed baskets. Most people were able to finish at least a couple baskets during the week and went home with a nice stash of splint.
One of the cool things they do at the Folk School is to have a show on the last day so can see all the work that has been done in the various classes. These are the three baskets and the bark "bucket" I made. Normally they give you little slips of paper to write your name on, but Steve thought those were too pedestrian so he made us each a brown ash tag in a white ash hold. Now how cute is that?
Linda and her Mt. Lebanon carrier, lidded knife and mini black ash bark bucket.
Joanne and her Mt. Lebanon carrier and big black ash bark bucket.
This is what the inside of my basket looks like. It has a double bottom, kicked up in the middle. You can't see it in the photo, but there is the traditional Bushwhacker "knot" in the bottom.
Here are some of the incredibly intricate turnings that were done in the wood turning class. Yes, those are real sea urchins used to make the Christmas tree ornaments.
These chairs were made in the wood working class in the studio next to ours. The one in the center was the instructor's sample. The students in the class did and incredible job which they should be very proud of.
If this final image doesn't convince you of the splendor of the John C. Campbell Folk School then nothing will. Can you just imagine waking up to that every morning? At least I got to do it for a week.


  1. Nice job! It makes me want to go back again very soon. It WAS a fabulous week, with enthusiastic students. Steve and I really enjoyed teaching the entire process. Thanks for being part of it. Mark your calendar for next year: April 3-8, 2011.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. It looks like you had a great time.

  3. Oh thanks Tony for posting the series of pictures of your class with Joann and Steve Catsos at the Campbell Folk School. It was great seeing the various steps taken to create the lovely baskets. And nice for me to see the photos of the school and surrounding area. I was there last in 2001 teaching a wicker restoration class and thoroughly enjoyed the week-long immersion experience in the folk school, too.