All about the challenges of Midlife Finance

Go Back To School

Your kids (and grandkids) shouldn’t be the only ones thinking about furthering their education.

If you’ve been looking for an unusual way to spend a vacation, why not go somewhere new — and learn something new while you’re doing it?

A good place to start is that of the John C. Campbell Folk School — a big name for an informal nonprofit tucked away in the rural mountains of North Carolina, not far from the Georgia border. I just spent a week teaching at this well-respected school. It doesn’t look like much, but this higgledy piggledy collection of old cabins, wood-paneled houses and modern studios actually hosts more than 800 classes on a wide variety of old-time and folk art skills, year-round. (Well, except for the weeks before and after Christmas.) Our classes were for adults only, but the week before, 300 middle-schoolers used the school as a week of camp. Family events are available, too.

    The school was founded in 1925 by Olive Campbell, who used her husband John’s estate to start a folk art school based on the Danish idea of the  Folkehøjskole (folk high school) — a non-competitive atmosphere where teachers and students worked together to learn more about their chosen subject.

 What makes this place so unusual is the wide range of classes available in many different areas, and how often they cover old-time skills and techniques that are fast disappearing from our general knowledge. Classes range from blacksmithing to box-making, woodturning (making bowls and such) to cooking. The fiber arts are also well-represented, including tapestries, knitting, spinning, weaving and (this writer’s favorite) quilting. You don’t have to be an expert — many of the students have only tried their given subject once, if that. In fact, 9 out of 10 members of last week’s fiddling class had never played the violin at all!

    During day, it’s class. At night, they have demos, concerts, and, if you’re lucky, contradancing.

(Yes, some people go back to the studio to work, too.)

Ever wanted to make your own dishes? There’s a well-appointed pottery studio included. You can not only make basic plates and bowls, but experiment with specialty glazes and kiln techniques.

Machines are ready for woodworkers, as well — you only have to bring yourself. The raw materials are even provided. (Sweat and willing hands, of course, are your contribution.)

Add good food and a chance to talk with others who share your interests, and this can be a very rewarding week, indeed. If you don’t feel you can take that much time off, the school also offers weekend classes and one-day visits.

Other schools and programs are available, including the Whatcom Folk School (Bellingham, WA), the Folk School at KDHX (St. Louis, MO). I heard especially good things about the Folk School of Chattanooga (Tennessee) and the Ironwood Folk School (New York).  The Road Scholar programs hosted by Elderhostel are also widely respected.

     None of these programs are expensive to attend. They’ll let you learn more about a style or field you may have been curious about, in a way that lets you do as little or as much as you like. Warning, though: that little taste may open up a whole new world of opportunities — and change your life.

(All photos courtesy of the John C. Campbell Folk School — thank you.)

One Response to Go Back To School

  1. This is basically what I want to do in early retirement. Why not start earlier, though, right?

    I’ve found that, like many people, I take pleasure in seeing something I have crafted myself. A bench, a ring, a sword, etc. I’d like to learn how to blacksmith, or concrete-smith, and even some useful plumbing. Along with many other things.

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