Craft Today:
John C. Campbell Folk School

Folk Dancing
Mill House was one of the earliest buildings
constructed on the Folk School campus

The Folk School’s motto, “I sing behind the plow,” reflects founder Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler’s desire for individuals to experience joy in their daily lives. The school’s goal is to provide each student with a hands-on opportunity in the study of craft and to foster a supportive and non-competitive environment with a focus on fun and creative learning. Folk School students will often mention the “Folk School spirit” when describing their experience at the Folk School. “The Folk School spirit never falters—I don’t know how you do it,” comments Alice Ahlers during a course in 2007. Alice has taken over 100 classes. Others often remark that they leave with a sense of renewal, meet new friends, and find a home away from home.

Over 6,000 adult students from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia come to John C. Campbell Folk School each year for weeklong and weekend courses in craft, music, dance, cooking, nature studies, photography, and writing. Students stay in housing on the school’s 300-acre campus and come together for family-style meals three times a day in the Olive Dame Campbell Dining Hall. Each day begins with “Morning Song”—early morning music and storytelling. Nature walks, tours of local artisans’ studios, evening music, and dance programs are also part of each week’s schedule.

Bobby Hansson, the “Tin Man,” plays one of his handmade instruments
Bobby Hansson, the “Tin Man,”
plays one of his handmade instruments

The Folk School’s catalog is published biannually and lists an extensive assortment of classes. Most classes are geared for the beginner. The school’s website includes class information and online registration. Classes are offered in the following media:

Basketry • Beads • Blacksmithing • Book Arts • Broom Making • Calligraphy • Clay • Cooking • Dance • Dolls, Bears, and Figurative Sculpture • Drawing • Dyeing • Enameling • Felt Making • Gardening • Genealogy • Glass • Jewelry • Kaleidoscopes • Knitting • Lace • Leather • Marbling • Metalwork • Mixed Media • Music • Nature Studies • Needlework • Painting • Paper Art • Photography • Printmaking • Quilting • Rugs • Soap Making • Spinning • Stone, Sculpture, and Mosaics • Storytelling • Surface Design • Weaving • Woodcarving • Woodturning • Woodworking • Writing
Studios on the Folk School campus are linked by walking paths
Studios on the Folk School
campus are linked by
walking paths

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Folk School’s campus includes seventeen art studios. Student housing consists of eleven buildings and a campground, offering a variety of accommodations. Many of the buildings in use today were built during the early years of the school. The History Center and Fain Archives contain several hundred photographs, including a permanent collection of 200 photographs by photographer Doris Ulmann; craft examples; personal items of the school’s founders; 1930–1940 film footage; and oral histories. The Craft Shop is a founding member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild and a nationally recognized gallery. Over 300 regional and national artists are represented. Woodcarvings by the Brasstown Carvers—cats, geese, owls and crèche sets— are still being produced and offered for sale. Five miles of walking trails include Rivercane Walk, a creek-side trail with art honoring the Cherokee heritage of the Appalachian area. Over 100 tree species and 120 species of birds have been observed and recorded. An organic vegetable and herb garden is maintained by staff and provides food many months out of the year.

Broom-maker Carton Tuttle is among the many artisans that demonstrate at the Fall Festival

Broom-maker Carton Tuttle
is among the many artisans
that demonstrate at the Fall Festival

The Folk School opens its doors to over 100,000 visitors annually. Friday night concerts and community contra dances feature musicians playing traditional old time, bluegrass, and country music. During the first full weekend in October, the Fall Festival draws over 15,000 visitors from the southeastern United States. Many individuals and groups come to the school for day trips to visit the studios, the History Center and Craft Shop. The Folk School is a jumping-off point for visitors looking to explore the most western parts of North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and North Georgia.

In 2007 the John C. Campbell Folk School was named one of “100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life” by National Geographic magazine and named “Best of the Road,” in the Rand McNally Atlas in 2005. It received an Award of Distinction from the American Craft Council in 2000 and the Governor‘s Business Award in the Arts and Humanities in 1997. In 2006 a one-hour public television documentary—Sing Behind the Plow—was produced and shown on UNC-TV.

For further information about the John C. Campbell Folk School, visit

- Submitted by the John C. Campbell Folk School, 2007