Teaching John C. Campbell Folk School weaving classes is usually a routine experience. I generally work with 10 beginning students at a time, teaching them to navigate around a loom in the weaving studio. I introduce them to a warping board, show them the parts of the loom, and then I get them weaving, working on a project they can take home. Thanks to COVID-19, however, my job changed, at least temporarily.
Although the Folk School was officially closed until May 2021, the school received a grant that allowed a small number of students and teachers on campus for weeklong classes. We created the Traditional Craft Mentorship Program to support emerging artists in traditional Appalachian craft through mentorship, relationship building, and studio time, with the ultimate goal of preserving and passing down traditional skills to younger practitioners. I recently participated in this grant-sponsored program while the Folk School tested our COVID-19 precautions for upcoming sessions.
As the Folk School’s Resident Weaver, I mentored students in this four-week program. Each week, an Appalachian-crafts expert graciously shared weaving knowledge and techniques with students who were eager to learn. During the first week of the program, I welcomed three students who recently graduated from college weaving programs.
My weeklong class focused on the “Weavings of the Settlement Schools.” During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, settlement schools in the Appalachian Mountains sprang up to help educate local children. Northern United States women’s groups sponsored highly educated young women to teach in these programs.
As an outgrowth of these efforts, community weaving centers opened throughout the Appalachian region. These centers welcomed adults (mostly women) who wanted to learn valuable weaving skills that would enable them to earn money in a challenging economic environment. The women wove beautiful items such as table runners, towels, purses, aprons, coverlets, wall hangings, and rag rugs.
The settlement-school organizers transported the handwoven goods for sale to northern shops and ladies’ groups. This successful socioeconomic program enabled resourceful Appalachian women to buy shoes for their kids and put food on the table—or maybe it allowed them to purchase a sewing machine to make clothes for their families. The women’s newfound weaving skills helped them move their lives in positive new directions.
During my own weeklong class, I introduced this almost-century-old concept to my three students. They looked at my samples, browsed through my books, and listened to my stories. Before I could blink, they were weaving samples and coming up with great ideas to market their own work.
In the second week, Susan Leveille shared the history of the Appalachian coverlet and counterpanes. Tommye Scanlin taught the third week’s class, which showcased a special tapestry technique used by local weaver Alice Tipton. During the program’s final week, Kathy Tinsley focused on versatile Appalachian rag rugs.
Looking back, I am glad I was able to spend a week with these creative young women. I hope the Traditional Craft Mentorship Program will take place again soon.
To obtain more information about the Traditional Craft Mentorship Program, please refer to the John C. Campbell Folk School website folkschool.org.
PAM HOWARD is a Resident Artist in Weaving at John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, North Carolina.