Wednesday, January 28, 2009

School of Whole Living, Parts I and II

(based on meeting notes from Heart of Joy Folkschool development meeting, Jan. 22, 2009)

How far back, in this day and age, does one have to go in order to access real life? Back before The Change / Obama? Back before Internet? Back before credit cards? Back before TV? What about back before motorized vehicles? What would be the purpose of delving back that far, anyway? What's the why of it, and what good would it do us? Isn't it enough to have living history exhibits and fairs, and historical re-enacters? Why bother?

In developing the philosophy of the Heart Of Joy Folkschool, a group of us engaged in a lively discussion of cultural and human values and got to some of the whys and wherefores which answer the queries listed above. We realized, for instance, that it was a good thing, and very nice as well, to have gotten as far as presenting our Living History Folkshop last October. It was well-received, and we all felt great about the event. It was a fine beginning. From that beginning we could go several ways, one of which might be to keep having such a folkshop here once a year. Another way might be to develop a lecture and workshop series, sets of ongoing classes like fiddlin' or banjo pickin' or woodworking or quilting. Another way might be to organize events and fundraisers geared toward the purchase of land and a permanent facility. All these are possible and workable. What the folkschool developers need, though, in order to build what we know can be a fine institution (institution in the sense of a pattern or way of being, rather than some large brick building that stands forever), is depth.

Towards that end, we dug in. There were several present who have lived simple, grounded lifestyles and who have given great heart to sharing their principles with others. Margaret the weaver has a farm, grows the pasture that feeds the sheep which she shears, and whose wool she cleans and spins and weaves into cloth which she sews into clothing and sells. She's an artisan-craftsperson from the ground up. She lives a whole life. Bill lives on acreage next to Margaret's and the two of them had just finished a fencing project to keep the horses in, something the two different teams of professional fencers they'd hired previously had not accomplished. Bill and Margaret dug those postholes deep and set the posts in the right way. They could do this because they know the land and they know horses and they're willing to put in the kind of effort that people on time clocks and paychecks often will not do. Bill and his wife Phillipa have a historical theater company for which Bill built a horse-drawn theater wagon. Besides Bill and Margaret, there was Dan. Dan is a tinker and woodworker and musician, and one of the villagers who holds up the peace signs on the corner downtown every Saturday noon no matter what the weather. Everyone present at that meeting had some "from the ground up" simplicity REAL LIFE credentials, so we didn't hold back as we dug in to find the root, the essence, of what our folkschool can mean. The root on which everything else gets built.

We spoke of the Amish-style community barn raising as the paradigm for our events - that is, whole-community participation in making something by hand which will serve the good of the whole. We spoke of the folkschool as a skills and resource exchange, and a repository from which our presenters can do community outreach in teaching whole-living skills. We spoke of the human abilities, millions of years of evolution worth of abilities to make things by hand - and the deep unbreakable connection between making things which serve the whole and self esteem - and the need for our young people to be able to develop this kind of self esteem as they mature. No computer skill or sports award can give a young person, or anyone of any age, the sense of self-worth that contribution to the basic needs of the whole life of community can do.

We asked each other what would the motivation be for people so used to convenience living to want to dig in and work in a whole-life communal way such as the folkschool coud teach; and we came to understand that the community itself is a living being which desires good health. Financial health is secondary to the true health of community self-sufficiency, we agreed. Bill emphasized that the farther away we get from basic community life, the more unreal life gets. Politics are fine and dandy, he said, but the real thing is people living and working together in a whole, as a self-maintaining system.

From the evening's discussion we realized the one thing that will influence everything else we build: the human being can only be truly whole when the person is a functioning, contributing member of a community. Individuation and individuality are fine, as stages in human growth - but in the end, they are only stages. Wholeness comes from contribution. In that light, we could say that every class and every event we provide needs to have some kind of "from the ground up" presentation. We may not have our students growing the grass the sheep eat and so forth through the whole process of clothing-making - but we can provide one or two steps in the process and give the story of the whole process. We can give modern people the wherewithall to recreate the whole at any time: the story, the knowledge of the whole process.

(written in response to comments on Part I as published in
In the first article in this School of Whole Living series, I reported on the latest discussion and philosophy-development of the Heart of Joy Folkschool group here in the Village of Yellow Springs Ohio. The article has raised many intense questions from commenters who may see these ideas as regressive, or causing some lack of the flow of material abundance, or some taking-away of the privileges we have invented and acquired for ourselves in the recent past. Perhaps an underlying anxiety which has been stirred up is that of Americans who've become so used to the modern indoctrination about the supremacy of the individual, and of the rights of individuality, that the focus on the necessity of contributing to communal life, or real humanity, has been obscured or lost.

This folkschool is not, of course, about taking away all the privileges we've invented for ourselves. Rather, it's about taking the focus off the excitement of privilege-invention and acqisition and usership, and getting ourselves back to the center of our heart-studies here on earth:

~ How may I best serve my own inner growth and that of my clan/tribe/nation; my family/partner/neighbor/enemy/community?
~ How may my community best serve the inner growth of our culture / nation / the human race?
~ How may my human race best serve the inner growth of my world - the planet, solar system, galaxy, universe?

To take the focus off the excitement of constant new invention, and place the focus squarely in the heart and hands of useful workmanship which contributes to the well-being of community is a radical idea to many hustling-bustling Americans-a-go-go, of course. We do our best to believe we're real. We suffer, we endure, we strive, and so forth. All those modes are associated with getting real. One area in which Americans and many other privileged nations fall down, however is in the part of getting real which means getting close to the center by means of simplifying ourselves and participating in recreating the everyday basics of the ordinary harmony of life.

Heart-of-Joy Folkschool is aiming its intention in this direction: how do we present folk artisanship, fine craftsmanship, including apprenticeship opportunities and community-building events, in such a way that we avoid the shallow excitement focus and instead encourage deepening and centering, and the blossoming of truly centered community?

Sunday, November 2, 2008


YSNewsArticle-Oct.16 2008.docHeart Of Joy Folkschool is officially launched as of October 17-18, 2008, with our first event - a living local history-based folkshop, held at the Outdoor Education Center in Glen Helen, the nature preserve adjacent to the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio.

A group of us had been planning the event for months, talking about what a folkschool is, or can be; talking about the history of the folkschool movement; talking about folk skills, simplicity, community harmony, our multicultural village history, and the importance of honoring the wisdom and experience of our elders.

All of these discussions found expression through the folkshop, in one way or another. Friday evening we opened with a three-part program of "theatrics:" Kay Reimers' audience-involvement scene based on the mid-19th century controversy over whether the brand-new village should allow a railroad station or not. We, the modern Yellow Springers, had a ball reading our lines in turn, and hearing typical Yellow Springs town-meeting dialogue coming out of characters more than a century old. Kay has a great ear for dialogue. Actress Robin Jordan Henry, descendant of freed slaves who settled in Yellow Springs, gave a dramatic reading based on family stories of her ancestors' escape from slavery. She was assisted by her husband and two grandchildren.There's quite a tradition of abolitionists and underground railroad safe homes in this Quaker-values village, and so Robin's reading meant a great deal to her audience. For the third theatrical we traipsed out into the dark, led by flashlights, to sit on wooden benches before Mockingbird Theatre Company's big red theater wagon, to watch Bill and Phillipa Gay and their assistant, "California," perform an authentic old-time Medicine Show. We loved it, and we all sang along on the choruses of familiar old tunes and listened to the deadly symptoms of various diseases and the spiels touting the even deadlier-appearing cure-all nostrums.

After everyone left Friday evening, I stayed a while to put the beans in to soak overnight, for the bean soup I'd be making the next day. I was back at the O.E.C. by 8:30 a.m., cutting up carrots and celery, to add to the huge pot of simmering beans. Sarah Strong came ready to demonstrate paper-making, and later became a valued supper cook; Marianne Wolfe, our greeter and registrar, arrived full of enthusiasm and encouragement; JoAnn McKee came in to set up her knitting area; Sue Rudolf and other Embroiderers' Guild members arrived to set up their quilting area; Diana Nelson came in loaded with things for her weaving activity; Selwa Whitesell came in with spinning wheel and all kinds of fibers for her demonstration; Eric Wolf came prepared to lead tracking activities, which later became an herbal remedy-making class; Jim Rose brought in a great assortment of marionettes for his puppetry demonstration; Joe Cook set up his woodworking area outside, where during the day he fashioned breadboards, a whimmy-doodle, and two beautiful applewood stools; and the Gays returned with two beautiful draft horses. As I cut and chopped and stirred in the kitchen, I sang and did a little yodeling (you'd be amazed at how much yodeling can help your cooking along); and in between I could hear the hum of friendly conversation from the quilters and weavers and knitters and our spinning lady. Susan Gartner, who had written a wonderful article on the Folkschool for the Yellow Springs News, had brought along a videocam from Channel 5 and was documenting the folkshop, in between bouts of participating in needleworking activities. Sandy Morris, who'd planned to do some history-sharing, stopped in for a bit, too.

By the time the bean soup was nearly ready, as judged by Jim Rose, our "living treasure" master puppeteer, it was time to get the cornbread put together. I threw in the towel on cooking it from scratch. I had buttermilk, eggs, and butter - so I sent my friend Marianne out to pick up cornbread mix. People were perfectly happy to keep doing what they were doing - needlework indoors; and outdoors, there were several other activities: Bill Gay's horses were being thoroughly groomed, having gotten themselves into burrs the day before. Bill was preparing them to be harnessed for his team-driving activity. Joe was busy sawing boards and gluing and planing, making the breadboards for us to serve the cornbread on at lunch; and Sarah had her paper-making operation set up and was attracting interested folks to her activity.
Finallythe cornbread was stirred up and on its way to the oven, with the batter poured into two incredibly huge oiled cast-iron skillets. Jim Rose helped me get them lifted and positioned. Marianne Wolfe and her friend Bruce, a lifelong farmer who decided to come to the folkshop because there were draft horses there, began to set the tables for lunch. We pushed several tables together so we could all sit down family style. Finally we were gathered, and holding hands, singing a little gratitude song before we ate. It was just right. Just as the Friday theatricals had been just right, so was lunch, all together, just right.

After lunch there was dish-doing and so forth, with Diana Nelson playing a major role. Jim Rose and little Bonnie, 5 years old, began playing with Jim's marionettes, entrancing and entertaining us all for a good while. Smiles lit up the room, and our laughter just encouraged Jim and Bonnie to keep going. We nearly had a disaster when Bonnie stuffed the baby from Jim's PUNCH AND JUDY show into the crocodile's jaws....But we all remembered what Bonnie had kept saying: "They're only puppets."

I got a chance to wander around and see what all the groups had been working on; to go outside and try my hand very briefly at driving a team of work horses; to visit with Sarah the papermaker, and Joe, the woodworker. I was privileged to hear Bruce the farmer describe horse-farming as he had experienced it, comparing horses to tractors and sharing the history of the change from horsepower and horse wisdom, over to machine farming - from the farmer's point of view. The activities wound down for the afternoon at last, and there was some good quiet time. Then dancer/librarian Ken from Wittenberg showed up, zucchini in hand, to add to the supper fare; and the Gays, who had taken the horses home, came back to load up the theater wagon onto its trailer, and to have some supper and then call the dancing. More musicians showed up - Karl and Deborah Colon of CHANGELING, and Joe Cook; and more dancers - the dancing naturalists of Glen Helen! - , and so we had ourselves a lovely supper of leftover bean soup and cornbread, with zucchini on the side, and mulled cider to drink; and then we had ourselves a dance, and a lovely musical experience as well.

The event took place only a few days ago, and now people are asking when the next one is. I'd say that's a good sign.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Heart of Joy Folkschool Receives Grant

Heart Of Joy Folkschool has received a generous grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, enabling us to put out the advertising needed, offer honoraria to teachers, buy supplies and food, and pay the rest of the fee for use of the Outdoor Education Center in Glen Helen.
We're now talking about the dimensions of the quilt we'll be making for the quilt class project, and the dimensions of the quilting frame the woodworking class will build on the spot. We're talking about bread recipes and soup recipes for the homemade lunch and supper we'll serve on Oct. 18. We're getting details on the historical folk drama for Friday night, Oct. 17. We have yet to round up a gang of musicians for the Old-Timey Dance on Saturday night - but that shouldn't be hard.
The display ad for the Yellow Springs News goes in this week - we'll see it by Wednesday afternoon. Linn Bobo, graphic artist and fellow librarian, is cleaning up my graphics and typesetting, adding her own touches for the production of a flyer/poster and a 3-fold brochure.
It's pretty exciting, getting this show on the road. Yeeha! And another YEEEEHA!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008


As the ideas for the first folkshop present themselves along with new folks and situations, there is a growing sense that we could support something like a Yellow Springs Village living history movement. With a brief glance online to see who's doing what, where - I found fascinating references to all kinds of reenactment groups, specialists and workshop leaders. It's fun to imagine the wealth of deepening that can occur in the Village as these folkshops progress through various periods and re-living of our history. Not the least of the many positive effects might be opportunities for gaining healing insights concerning the character of the village itself, and what sorts of conflicts and gifts it tends to produce. Also, since humanity is speeding along leaving our un-processed past in our wake at super high speed nowadays, it might just be that the occasional living history village folkshop could provide vital opportunities for reconnection with lost or dropped cultural "threads" which may prove essential to personal and community future. Three of these threads are:
1. The Shawnee people whose tribal lands and sacred sites were taken by European settlers
2. The Conway Colony, a group of freed slaves
3. The visionaries - artists, healers, inventors, scientists, educators, religious, communal life and others - who are consistently drawn to the Village of Yellow Springs and its surrounding area.

We're getting hints of what the first folkshop will hold: an evening dance event featuring the kinds of dances popular during the period when the Village was beginning, for one thing. String band music to accompany the dancing. Weaving, quilting, woodworking - firebuilding - horses - and children's chores and games as well. Woodscraft - tracking, forest awareness. Hambone-rhythm singing after meals. Perhaps a story-theater historical play with plenty of audience involvement for another evening's entertainment.

It's as if the folkschool is quite alive, and calling together all those who are to build it and make it work now and down the years. Indeed - that Heart-of-Joy is thumping in our dreams.



My first experience with the idea of the folk school came years ago, in the early seventies, when I was a young married woman/artist living in Minneapolis - and then Granite Falls MN. I was involved with musicians, painters, writers - and I attended a Southwest Minnesota Arts And Humanities Council [SMAHC] workshop at a wonderful place called Danebod. It had been founded by Scandinavian immigrants, patterened after their beloved folk schools and adhering to the principles of the Scandinavian FOLK SCHOOL movement. Danebod's history so inspired me that I never forgot it. That's been 30-odd years ago, and there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

Looking up folk schools online, I came across the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Everyone I've met who's had experience with John C. Campbell has great things to say about it. Another good model. Each village, each folk school, should grow its own culture from the ground on which it stands - but should also adhere to tried-and-true principles that support the truth embodied in all folk schools everywhere. I believe in the folk of the world - the simple, good-hearted ordinary people, who are the majority of humanity. These are the people who will feel truly supported by folk schools, and these are the people who carry that great gift for humanity and the planet: common sense. Common sense, good will, stick-to-itiveness, all done with practical down-to-earth love. Folk School!