The John C. Campbell Folk School

By Samantha Lubliner, 2016

unspecified-2Past a gas station screenshot from the ‘60s was the town of Brasstown. Composed of a mail center, library, and gas station, the surrounding hill was a collection of homes bordered with signs encouraging the election of Trump/Pence.

The John C. Campbell Folk school lays just beyond the town with an old fashioned white sign marking its emergence beyond the trees. We parked in a full parking lot and walked toward what looked like a visitor center.

Branded with Danish vowels and values, the trip to the Folk School was grabbing onto the threads of Danish education systems. We started in the history center and were able to speak with Matthew Brose, a folklorist who specialized in Anthropology.

unspecifiedEmbedded between conversations of life and relationships, he spoke about the history of the Folk School in milestones. Between the dedicated commitment to working the land and building a new system of education was a history of community. His work focuses on documenting the stories of the people who populate the folk school. He mentioned that his interviews from the past few years have been especially interesting since he is recording and telling the story of the grandchildren he originally spoke to in the formation of the folk school in the 1920s. The motto of the folk school, as seen by the countless signs and embossing is “I sing behind the plough.”

We asked the vendor in the craft store about the meaning. As he pulled out an old piece of paper, a poem written in the ____, he offered to make a copy for us. The line of the poem reads “I sing when the impulse comes to fly light and free. I sing behind the plough and to the sound of mowing.”  The man told us that the motto serves as a constant reminder to find joy in the land and within daily tasks.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-9-35-50-pmThe crafts of the folk school were varying in discipline and medium. Kaleidoscopes, mosaics, and pottery sprinkled the wooden show room with color. Their craft store was composed of aisles of colorful art crafted throughout North Carolina. Each stand of work had the name of the artist and the home of the craft on a small paper in front of the pieces.

Scenic barnhouses and gardens escalated the beauty of the grounds from a North Carolina town into a community.

Toys of Appalachia

By Rachel Fishman – 2014

After being told by a Brasstown local that we could see a gorgeous panorama of the town from the hill above the shop-lined main street on Highway 64, we could not resist. As we turned up Emily Lane and drove the short, but steep incline to the top, we realized that we were on someone’s personal property. Parking our car in what seemed to be a small parking lot, we got out and looked around to see if we were truly in the outlook spot promised to us by the townsperson. Before we had much time to figure anything out, we were greeted by Carol–a spunky, sweet-voiced, middle-aged Southern woman.

Carol is the owner of Hill Gallery & Working Studios, the place that we had apparently stumbled upon. After learning that we were visitors, she eagerly invited us onto the porch to explain a bit of Brasstown history before launching into her family’s role in the town. Because of the deeply rooted Appalachian culture, she explained that there are some unique items that can be found in the mountains, especially toys. Taking us inside, Carol gave us a rundown of some of the most famous toys of Appalachia, including the Whimmy Diddle—a toy which her husband is a worldwide champion for playing.

A Whimmy Diddle is a ribbed stick that you rub together with a smooth one to produce a sound along the lines of “Gee-Haw.” This Appalachian toy has been used by the Hill Gallery & Working Studios owners for competitions and personal entertainment, in addition to being sold in their store. It has been the focus of many different types of benefit competitions that they put on for various charities last October, November, and December. Carol excitedly explained that the winner of these competitions gets a moon pie, an RC Cola, and a certificate of participation.

To play the Whimmy Diddle, it requires that you to hold the top stick with one hand like a pencil, with your thumb on one side of the top stick and your pointer finger on the top. The other hand holds the bottom stick in place. You then must drop your pointer finger slightly to the opposite side while letting your thumb hit the stationary bottom stick, rubbing it back and forth across the stick to produce the intended sound. Katie tried it out, making slight alterations to her hand placement per Carol’s suggestions until she got a sound that more closely resembled the one coming from Carol’s sticks. Much to our excitement, we even got a special demonstration from the Whimmy Diddle champion himself, a man to which Carol endearingly referred to as “my mountain man.”

The difficulty of achieving the right sound far surpassed what would have been expected. Carol explained, “You know, it’s just like riding a bike or anything. You just have to practice, and it becomes a piece of cake.” However, after learning that it is created using a mathematical formula and a consideration of not only the type but also the condition of wood that is used, the “simplicity” of the toy was quickly wiped away.

The reason for promoting the Whimmy Diddle and the other types of Appalachian toys in their store represents a desire to keep the Appalachian culture alive. Carol explains that they are trying to teach children that they don’t need a computer or other forms of technology to have fun—the expertise of the Appalachian toy creators makes simple toys largely entertaining.


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An Afternoon in Brasstown

By Katherine Makepeace – 2014

Outdoor art lines the row of shops in Brasstown, NC.
Outdoor art lines the row of shops in Brasstown, NC.


Brasstown – essentially a small strip of local art shops – is a village that is hard to distinguish geographically from the town of Murphy. It is just a short drive from the modern big-box stores and food chains, like Wal-Mart and Starbucks, which are prevalent on the outskirts of Murphy.

After my contemplative walk at the Fields of the Wood Bible Park that morning, peaceful Brasstown carried this serene and reflective momentum through the rest of my afternoon. I quickly grew fond of this place. What initially appeared to be yet another narrow road like all the others along the mountain-stretch of Highway 64 turned out to be a literal splash of local color.

This is because Brasstown, although closely related to Murphy, is distinguishable by its more intimate and pastoral setting – amplified by the vibrant folk art on display in the shop windows, the yard décor lining the sidewalks and garden pathways of the galleries, and the small sitting-nooks enclosed by lush foliage for mid-shopping spree rests. Silva Gallery is painted purple and green, bright works of art peek out from every cranny, and dangling wind chimes and recycled bottles situated on sapling tree branches give this tiny town an ethereal, hippie-like atmosphere.

Without careful observation, one could easily miss the sign that declares the tiny corner gas station the annual site of the New Years Eve Possum Drop. Right up the street from the John C. Campbell Folk School, the shop owners all held workshops and classes, both affiliated with the school and through their own volition to engage the rest of the local community in traditional crafts like bead-making, wool basket-making, alcohol prints, fabric art, pottery, copper plate designs, handmade jewelry, and more.

The lack of pedestrians and shoppers on this day enhanced this intimacy and made it a space where I could engage the artists one-on-one, learn more about their crafts, hear about the artists’ connections to the local Cherokee and Mountaineer histories, and subject myself to further prodding to attend the following day’s Fall Festival across the street. Having grown up in Western North Carolina’s Maggie Valley area, near the state’s other prominent Cherokee reservation, I reveled in the opportunity to pick the brains of those who have passionately maintained the area’s Appalachian traditions, history, and culture without losing sight of the tragic significance of the atrocities experienced by the Natives. One of the storeowners said that an archaeological team discovered that her property is a huge site for Cherokee artifacts and continues to be analyzed today. Another store owner taught my peers and I about Bluebird conservation, inducting us as official Bluebird Rangers, teaching us the art of whimmy-diddling, and informing us about the significance of the land on which her store was built. She took us outside and showed us where soldiers kept watch from this hill, able to easily survey the goings-on of the valley below.

We made many friends that my group members and I would continue to bump into throughout the course of our stay in the Murphy/Brasstown area. I found that it was a lovely place for a relaxing, uncrowded shopping experience, or to transport oneself to a time in which old Appalachian traditions played a more significant role in the daily lives of Murphians.

John C. Campbell Folk School’s Fall Festival

By Alexa Dysch – 2014

The entrance to the Folk School Fall Festival.
The entrance to the Folk School Fall Festival.

From the small, quiet village of Brasstown comes a most spectacular and unexpected event at the John C. Campbell Folk School. For one weekend a year, the community gathers to celebrate the artisan culture of the area, and showcases the town at their Folk School Fall Festival. Welcoming over 30,000 visitors, the festival is an enthralling event for locals and passersby alike. Over 200 artisans participate in this one of a kind time, which should mark the calendars of all those interested in learning more about Appalachian culture and Western North Carolina artisans.

What strikes you immediately is the close-knit feeling of this festival, despite the number of attendees looking for a snack or a souvenir. Compared to other Fall Festivals within North Carolina, this one felt particularly calm and almost like visiting a neighbor’s backyard (albeit a large, vendor filled yard). There was no need to shove through a line for a delicious bite of fried food; there was enough to go around, and while the intoxicating smells surrounding you, there was a friendly neighbor waiting nearby who you just had to get to know.

In the days leading up to the Folk School Fall Festival, we met many locals who mentioned the upcoming event. Initially, it wasn’t in our schedule, but we quickly learned that it had to be. As it turned out, many of our new friends were artisans showcasing their skills. We were delighted to see one another, and fascinated by their live artistic demonstrations.

By far, the art of the festival was the star. From handcrafted pottery and canvas paintings, to homemade soaps and locally crafted honey, each product was presented with the utmost pride and love. Classic folk and bluegrass music sounded throughout the campgrounds. It was evident to my visiting self that the love of this artistic community was embodied in this event.

Of all the exhibits at the Festival, I was stunned by the quilt display. Satiated on classic fair cuisine, I wandered into a nearby barn and looked up to find a ceiling emblazoned with brightly dyed fabrics, woven into beautiful quilts. Each year, a quilt is created to commemorate the Festival. 40 years’ worth of fabric filled the area. I could only imagine taking one on a cold, mountainous night and wrapping up next to a warm, blazing fire.

The Mountain ladies take on the Folk School Fall Festival!
The Mountain ladies take on the Folk School Fall Festival!
A few of the quilts displayed at the Folk School Fall Festival.
A few of the quilts displayed at the Folk School Fall Festival.


Frog & The Dragon Boutique

By Emilia Azar -2014

Frog & The Dragon Boutique physically appears to be wearing away — how ironic, since the owner herself is a vibrant, chatty woman named Judy Peppers who is constantly on the move. The building itself is the last stop on a street of shops in the “downtown” area of Brasstown. Despite the term “downtown,” the area itself is not urban; rather it is right off a large hill and in a country, picturesque area of the town. Judy’s shop has a very antique feel, as the building is probably over 100 years old. The exterior has been painted in bright colors: aqua, pink, and purple tones. Although small in size, inside you will discover a large number of locally made products – beautiful jewelry, hand-painted kitchen utensils, and clothes made out of organic materials. My eyes were drawn to a white dress that perfectly describes the shop – simple, elegant, and fun. That combination is rare to find anywhere, but in Brasstown, it is the norm.

Letting Wanderlust Lead the Way

By Alexa Dysch – 2014

Wanderlust: “A strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world” ( One of the strongest effects associated with travel writing, condensed into a single definition. Yet, as travelers know, this desire cannot be surmised into one sentence. When I find myself out of my surroundings, free of my usual schedule, this feeling strikes like no other. It caught me in Brasstown while I wandered along a small strip of artisan shops, from Silva’s Gallery to the Frog and Dragon Boutique. Without a plan, without a worry, merely a walk with no end in mind. Chance meetings occurred, stories were shared, and lessons were learned, all of which would be irrevocably lost without this lucky adventure. Relying on the monotony of a schedule can be beneficial, but letting wanderlust lead the way opens the door to enlightenment and a changed life.

A beautiful site, found by chance, along our Highway 64 wandering.


Nostalgia and Natural Soaps

By Katie Makepeace – 2014

The Silva Gallery in Brasstown, NC.
The Silva Gallery in Brasstown, NC.


Something about Silva’s Gallery was making me nostalgic.

I wandered through the beautiful pottery and fabric art displays until I came to a back room full of knitting supplies and stumbled across a lone basket of soaps. The soaps looked almost edible and delicious, each with earthy, muted colors of green and creamy beige. On closer inspection, I saw that they were packed with natural oatmeal and flowers.

Waves of comfort washed over me as I lifted a lavender bar to my nose and I finally placed the source of my nostalgia: the lavender reminded me of a lotion that my older sister bought for me when I was young. I reminisced about that gift with the shop-owner, and she bitter sweetly mentioned a woman who also recently bought one of these soaps. The aroma reminded the woman of her husband who had recently passed; it apparently smelled just like him.

The soap’s ingredients came naturally, as did my nostalgia.

Fall Festival Fare

By Alexa Dysch and Rachel Fishman – 2014

When the air starts to become crisp and the leaves begin to turn those enchanting shades of autumn, it’s time to frolic because fall has arrived. Of all of the many traditions that embody this season, a festival is the ideal way to spend a breezy, sunny Saturday. A culture of its own, the festival incorporates a fundamental aspect of fall: fair food.

At the John C. Campbell Folk School, the community takes festivals and fair food to an entirely different level. For 41 years, 30,000 people have gathered in teeny tiny Brasstown along Highway 64 to celebrate Appalachian culture and the close-knit group of artisans. Their fair food is like no other, as it incorporates beloved festival classics with distinct Western Carolina features that you shouldn’t miss.

Tables of artisans were nestled among the trees, selling items such as handcrafted pottery and organic, homemade soaps. After we made it through a few sections, our noses picked up the fair food aroma. The enthralling scent of dough being fried was pleasantly mixed with multiple spices filling the air.

The vendors needed a massive amount of food to withstand the expected 30,000 attendees’ eager stomachs, which could have made commercialized sellers seem like a necessity. However, the Folk Festival managed to hold on to its integrity and include a variety of locally run booths. The festival had everything from traditional fair food like fried Oreos and funnel cake, to North Carolina style BBQ and fried okra. Even Doyle’s, a Murphy restaurant staple, offered their featured dishes.

Intrigued by numerous “Eat at Doyle’s” signs dotted along the roads of the neighboring Highway 64 towns of Murphy and Brasstown, we chose this as our other place to taste. Doyle’s offered Sweet Chili Chicken and Thai Peanut Beef skewers, going beyond typical fried fair offerings. Purchasing a few to split, our mouths were filled with sweet, savory and spicy tastes. The juiciness and tenderness was undeniable, and all the more special, because it wasn’t accompanied by the feeling of eating our weight in oil.

After getting our local food fix in, it became time to try the fair classic–fried Oreos. Local librarians, further boosting the Festival’s local support and our eagerness to purchase them, made these Oreos. Unable to deny ourselves, we indulged in this traditional treat, not prepared for the extent to which we would fall in love. The warmth of the soft, fluffy dough topped with the generous sprinkling of powdered sugar, was enough to make our mouths salivate even before the first bite. From first glance, each layer was distinct, yet every bite melded the flavors perfectly. The golden dough was not overly sweet, allowing the Oreo to remain the focus. Even the sting of powdered sugar blowing in our eyes could not distract from the experience.

Amidst the string of other fair classics like freshly made, hand-cut ribbon fries and crunchy, shiny candy apples, we sampled regional features like Western-style barbeque, fried okra and apple dumplings. After experiencing so many wonderful tastes, textures and smells, we can easily conclude that nobody makes these treats quite like an Appalachian.

The fullness that lingered in our bellies throughout the day was only one pleasant reminder of our culinary experience at the Folk Festival. Throughout the season, and in years to come, any aroma of fair fare will transport us to a fall state of mind.

Delicious fried Oreos from the local library food stand
Delicious fried Oreos from the local library food stand