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John C. Campbell Folk School

Art Therapy in Brasstown NC: Everything at your fingertips to be able to relax and unplug.

Tucked away in a picturesque setting two hours from Chattanooga, lies a unique get-away that offers an opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together to create, learn and grow.  Located in Brasstown, North Carolina, the John C. Campbell Folk School (“John C Campbell”) is a non-profit adult educational organization founded in 1925 to nurture and preserve the folk arts of the Appalachian Mountains.

In this environment, it’s easy to understand why many consider John C. Campbell to be the perfect “therapy”.  It allows you to unplug, unwind and in many ways “de-clutter” your life.  Being required to focus on a single task, such as turning a piece of wood on a lathe or welding a piece of steel, requires that you devote your attention to a specific project.  When you do so, it helps you relax as other thoughts, worries and frustrations vanish from your mind.

John C. Campbell Folk School has created an environment where groups of people can feel confident in making something with their hands no matter one’s skill level. There is no competition, and the stress-free atmosphere makes it the perfect place to study and disconnect.  And because it is based on the concept of “non-competitive learning”, the emphasis is on sharing knowledge, developing skills and challenging one’s self rather than comparing your progress against that of your classmates.

An overreaching philosophy of John C. Campbell is the feeling of “community” and of belonging.  You can see it in everything they do.  From the structure of the classes, where students and teachers mutually share ideas to the way in which the campus is organized to promote the feeling of togetherness, it is readily evident. Even down to the family-style meals where students share the challenges and accomplishments of the day with each other, you can see that simple but powerful thread woven into everything they do.

In addition to proximity, there is another direct tie to Chattanooga.  As a part of the faculty and a former President of the John C. Campbell Board of Directors, Chattanooga native and Lookout Mountain resident Julie Clark and her husband and fellow instructor, Benic, have been teaching and/or attending the school for over 20 years. 

Julie has been connected to Chattanooga for basically her entire life.  She grew up on Lookout Mountain and attended GPS High School.  She then attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management which led her to a career in blacksmithing and metalworking. 

So, you ask, how did she go from receiving a degree in Business Management to a career in blacksmithing and metalworking? Here’s the story.

Julie’s family raised horses and she was drawn to the skills of the farriers who came to their home to shoe the horses. She decided this profession was intriguing and after her graduation from UTC, decided to enroll in a three-month farrier program in Virginia.  During that time, she learned to forge horseshoes in a coal forge and from that point she was hooked. Julie chose to make this new-found passion her vocation as well, spending the next ten years shoeing horses in the Chattanooga area.  Also during that time, she decided to further hone her skills and expand her knowledge of her craft by obtaining a two-year degree in Welding and Joining Techniques from Walker Technical College.  While there, she became so passionate that she searched through scrap piles after finishing her welding assignments, to find materials to make small sculptures on her own.

When we asked her why she was still involved with John C. Campbell after all this time, she responded: “We just kept going back. When you are there taking a class, the entire world disappears except what you are working on. It really frees up the mind to concentrate on one thing. It’s a hard feeling to explain, but it is really nice.” 

Another reason she finds herself remaining involved with the John C. Campbell Folk School is the impact it can have on other people and the change it can make in their lives and their perception of themselves.  Julie said, “I have witnessed people arriving lacking confidence, but through what they learn and make during the week, they leave feeling totally amazed at what they can do.”  She went on to explain that she has even had students cry tears of joy because of the realization that they were able to create a sculpture of their own.

For Julie, and the other instructors/mentors at the John C. Campbell Folk School, it’s “all about the love”: the love of pursuing their passion for their craft; the love of the traditions and skills of the past and the desire to pass them on; and, the love of sharing their knowledge to help effect changes in the lives of others.

If you are interested in taking one of Julie’s classes, or signing up for one of the over 800 week-long or weekend classes offered each year by John C. Campbell Folk School, visit FolkSchool.org for more information.

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