Why a Folk School?

A Letter from Folk School Founder, John Manthei

When the term “Folk School” comes up among the uninitiated, it often elicits a blank stare or the question “what the heck is a folk school?” My typical response is “Well, it’s basically hands-on learning for all ages in just about any subject,” and “No, it is not a folk art school”. The next question is “So what’s the big deal?” Well, here is why I think having a folk school in our community is a big deal: 

I have always loved making things with my hands and I have always loved the woods. The forest is my storehouse of supplies and the inspiration from which I create objects. At some point I realized how much fun it was to share this passion and for me this was the genesis of our folk school in Fairbanks.

Why I think The Folk School is important:

  • It is empowering to both learn and contribute to others learning at the same time.
  • It is healthy, fun, and rejuvenating to be part of an active community.
  • It is important for all of us to continually meet new people and learn new ways of thinking and seeing.
  • It is important to learn from young and old alike.
  • Manual skills are integral to mental and physical development.
  • In learning to make things with our hands, we begin to see and appreciate the knowledge imbedded in hand-made items.
  • A place like a folk school provides a venue to share what you know and pass lifetimes of knowledge through generations.

Now that The Folk School is a vibrant and very real place, this is what I love about it:

  • I love the feeling of community and the little communities that form within a program or around an idea.
  • I love learning from others within the easy conversations that just seem to happen.
  • I love seeing people discover the joy of using their hands.
  • I love seeing the joy and satisfaction that comes from a self-made project.

One of the foundational programs of The Folk School is Week in the Woods. This program stemmed from the idea that it is important to know the context of the materials we use in craft. Rather than make an object from materials you purchase in a store, it is far more informative and fun to harvest the materials yourself.

At Week in the Woods (as well as in many other Folk School classes) you learn how to identify, select, and responsibly harvest materials from your surroundings. As you continue to learn your craft, you continue to learn more about the environment. As you become more intimate with your surroundings, you become a better steward of the land.

During Week in the Woods, we aim to take a holistic approach to craft, following some basic principles:

  • Reflect on, and learn from, the tradition of the craft you have chosen.
  • Use materials available in your immediate environment.
  • Harvest and process your own materials.
  • Become immersed in, and comfortable with, your outdoor surroundings.
  • While working, tune in completely. Take your ear buds out and pay no attention to time. Immerse yourself in what you’re doing, not only watching your work unfold, but listening, feeling, and smelling.
  • Learn from the life of the object you have created. What does it mean to you a year later? How is it holding up over time? Is it performing the function intended?
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Experiment and don’t be afraid of messing up. Relax and have fun.

As much as possible we strive to follow the above principles in everything we do and offer at The Folk School.

In summary, this is why The Folk School is a big deal to me. I gain in a million ways by being involved and I see others (young and old) having new and exciting experiences, getting their hands dirty, meeting new people, and possibly leaving with the seeds of a new passion. Quite simply, it is empowering to make things with your hands, it is transformational to connect with the land and community around you, and it is a heck of a lot of fun.

John Manthei
Co-founder of The Folk School Fairbanks

John Manthei