Fire & Forge

Fire & Forge

This is another episode from the first season of FOLKWAYS in 1982. While most of the artists in that first series are no longer with us, this is a chance to visit them again and see some of the very best and authentic folk art practiced in the southern Appalachians. Although the production tools available then can't match the quality of today's digital video, it's still a fascinating look back at part of our cultural heritage.

The blacksmith was a very important member of a rural community, especially for homesteaders. If a blacksmith wasn't available, homesteaders had to forge or repair the tools they needed for farming and raising animals.

This episode features Francis Whitaker, one of the foremost blacksmiths in the nation. He works in the shop at the John Campbell Folk School.
The photo shows one of Whitaker's students, Clay Spencer, at the instructor's forge in the Francis Whitaker Blacksmith Shop at John C. Campbell Folk School. Spencer took over Whitaker's classes after he left the Folk School.

The John C. Campbell Folk School History
Born in Indiana and raised in Wisconsin, John C. Campbell studied education and theology in New England. Like many other idealistic young people of his generation, he felt a calling to humanitarian work.

At the turn of the century, the Southern Appalachian region was viewed as a fertile field for educational and social missions. With his new bride, Olive Dame of Massachusetts, John undertook a fact-finding survey of social conditions in the mountains in 1908-1909. The Campbells outfitted a wagon as a traveling home and studied mountain life from Georgia to West Virginia.

While John interviewed farmers about their agricultural practices, Olive collected ancient Appalachian ballads and studied the handicrafts of the mountain people. Both hoped that education could improve the quality of life, and in turn wanted to preserve and share with the rest of the world the wonderful crafts, techniques and tools that the mountain people used in every day life.

The folkehojskole (folk school) had long been a force in the rural life of Denmark. These schools for life helped transform the Danish countryside into a vibrant, creative force. The Campbells talked of establishing such a school in the rural southern United States as an alternative to the higher education facilities that drew young people away from the family farm.

After John died in 1919, Olive and her friend Marguerite Butler traveled to Europe and studied folk schools in Denmark, Sweden and other countries. They returned to the U.S. determined to start such a school in Appalachia. They realized, more than many reformers of the day, that they could not impose their ideas on the mountain people. They would need to develop a genuine collaboration. Several locations were under consideration for the experimental school. On an exploratory trip, Miss Butler discussed the idea with Fred O. Scroggs, Brasstown's local storekeeper, and said she would be back in a few weeks to see if anyone had any interest. She returned to a meeting of over 200 people at the local church. The people of Cherokee and Clay counties pledged labor, building materials and other support.

In 1925, the Folk School began its work. Instruction at the Folk School has always been noncompetitive; there are no credits and no grades. The Folk School offers a unique combination of rich history, beautiful mountain surroundings, and an atmosphere of living and learning together.


John C. Campbell Folk School
The Folk School was founded in 1925 and offers courses in art, crafts, writing, nature studies and cooking.
A good metalworking online information source.

A non-profit organization, Artists Blacksmiths Association of North America was the starting place of the American blacksmithing movement.

Blacksmith's Journal
One of the most beautifully illustrated publications available on blacksmithing.
A great selection of links, projects files, shareware and lists of organizations and publications. If its metalworking related, you will find it here.