The Arts-and-Crafts Vacation

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Back to basics, on a vacation devoted to acquiring a manual skill

They resemble resorts, with their outdoor pools and tennis courts, their wooden lodge buildings and country barns, their guests in skimpy sports clothes. But there all likeness ends. Within the barns are lathes and looms, potters' wheels and blacksmith's forge, all heavily in use throughout the day by guests in throes of creation.

At a growing number of residential countryside crafts centers, more and more Americans are devoting their vacations to the mastery of a folk manufacture--the ability, say, to make a ladderback chair or an earthenware vase, a hand-bound book or a rough wool cloak. For them, the activity is a rewarding expression of art, a satisfying connection with the past, a deeply pleasurable return to human basics (in a time of high technology), and therefore the best possible use of leisure time.

Nine awesomely scenic locations are especially active in the world of arts-and-crafts vacations.

Penland, North Carolina: Penland School:

Penland School, of Penland, North Carolina, an hour's drive from Asheville, is the big one, a sprawling complex of 41 buildings on 400 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain land. A pioneer in creating new American forms of craft art, it urges its guests to let their imaginations soar and tolerates outlandish experiments. "We blur the overlapping lines between fine and applied arts," says the school's director. The new approach is then applied to all the standard materials--wood, clay, fibers, glass, iron, metals, and paper--and results each week in countless varieties of stunning products emerging from classes taught by eminent figures. Sessions run from mid-March to mid-September, are between one and eight weeks in duration, are open to students of all levels of skill, and average $320 a week, plus room and board fees of $320 (dorms) to $839(double with private bath) per person per week. For more information or reservations, contact Penland School of Crafts, P.O. Box 37, Penland, NC 28765-0037 (phone 828/765-2359, fax 828/765-7389, email office@penland.org, web site penland.org).

Snowmass Village, Colorado: Anderson Ranch Arts Center

Anderson Ranch at Snowmass Village, Colorado, is a somewhat costlier alternative of equal fame; it's found in the Rockies, ten miles west of Aspen, 160 miles from Denver, at an elevation of 8,200 feet. Many of the nation's most renowned craftspeople--prize winners, manufacturers of crafts, academics in the field--come here each summer (early June to late October) to teach weekend, one-, two- and three-week classes in woodworking and furniture design, ceramics and art history, in addition to courses in photography, printmaking, digital imagery, sculpture and painting. Some have such outstanding reputations that they attract other professionals, who make up a third of some classes otherwise composed of sheer novices--the advantages for these beginners are obvious. Interdisciplinary studies combining people from different fields are especially interesting at this high-quality gathering of leaders in crafts instruction, all in a setting of old ranch buildings refurbished to provide considerable comfort in both lodgings and labs. Tuition, including lab fees, starts at about $500 per week (children's and teen classes are cheaper), to which you add room and board costs of $495 to $1,295 per week, depending on room category. Acommodations range from simple dorm rooms to three-bedroom condos. For further information, contact Anderson Ranch Arts Center, P.O. Box 5598, 5263 Owl Creek Road, Snowmass Village, CO 81615 (phone 970/923-3181 or andersonranch.org).

Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts

Arrowmont, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a mile down a scenic road from a main entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is another nationally known visual arts complex, particularly noted for its instruction in odd new techniques: patination of metal, anodizing of aluminum, granulation of sterling silver, combining "media" on cloth; it is also, according to one faculty member, "the wood-turning capital of America" (and teaches the standard crafts as well). One- and two-week sessions are offered in March, April, June, and July, to persons of varying skills, including those of no previous crafts experience at all. Some students, energized by creative excitement, work up to 15 hours a day in well-equipped workshops or in the 10,000-tome library of arts and crafts. On average, figure on costs of at least $500 a week for everything. For further information, contact Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, 566 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 (phone: 865/436-5860, or arrowmont.org/).

Elkins, West Virginia: Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops

This workshop held every year at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, at the edge of the Monongahela National Forest, differs sharply from the others in its emphasis on traditional crafts--not innovative ones--designed to preserve and transmit a proud Appalachian heritage of designs. Accordingly, classes are in such homespun subjects as stonemasonry, quiltmaking, fiddlebow repair, blacksmithing, basketry, and flint knapping. Nevertheless, director Margo Blevin contends that some classes here--like "contemporary quilt design," "create your own weaving"--are moving old-style crafts into the future. The center also has classes on music and dance. There are five separate summer weeks, early-July to mid-August (you can sign up for one or more weeks); tuition averages a low $365 a week; and room and board adds only $295 a week more and is provided in college residence halls and dining rooms. Sign up before April 30th for the best rates, discounted prices for children sharing a room are available. Contact Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College, 100 Campus Drive, Elkins, WV 26241 (phone 304/637-1209, email augusta@augustaheritage.com, or augustaheritage.com/).

Brasstown, North Carolina: John C. Campbell Folk School

John C. Campbell Folk School, in Brasstown, North Carolina, a 380-acre campus nestled between the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains, is still another of those primarily regional schools that seek to instruct in traditional, southern Appalachian crafts, and not in the unrestrained modern approach to the decorative arts. Most courses are confined to such old-world pursuits as spinning, knitting, and quilting, woodcarving and pottery, blacksmithing, enameling, chairbottoming and the like, all heavily functional--the abstract is generally eschewed. Still, the spirit here is dynamic and joyous, and courses (five and six-night programs) are offered year-around (except for occasional holiday weeks), at times when other schools are closed. Tuition fees start at $388 a week, but that charge can rise by another $100 for certain wood-turning and metal-finishing courses. For more information, contact the John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC 28902 (phone: 800/FOLKSCH, Web address: folkschool.com).

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill

In a less rural, but equally serene location just 12 miles southwest of Philadelphia, Pendle Hill, a "Quaker-led study center," hosts 12 artistic workshops throughout July and August. On its 23-acre arboretum campus in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, the center mixes its varied curriculum of arts and crafts, ranging from photography to yoga, with a dash of spirituality. The result? Atypical offerings like "Handweaving: A Joyous Meditation," "Painting for Joy," "Clay, Myth, and Fairytale," "Writing for Life," and "Brushes with the Spirit." While it stands apart from other arts and crafts schools in its religious association, the program organizers promise it's strictly non-denominational. And its courses are comparably rigorous, drawing top scholars from across the country to lead the five-day sessions.

With room for only 50 guests at the retreat center, programs are limited to 25 or fewer participants, keeping class sizes small. A window-lined art studio is open 24-hours for around-the-clock creation, and is equipped with potter's wheels, weaving looms, wide tables, and an electric kiln. Accommodations are simple, dorm-like rooms (single or double, air-conditioned, but with shared baths) and meals are served family-style in the communal dining room. Workshops are open to all skill levels and room (double), board, and instruction average $465/person. Commuters pay $400 on average for a five-day session, which includes meals. For more information, write or phone Pendle Hill, 338 Plush Mill Road, Wallingford, PA 19086 (phone 800/742-3150, ext. 142 or 610/566-4507). Its Website provides extensive information on the study-center at pendlehill.org/; the summer arts program listings are usually up by early March.

Southwestern, Pennsylvania: Touchstone Center for Crafts

Situated on 150 acres of wooded grounds, Touchstone Center for Crafts in southwestern Pennsylvania specializes in the centuries-old craft of blacksmithing, but offers the basics too. Students learn to fashion hinges, helmets, and well, nearly anything else they can think of that's made from metal, in the school's new (1999) blacksmithing studio, which includes 12 modern forges and one brick "historic" forge for those interested in traditional methods. Or they work with clay, paint, glass, metal, cameras, or fibers, under the supervised instruction of talented professionals (the school also offers the less-recognized arts such as "journaling," soap and paper-making, and bookbinding). Weekend and weeklong courses run from May to November, with about six hours of class time per day, and studios are open until 11pm, so you can keep working "after-hours."

Tuition runs from about $300 to $400 for weeklong programs, but most weigh in around $300; weekend workshops are about half that price. Shop fees will add about $50 extra, with advanced classes and glass workshops running a little more. They also offer a family weekend in May that runs for $175 per adult and $75 for children, including tuition, meals and lodging. Students stay in two and four-person "rustic" cabins (this means no heat, air-conditioning, or bathrooms, but there's a centrally located bathhouse) for between $100 (quad) and $132 (double) per person per week, and tent sites are cheaper yet- just $35. Meals can be purchased for an additional $130/week, and are served cafeteria-style in the school's communal dining hall. And for parents enrolled in the school, children's classes (ages 6 to 12) are also offered. For more information or to make reservations, contact Touchstone Center for Crafts, 1049 Wharton Furnace Road, Farmington, PA 15437, phone 800/721-0177 or 724/329-1370, fax 724/329-1371, or e-mail tcc@hhs.net. View its web site at touchstonecrafts.com/.

Layton, New Jersey: Peters Valley Craft Education Center

Just a short drive from New York City, but worlds away in ambiance, Peters Valley Craft Education Center in Layton, NJ is set in the middle of the Delaware Watergap on actual National Park grounds. It is a stunning locale and a potent inspiration for the many students who visit this school each summer to test their skills at blacksmithing, ceramics, fiber, fine metals, photography, weaving and wood working. Most participants are amateur artists. As Ken Pierson, Executive Director of Peters Valley explains, "people of all ages come here to find an interesting hobby to dedicate themselves to, or to further explore an art they have already developed an interest in." Classes are held from mid-May to mid-September, with prices ranging from $220 for a two-day course to $425 for a three-day class). Lab fees can run anywhere between $10 to $700 but average around $50. Participants can stay off-campus or in dorms on campus--a shared dorm room costs $35 per night, a youth hostel is $10 a night, and B&B is $45.. For more information, contact Peters Valley Craft Education Center, 19 Kuhn Road, Layton, NJ 07851 (phone 973/948-5200 or learn about the school online at pvcrafts.org).

Deer Isle, Maine: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, in Deer Isle, Maine, is the only other northeastern location among the major craft centers, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from a spectacular wooded slope. It is also the only major center that requires students to send in an application, as well as a $35 nonrefundable fee. Students must be 18 or older to apply. A much-discussed architectural achievement, the school consists of two-dozen shingled structures--some lodgings, some workshops--with high-pitched roofs, all connected by wooden walkways elevated from the ground. Here, from June to September, roughly 80 students at a time, of all ages and degrees of skill, including beginners, come together in successive two- and three-week sessions to study crafts of clay, fibers, glass, graphics, metals, and wood, in studios that never close--they remain open for inspiration around the clock. Tuition is between $655 and $875, and room and board costs range between $280 for a day student, and $2115 for a three-week single room. Apply by April 15 for priority consideration. For more information, contact Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, P.O. Box 518, Deer Isle, ME 04627 (phone 207/348-2306, Web: haystack-mtn.org/).

For tours of the studios of noted craftspeople all over the world, contact Craft World Tours, Inc., 6776 Warboys Rd., Byron, NY 14422 (phone 585/548-2667).

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