North House Folk School’s Instructor-in-Residence Program

The North House Folk School is a school of traditional craft—students can learn everything from knitting or making soap to boat building or timber framing. Located on the edge of Lake Superior in Grand Marais, Executive Director Greg Wright explains that it’s all about telling a story.

“We teach to tell the story of the north—its cultures and its landscapes—through the lens of hands on learning of craft traditions,” Wright said. He added, “What makes folk arts different from high arts is that they’re both beautiful, but traditionally, the folk arts were manifested because people needed to make their way in the world. They needed the utility because they needed to get to the other side of the lake.”

One of the hidden pleasures for Erik over the summer months is sharing his love of traditional canoe building methods. Photos by Kate Watson and courtesy of North House.

At North House Folk School, the overwhelming response suggests that people crave a connection to the cultures of the north and its traditional crafts. Students come from all over North America and sometimes the world to participate in more than 350 classes and events. In 1997, when the school formally opened its doors, it hosted 23 classes.

Last summer, the school introduced its Instructor in Residence program to give first time visitors a taste of what the classes have to offer. In many ways, it was an evolution of what already happened—instructors hung out on campus, set up their craft, and curious visitors asked them questions.

“We thought we could do this with a little more purpose,” Wright explained. “The goal was to highlight the instructors and the crafts at the core of the school and use those as a tool for engaging visitors. During the high season, a lot of people come onto campus and go, ‘Wow, this is cool. What can I do?’ But if they didn’t sign up for a course and didn’t have 11 days, we didn’t have another option for them.”

Formalizing the Instructor-in-Residence program made it possible to engage those first time visitors in a significant way. Birch bark canoe builder Erik Simula was the first instructor in residence, and he routinely saw meaningful connections take place between strangers.

“We’d have 25 people standing around having an engaged discussion… talking about some controversy or great canoe trip or all kinds of topics,” Simula said. “There are many different levels of teaching. Just being there and having them ask a few questions—that’s a huge interpretative opportunity for me that not only lets them know what we’re doing [at the North House Folk School] but also dive into deeper issues of traditional native cultures and interactions with other cultures.”

Learn more about the North House Folk School or request a catalog at northhouse.org

This article originally appeared in Wilderness News Fall Winter 2013 >

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