Taking care of business: April 26 – May 20, 2010

Our next stop was the farthest east we expect to be for a couple of years – southwestern North Carolina.

To get there, one needs to cross the lower end of the Great Smokies on a very twisting mountain road. Since our voyage has a “Be Kind to the Only Towing Driver” theme, we decided to do a quick overnight at a campground east of Chattanooga. The next morning, fresh and clean, we tackled the mountain and pulled into one of our favorite campgrounds, Peace Valley in Marble, NC. Dee had reserved “our” site, one which has a huge lawn on the social side (usually called the door side) of our unit where we could set up our canopy, stretch out our entire fenced yard, and get a glimpse of the Valley River, where swimming, tubing and fishing are all favorite sports.

But this comfortable environment was a background for three weeks of efforts peripheral to the core reason for our journey. I was there to teach Nantucket Lightship Basket Weaving at the John C. Campbell Folk School (JCCFS) in nearby Brasstown. And I had a date with an orthopedist.

You can check out JCCFS at www.folkschool.org. It provides a productive environment for friendship, mutual support, and learning in natural surroundings and teaches virtually every craft ever invented. One of the teachers that week taught “Labyrinth Gardening,” and the class built one. Other sessions included knitting, oil painting, wood turning, wood crafting, jewelry making and blacksmithing.

Robert St. Pierre

The Basketweaving Resident, Mary St. Pierre, was a stranger three years ago and is now a best friend. I negotiated with her by e-mail to hire me to teach a class. We backed and forthed for over a year before the first contract was signed. In the course of that time, we learned that not only had we many common interests but we had lived fifteen miles from each other in southeastern Massachusetts for many years. Mary’s husband, Robert St. Pierre, creates “wood pottery,” pieces from small jewelry boxes to urns to vases to lamp bases to giant obelisks. None of his work is done on a lathe; it is all cut, glued and sanded using local and exotic woods. Their active shop is open 7 days a week on a corner of their land. Some of Bob’s pieces are in corporate lobbies, overseas embassies and the Smithsonian.

For over a year, I’d been experiencing shooting pains in my middle finger. Early this year, it became difficult to flex and clicked when I bent it. So Dr. Brent Davis agreed to perform the surgery right after class was over. The surgery was simple, but it required general anesthesia.

The school had received seven cartons of material on my behalf! I was able to get into the studio on Friday afternoon and inventory, sort and organize all my stuff. On Saturday, Dot and I set up stations for the seven expected students. But when I got the roster that afternoon, I discovered an eighth had signed up. So we scurried to set up a “kit” for her.

My compensation from the school included an honorarium, travel expenses and room and board for the six day class period. I passed on the room and evening meals but enjoyed hearty homemade breakfasts and lunches each day. Sunday was arrival/orientation day, so I stayed for dinner and spent two hours meeting with my class. On Monday through Friday, we had two 3-hour classes each day with a 90 minute lunch break. Their enthusiasm was wonderful. Every beginning student completed two baskets, while the intermediates tackled more difficult projects and each took home a third basket to finish up. I’ve gotten very positive reviews, and I know the experience was as rewarding for me as it was for the students. You’ll find more information and more pictures by clicking on the Nantucket Baskets section of our main website.

We took steaks and salad out to the St. Pierre “spread” in Hayesville on Sunday and got a chance to see both Bob’s and Mary’s work first hand. Exquisite! Dot got to pick out something in the studio for Mother’s Day, and she picked a small oval box, and she chose to use her new treasure for Serena. We didn’t keep Serena’s ashes when she died but have always exhibited petals from the annual roses we display in her memory. Now she has beautiful status along with Barnacle’s and Willie’s little caskets.

The only problem with the surgery on the following Tuesday was that it took five hours for a 40 minute snip. Three stitches in my palm remained for nine days, but then we were on our way with partial use.

So our sightseeing was limited. But we did get to the Cherokee History Museum in Murphy. And we took an excursion ride on the Scenic Railway that runs from Blue Ridge, Georgia along the Toccoa River up to Copperhill/McCaysville, a single town with two names because it’s half in Georgia and half in Tennessee. After a layover for lunch and antiquing, we enjoyed the reverse trip in an open-air car on a perfect weather day.

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