Have you ever tucked yourself under a homemade quilt or sat at a craftsman table and felt the hours and care that went into it? The awareness that was physical element had a soul to it. There is something instinctively intuitive about a household item, tool or piece of art that is made by human hands spent with time and heart to bring it to life. It is a relationship akin breathing life not only to the created, but also the creator.
Nestled into the Northern Shores of Lake Superior is an artists haven and learning center, North House Folk School.
“You have to begin… ”
Over 20 years ago a 70yr old woman spoke out loud a dream of wanting to learn how to build a boat. Grand Marias local Mark Hansen decided to host a class for her and anyone else who wanted to join to learn how to “Skin a frame”. Three guys from New Orleans found out about this off-the-beaten-path class and attended as well. An eclectic mix of folks met and formed a bond that was built on learning something new together, sharing a traditional experience and understanding.
The idea started to grow. It’s heart beat gaining strength.
A craftsmen trade school that preserves the history and story of building from scratch. Using not power tools, but tools themselves that were made from the elements of the North.
This concept is built on the belief that artist and fellow teachers and craftsman are the heart and soul of passing along their wisdom and skill. While beginning as Community Ed classes, within a year Mark decided to leave his job and start the North House Folk School to foster and nurture the often hidden art of craftsmanship.
In that moment, they launched boats from the boathouse, but history would tell us that they truly launched so much more.
It is where people intersect with art, fresh eyes experience traditional skill, and a new generation is connected once again to a history of building from scratch. “The Kayak is only half the story – the people are the other half. Never forget that.” – Mark Hansen
“The character of Northouse is being young at heart,” says Greg, the school’s director. “We are curious always. This school is a safe haven for folks who like to make their own way in the world. It celebrates Northern skills, trade skills, and the forgotten art of creating tools and life with your hands.”
The idea behind a craft school is simple in its desire to connect humans to their history. Craft is handed down by the generations, and it must not be lost. Students come from 48 states and 6 different countries to be apart of this movement; to learn and experience and grow.
And it is palatable. Upon arriving, a smile broke on my face as I felt the energy around me. It was pure and full of purpose. Everything around had been crafted and built with care and attention. Visitors can sense the heartbeat and freedom of the artist and tradesmen/women participating in classes. It is a school designed to open the gates to your own passion and desire to be your full self, using your hands and mind and heart to build long standing pieces of work. The smell of fresh cut wood inspires you. The breeze from the lake calms you. The chatter of excited students and teachers comforts you.
The school sits just outside of downtown utilizing a collection of buildings that were already there and building the ones that were needed. 23 classes were launched in the first classes with nowhere to lead them. It was a belief that “needs will lead to solutions, and ways will lead to ways to make it happen.”
Need, desire, history, passion, craft, will, and art have found themselves interwoven into this natural learning center. It has created itself out of the heart of the people.
Grand Marais is on the edge of forever. With a shoreline to one of the world’s largest pure water sources, small towns are scattered along the coast. The question begs to be asked, “How do small communities grow their future?” In unexpected ways.
The school now has event space, learning space, a store to shop and purchase craftsman tools and art pieces. You can simply go and watch tradesmen in their public demonstration space, or pay to take a ride on a sailboat. Part of the charm of the school is that you can observe classes taking place at The Fish House, Mill House, Woodshop, Boat Building Shop, Soft Craft Workshop, and the Blacksmith Shop when you visit.
If the heart of this school resonates with you, they also offer 10 month internships to be onsite, participate and learn. The impact of the school is widely felt with alumni who stay in Grand Marias to raise their family or run a business, (or the town, the mayor is an alum). Alum come back to teach, or take their skills to the towns and cities they live in.
The gift of the journey is you never know what’s around the corner. You must begin.
Standing still near the exhibit shed, I found myself reflecting on the world and how different and empowered this space felt. Where the world felt in chaos, this was about intention, relationship, and guts of life. Greg spoke in my ear, “If we believe we can change the world, you can’t throw the heart away.”
And that is what it comes down to.
What a pleasure and joy to visit with you Greg. Thank you so much for taking the time to share the passion and heart of the school with Gatherhaus. I am sold on this school and can’t wait to sign up for my first class and discover what hidden skills I might possess. You have created a space that is rich in learning, emboldened by passion and grown on roots of culture. Thank you for making this space possible that all may come and be refreshed and reminded of the heart that beats within us, and connects us to our history.
PS: Greg’s craft is running a folk school. – ”It’s a craft, not a science.”
I would agree.