Excitement is building as a unique, hands-on trades and craft school in the Okanagan is approaching a first-year anniversary.
Instructors at Okanagan Folk School are busy hammering out new ideas for the coming year, with more events and expansion in the works.
“It has been an interesting journey,” said school president Murray Wood. “We’ve all had success in business and are mature, but none of us have started a school before.”
To date the school has taught more than a hundred courses from West African drumming to wood carving, fiber arts, geocaching and many more.
Driven by a passion for teaching and learning, and building up the local economy, the team is drafting new approaches to expand the school this year beyond its current reach in Peachland, Summerland, and West Kelowna.
“The big thing now is learning how to effectively use social media, find more groups and contacts to collaborate with and assess the feedback from the students and community,” Wood said. “We are not sure yet how to measure the economic impact we are having on the local economy. Right now, a lot of our instructors are local, and we are creating packages to bring in others from further away.”
One plan to attract more non locals is to run longer events, the next big one being a kids craft weekend during spring break which will offer a variety of courses and free stuff. If it works well, the school will continue hosting more similar events.
“The other thing that is evolving is fiber arts, so we plan to do a fiber week where we’ll have local instructors and bring in more from further away to come teach,” Wood said. “We have been dovetailed with other community events and are looking at creating our own.”
Courses are taking place in a room at the Peachland Chamber of Commerce, instructors’ personal studios and venues the public has offered such as vineyards and garages. The long-term goal is have a central school equipped with all of the necessary tools and internship programs.
Wood is upgrading the school website and considering looking into grant applications.
He said reviews by students have been positive, and three students have changed their careers because of contact with the school.
“This is about the concept of learning for the joy of learning,” he said. “It is nonjudgmental and gives skills needed for daily life. It teaches people to have fun learning about things they want to do. When imagination, intellect and hands come together to build something it is a magical thing.”
School director, instructor and professional chainsaw carver Lee Etherington took his talent, a former student and a fellow carver to Silver Star and won second place in the snow carving contest for Vernon Winter Carnival 2023.
“A friend of mine Tyler Welfing is a chainsaw carver and involved in carnival and invited me last year,” he said. “We got invited back this year, it was me and Tyler and Sheila Kerr was our other teammate. She took one of my carving courses and turns out she is one hell of a carver and has been working with me since.”
The team was given a block of snow and forty-eight hours to bring a T.V. themed sculpture to life. They chose Game of Thrones.
“Tyler said he always wanted to carve a dragon,” Etherington said. “He drew up a sketch and I thought he was crazy, it was ambitious.”
Etherington said the team didn’t get a lot of sleep and it was a “heck of a lot of work.”
“We used old style cross cut saws to cable saws, kitchen spoons, chisels, you name it – and we came in second. It was fun, exciting, challenging, and at the end we were thrilled with what we created.”
The Okanagan Folk School program is based off North House Folk School in Minnesota that brought new life and more revenue to its small town in its 25 years of operation.
The folk school idea originated with Nikolai Frederik Severin in Denmark in the early 19th century. He wanted to move away from education as being centred around Greek and Latin to bringing dignity and pride to craftspeople, according to the Folk Association of America.
The Association lists 38 member schools in the U.S. and two in Canada. That includes the Okanagan school as well as Life School House in Nova Scotia.
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