North House Folk School Part I

So it's been a while since I've rambled a bit about life. So here it is.. I don’t know why I do certain things.. Sometimes I shoot a series and get really excited about how it turned out. But I force myself to tuck it into a dark corner in the room and basically hide it from myself not knowing when I’ll look at it again.

I lost so many images, Im talking tens of thousands in the fire so I promised I’d get better about this habit. Maybe it’s that Im waiting for the perfect way to debut it? I know it’s crazy, but Im torn between thinking it’s good or bad. With my first trip to North House I have my reasons for not revisiting these photos. The morning after I arrived at Noho, I woke up to the news that the home I was living in burnt completely to the ground taking every single thing with it. For folks that know me personally, I could care less about ‘valuables’ and don’t believe in such things. Things valuable to me was my constant work I did for the past fifteen years. I was photographing, filming, saving field recordings of myself playing guitar, random notes I thought I should save for later, and sometimes run ins and ‘interviews’ with hobos and strangers. I also had some pretty magical music equipment that I started collecting when I was about 14 years old. I had such a great experience meeting this new place on the shores of Lake Superior, and realizing I was starting a new chapter in my life even though there was a torn part of me that was pulling me back home to the carnage of the fire. So many set backs.. Rebuilding a life, takes a whole other lifetime.. the thought of it. But Ive come to terms, at least for now with most of it. But long story short, everytime I’d open up my hard drive and start looking thru the images I shot up on at the folk school it’d bring back the sting of the fire so I’d put it away for another night. Now it’s been over a year and I was just at Noho last November, and I'm headed there this weekend! Finally coming full circle, submitting my teaching papers which is why I went there in the first place. To forge an alliance with all the other handcraft friends Ive made over the internet the past 5 years, and to finally step up the craft to a new level. It’s time to teach what I'm doing and compound my talents into one ______ whatever that is. But Im finally feeling like it’s all coming together now. I was told not to come home since it was all gone and it was tough not to but we drove 22 hours to get here and paid a good amount of money to take some workshops. So I dragged my ragged self over to Roger’s class and had to put on a false face so I didn’t put a damper on the mood for everyone participating in the Winter’s Gathering. So instead of curling up and dying in some corner I decided to just try to at least carve some bowls which I wasn’t happy with at all. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t remember a thing even a minute after Roger would tell it to me. But I’m glad I pushed through, and I did learn stuff now that I look back at it. It’s odd to think these are the first photos I took in Part II of my life. Glad I did that too, no matter how tough times were I always had a camera, guitar (and in the last six years) an axe and a piece of wood. There came a point during the trip that I realized my worst nightmare came true.. Everytime Ive gone camping I always thought what if I walked home and it was all gone like some apocalypse. This time it came true in a way. Everything I had with me is just what I’d need to survive, so I did a lot of house hopping from couch to couch that winter. Trying to pick up all the broken pieces, and get centered again. It's now a year later and it seems I'm on the right track. I'm living in a yurt, smack dab against the Catskill Mountain Park range, completely engulfed in craft and music. I live it and breathe it, and I'm right where I need to be. With all that out of the way, the reason why I left for this trip was because I was asked a bunch of times by some of the great greenwood carvers for the past couple of years and decided, you know what? It’s time to bridge this gap between the north east carvers and the midwest. It was also a turning point in my life. I have been making a living as a freelance photographer/greenwood craftsman for the past couple of years. It hasn’t been easy, especially explaining it to folks who just don’t get it. It was hard to show people how you can make a life out of something so ‘simple’ as they see it. At the time I was feeling a bit lost, not sure where I fit in the picture. There are lots of new carvers but I have been at it for a while and sort’ve breaking my own trail in the part of craft I focus on. Started teaching here and there and no longer felt like the dizzy headed young buck anymore. But saw some of these prolific and talented peers. Well I jumped right in and it was a great feeling to be welcomed to the pack. Jump a year later and Robin Wood is teaching up at North House. So I was back there again November 2015. I think for now I'll just post a series of photographs I took which tell the story better than I can anyways. I'll add some commentary here and there.. On our way up to the lake we stayed a night at our friend Jarrod Stone Dahl's place. This was the first time I ever stayed in a yurt, which was his workshop. Now I live in one, thanks for the inspiration buddy. When we arrived it had snowed about two feet. The sunset was this amazing rosey hue. This was my first time meeting Jarrod in person. We spent the entire night gabbing nonstop about craft, philosophy, craft brew, music, you name it. It's great to meet folks that are in the same boat as you. There is a lot to learn from eachother, and Jarrod has a lot of experience living that life. He turned a bowl that night, which was the first time I've seen that done. Again.. lightning bolts flying around in my ideas, no things to obsess and lose sleep over. Before we split and headed up to Grand Marais, he wanted to show me his 'spoon mule' which is a really clever and simple contraption he ressurected from an old sketch I believe. Basically a jaw or vice to grip spoon blanks to increase production. Very useful for us folk who carve a lot ever week. This is the best part about meeting other carvers. Seeing their spoon collection. Here is one of Jogge Sundqvist's which if anyone knows me, knows that he's one of my main inspirations. Here is a small sample of Jarrod's. North House - Grand Marais - Lake Superior - Minnesota   The forge

So the first night at the folk school, and our friend Roger Abrahamson who is another monster on the pole lathe invited me to jam with the community music circle they nicknamed "shanty camp". Sort of a nomadic group that jams where they can find a place to do so. It was an amazing night of music, laughs, and a couple ale bowls. Sadly the next morning I woke up to the scary phonecall about losing the house back at home, but there was this odd feeling that things were meant to be? I would've been dead if I stayed home, and I'm at this new place with all these new faces and making friends. I guess this was the new life I was looking for and with nothing to come home too, I didn't look back.

North house is such an interesting place. No matter where you go, there is craft seeping out of the woodwork. I go to grab a cup of coffee, and sit down with this man. Behind be one of the interns is doing food prep for dinner, there are classes going on live. The place is pretty magical if you ask me. Most of the folks I mention in this blog post can be found in the book "Celebrating The Birch" which is one of Noho's books. Great book, go pick one up. This workshop was forging axes. Right up my alley. When Roger isn't crafting, he's plucking strings and helping keep the rhythm going for folks who are carving away. Shrink pot class that Paul Linden and Jim Sannerud were teaching. Greenwood has infinate possibilities and isn't as limited as the seasoned wood craft the others do.

Bryan working on his crook knife handle in Jarrod's workshop.

Another great friend and talented fellow. Thomas Dengler. He is my kuksa brother. He made sure everyday I was eating, and getting through that hard week. can't thank you enough man, for your advice and for caring for me. Can't wait to see you again. My favorite time there is nighttime when the workshops wind down and we switch gears. A couple folks keep on craftin' but the rest break out instruments, the occasional ale, and snacks. This is time to celebrate and get to know eachother, catch up, laugh a bunch, and make plans for the future. Just imagine a room of folks who are all there for the same reasons, all have this passion for green woodworking, and in our typical daily lives don't get chances like this to talk to other 'heads'. Most folks can't relate, so it's good to get the misfits together. A table full of carvings.. what a wonderful sight. Another inspirational carver I've wanted to meet for some time. Fred Livesay ladies and germs! This guy can get anybody to chuckle! I forget what the heck we were laughing about but it was outrageous. Great shot Bryan. Hey it's Mike Loeffler! Another guy I'm proud to call my friend. Marco is good conversation and a great musician. We jam everytime I'm up there. You know it's serious when Roger puts down the banjo.

Fred, always a character.

Roger taste testing one of my spoons David Grinstead .. what a great musician. He knows who to keep the shanty camp rolling along. I brought this bowl Jarrod made me, it's a pretty special carving. He's tried to buy it back a couple times and we talk about this "Chase" a lot. Basically forbade me from selling it back to him. It's like a long lost love when he saw it once again. The chase is a bit hard to explain but as production carvers you make a lot of one design. Every once in a while you have one that just sticks out from the rest. Get rid of that asap, let it go. Having the design in your mind, helps bring you closer to understanding and keeps you hungry. It's tough love, something Jarrod practices a lot. The nest morning Fred, Thomas, Mike, and myself went out on a spoon hunt. Something only wood freaks would understand. Aimlessly wandering off trail in a forest to find that golden spoon crook. They're tough to find... it's all part of the experience. Jackpot

Something I find interesting about my other craft - photography. Is being around other people with cameras. Most folks are so obtrusive about capturing images. I take pride in the fact that when you're either looking at the images, or being photographed you never get the sense that I'm there taking something away or distracting folks. There is nothing like that dude that makes people uncomfortable with a camera.. just ruins everything. I've always tried my best to be very slick and quiet about it. Take one click, and put the thing away. I don't want to separate myself from an experience, afterall I'm there too with these guys. As you can see, rarely do you see folks making eye contact realizing Im actually snapping a photo.

This is something folks need to think about when taking pictures of people. I dislike having my picture for that exact reason. "WAIT! Hold that pose... can you look this way... ok!" There is nothing worse. I love the north woods.   Mercedes was teaching us how to make birch bark rings and bracelets while Jarrod was teaching his birch bark knife sheath class. This is one of the aspects of North House I got really excited about. Seeing folks so happy to share skills they have learned. This is the way we keep this craft alive, and also how the school has based their entire theme on. Another day of work finished and the night arrives with music and laughter once again.   Have you folks been paying attention to all the hand made things in these photos? No plastic or factory production nonsense. All hand made by folks you know. It doesn't get any better than that.

If it wasn't for these guys, I would've been a miserable wreck that week. If a picture was worth a thousand words, this one would emphasize "Give it hell!" Not sure when that happened but I bled all over my guitar. That olde time music is a hoot! I've never played it before so I'd chord smash a G for a half an hour as the guys went at it!   The Yurt Sessions were a special time. I think I might even have a recorded clip or two hanging around. It's funny thinking back now that I live in one. They somehow envoke a certain's this never ending line..the round life. One of the nights we had that yurt packed solid. Great times, tunes, and deep discussion covering everything to wood culture, to our own drives and philosophies.

Jarrod gets really into the hypnotic sounds of the jaw harp.

Yes, that is a giant vat of chili! So one of the other nights, was a great one to remember. I'm always one for social experiments, studying human interaction in situations. Well my only demand for visiting Noho, was I wanted to do an ale bowl pub invasion. So we rounded up about 14 bowls (I think) and marched down to the Gun Flint Tavern. It was packed in there which was perfect for our experiment. If you notice the folks in the backgrounds very interested in our odd custom or drinking from bowls. It was great.. really. It's all about introducing woodcraft back into daily society. I love this gal taking a peek at our strange custom.

I know this seems like endless photos of ale consumption but really some of us just enjoy a couple casual beverages after a long hard day of working. But during the day I was too busy crafting to shoot photos of all the courses and students working away. I enjoyed studying the interaction and the enjoyment that wooden objects seem to encourage. It was all very exciting. Besides, I call it research and development. We have to test and constantly experiment with what we are making. This photo always cracks me up! You can't cross the streams and mix the IPA and a Porter! It may cause a ripple in the space time continuum!? My photographic sidekick Beth Dow. She does some outrageous and beautiful artwork. I always enjoy getting into discussions with her. The crisp icy walk home.. struttin' with ale bowls in hand.   Mike Schelmeske and Jarrod catching up.

We left the next day, the long ride back to New York. I was not looking forward to what I was about to be thrown into but at the same time knowing I have started a new life with so many fantastic and talented people kept my mind a bit at bay. This is what I came home to..

I’m really sorry it took me this long to post these photographs and some of the memories. But now that I look back at them I see how my second life started in such a fiery bang. I mean that in both good and bad ways. One of the reasons I keep returning to that place is because I can really call these folks family. I’ve never been to a place so alive and inviting and I’m glad to say officially I’m part of the team as I’ll be teaching there next week! It was the beginning of the end, and the end of a beginning. I'll try my best to write up Part II before I head out for my trip this weekend. This is only half the story so far. Sorry for the long winded post. It's been a while! Sorry to ramble on. I dreaded for months trying to think of what to write. So I decided to go old school and ramble a bit. Hope it reads alright Feel free to comment, ask questions, discuss, laugh, and share. Cheers
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