A series of workshops offered this spring and summer by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UNC Asheville will highlight the crafts of the Appalachian Mountains including handmade brooms, corn shuck dolls, basketry and blown glass. The workshops are open to the community.
Carla Filippelli, who has taught basketry at John C. Campbell Folk School for many years, calls Western North Carolina “an area of living history.” In her classes, she says, she defines crafts as “useful objects made by hand that are beautiful, functional and that we use every day.”
Watching a basket maker in Tennessee demonstrate inspired her to teach herself the craft and she now shares her talents and knowledge with others including school children, at-risk teens and adults.
“Over 40 years ago when we first came to Western NC,” Filippelli says, “we spent a lot of time hunting herbs and wild ginseng, learning broom and soap making, foraging, canning and hanging out with old-timers who taught us mountain ways. It’s this same reason that folks come to our classes today—to enrich themselves and rekindle a connection to the natural world around us.”
OLLI at UNC Asheville began in 1988 as the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, according to executive director Dr. Catherine Frank. In 2012, the program became part of the OLLI network with 119 member organizations around the country. “Our program is distinguished,” Frank says, “because we are one of the largest. Only 6.7 percent of OLLIs have more than 2,000 members and we currently have 2,300.”
Most of the members, she continues, have relocated to the area for retirement. “Our Appalachian studies programs help our members learn about a region they now call home and give them a depth and breadth of connection that ties them to the community.” In a time when there is so much passive consumption of media, Frank says, “OLLI wants to offer the opportunity to slow down and do something creative and communal. Learning together adds to the fun.”
OLLI’s courses for members include music, religion, literature, history, and arts and crafts of the Appalachian region. “Demand for these courses has been high,” says Charlie Franck, who serves on the workshops committee. The new series of workshops will provide a new way for everyone to explore Appalachian heritage. “These workshops are short (one to three days), hands-on learning opportunities for community members to study from some of the highly skilled artisans in our region.”
In addition to the basketry class, there will be a workshop on Appalachian broom making by Marlow Gates, a class on traditional corn shuck doll-making by Anne Freels and a glass blowing workshop by Michael Hatch.
“Our workshops,” Filippelli says, “are fun, informative, non-competitive days filled with learning a new skill and the confidence to try more ambitious pieces in the future.”
Workshops are open to the community and participants do not have to be members of OLLI. To learn more, visit olliasheville.com/workshops or call 828.250.3871.