|A Week of boxmaking at Arrowmont.
By Doug Stowe
I teach Woodworking at a variety of Schools, Including Marc Adams School of Woodworking and ESSA, the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. What follows is a story about my teaching experience at Arrowmont.
Driving from the west through Gatlinburg, Tennessee toward
the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Arrowmont
would be easy to miss. The internationally known craft school is
best described as "just off the main drag." In Gatlinburg, the main
drag, Tennessee highway 441, features the Hard Rock Cafe (where you
turn left), brights lights, and bungie jumping in a cage; enough
distraction to make one miss the entry to the quiet and secluded 70
acre campus. There is a touch of irony in this. American wood
turners have long known Arrowmont as a Mount Olympus of wood
turning where mere mortals can stand in the company of Gods.
I spent the last 25 years hearing stories from my uncle Ron
Stowe about Rude Osolnik, David Ellsworth and the others who have
lifted wood turning from the practical to the sublime and had
contributed so much to my uncle's retirement hobby/avocation of
wood turning. My Uncle Ron was transformed by his frequent trips to
Arrowmont, gaining in self confidence and exhilarated by personal
growth. I was his confidant and friend and a witness to his
transformation as the pleasure and success he found in woodturning
spilled over into the rest of his life. We were encouragement for
each other in an age where those choosing to work with the head,
heart and hands need all the encouragement we can get.
When I was invited to teach "box making" at Arrowmont, it had all the feelings of a family reunion, an opportunity to connect with that which had given so much pleasure and meaning to my uncle's life between his retirement and death in 1997.
I tend to be a square corner kind of guy rather than a turner, so I didn't know exactly what to expect as I arrived on campus for my class. I could hardly wait to tour the still almost new wood studio. After working for years with my old tools at home, I could quickly see that my week at Arrowmont would be like being temporarily reincarnated as Norm Abram. They have enough major cast iron to satisfy the most serious tool buff. The wood building consists of a gallery room at the entrance, overlooks from which visitors can look in on classes, a turning room with 16 high quality lathes, a large machine room with professional quality table saws, radial arm saw, router table, drum sander, planer, band saws and jointers with dust collection at nearly every tool. A third room was for the exclusive use of the twelve students in my class, with workbenches, vices, and a tool room containing all the essentials for carving, cutting dovetails and basic hand tools for making furniture. I arrived with routers, bits, extra router tables and jigs, as well as a supply of my favorite Arkansas hardwoods for making boxes and inlay. With my own teaching experience being limited, I didn't notice the bungie jump next door until the last days of the class........I was on a bungie jump of my own, a free fall into the flow of it, concerned about meeting the needs of my students and their many projects and aspirations. But I was caught in mid air by the strong cords of newly evolving friendship. The wonderful and supportive students saved me from my beginning jitters and placed me carefully on my feet. By the 3rd day, my students were so deep in their box making, I had to walk around pleading, "Come on! It's time for lunch!"
Arrowmont started as a "Settlement School" in the early 1900's and is sponsored by Phi Beta Phi sorority and a variety of foundations and individuals. It offers classes in a great deal more than woodworking. During my week, fellow teachers came from the UK, Japan, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, and Georgia, to teach pottery, stone carving, basketry, marbling, wood turning and fabric design. Students came from as far away as Newfoundland and California, and were of all ages. Some came with their spouses. As my Uncle Ron and Aunt Louise had discovered, Arrowmont is an ideal vacation retreat for couples with grown children. Class rooms are open from 7 AM to midnight, allowing the more focused students plenty of time for independent work. Three meals a day are offered cafeteria style with vegetarian options and on campus housing allows students and faculty to retreat from the pressures of the world while advancing in their own creativity.
I found the week long intensive relationship with my fellow box makers to be exhilarating. It left no doubt in my mind why my Uncle was so hooked on Arrowmont. As did my Uncle Ron, I plan to return. If you love woodworking and find yourself in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, turn left at the Hard Rock Cafe. The wood studio is open for visitors.
I returned to teach in the spring of 2001, summer 2002, spring 2003 and spring 2004. Since that time, I have been teachign in a variety of other schools, but Arrowmont holds a firm grip on my heart.
Undergraduate and graduate credit for classes is available through the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Arrowmont has programs in place for studio assistant ships, work study and scholarships, and in addition, has a number of resident artists working on campus.
I am available for classes by special arrangement. For information contact me via email.
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