Experiencing The Alabama Folk School

Written by Whitley Gregoire, Alabama Folk School Summer 2016 Intern, Eureka College Durward Sandifer Fellow

Imagine a very insecure, unconfident, unsure-about-her-career-choice senior in college. Now place her miles from home, more like several states to the south, in a place she has never heard of or been to before. That was me BEFORE I experienced the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell. I had the privilege to stay at Camp McDowell and shadow various people in the Alabama Folk School. A mentorship from Eureka College allowed me to stay for six weeks and gain various experiences in the areas of Music and Art specifically.

Whitley (right) demonstrates chords to a Youth Folk camper.

Whitley (right) demonstrates chords to a Youth Folk camper.

Whitley and Youth Folk campers hike to the cross.

Whitley and Youth Folk campers hike to the cross.

I first started out helping with Youth Folk Camp. Just learning how things operated, I filled in where I could and acted as a utility person when something needed to be done. I would have to say, one of my favorite things that I enjoyed was escorting the campers to their classes. Whether it was tie-dying, visiting the farm, fiddle classes, or guitar and mandolin class, there was something for everyone. I had the pleasure of working with the guitar and mandolin class. Aspiring to one day teach guitar, I watched carefully how the two instructors (Laine Poole and Jimmy Gauld) taught both the advance and beginning students. Everybody shone brightly at the concerts and presentations at the end of camp. Many friends and relationships were made in that short period of time, so it was hard to see them go.

Mary Ann Pettway teaches Whitley how to sew like, "my momma taught me." 

Mary Ann Pettway teaches Whitley how to sew like, "my momma taught me." 

Whitley visits with Herb Trottman at Fretted Instruments in Birgmingham.

Whitley visits with Herb Trottman at Fretted Instruments in Birgmingham.

One of the goals for my mentorship was to interview business owners to gain insight on how to be successful in the art and music industry. My first stop was visiting the wonderful quilters of Gee’s Bend at the Gee’s Bend Collective. Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway are some of the best teachers I have ever met. I was taught how to hand sew, like Mary Ann’s mother taught her as a child. They may not have the biggest business, but they do have some of the richest spirits in Alabama. Come to one of their classes and ask them to sing while you sew; you’ll understand then! Another person I interviewed was Herb Trotman, a master banjoist and owner of Fretted Instruments. He taught me that the power of word of mouth can be more powerful than having a digital presence. Dori DeCamillis and Scott Bennett, owners of the Red Dot Gallery, gave me insights on being both teachers and artists themselves.

The Alabama Folk School does more than just provide classes to take. It gives you a foundation to forget your insecurities. It gives you confidence in the skills you learn in class. It forms lasting friendships that will last well after the classes end. Whether you’re just beginning or have been doing your craft for years, the Alabama Folk School has classes to fit your skill set. So what are you waiting for? Sign up already! Your adventure waits.

Sincerely,

Whitley Gregoire, A now very confident senior college student

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The fall lineup of workshops includes:

·       Farm Folk Weekend, September 2-5

·       Acoustic Guitar & Crafts, September 9-11

·       Old Time Music & Crafts, October 13-16

·       Watercolor & Painting, October 23-28

·       Traditional Arts & Crafts, November 3-6