Independence Day Reflections

by Lisa Marie Ryder, Director of The Alabama Folk School

When I think back to the birth of our great country, I think of simpler living. Simpler, not easier! I am reminded of the inspiration behind the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell and how our workshops help preserve the knowledge and traditions of bygone days.

 A Gee's Bend quilt in patriotic colors by Alabama Folk School instructor, Mary Ann Pettway. 

A Gee's Bend quilt in patriotic colors by Alabama Folk School instructor, Mary Ann Pettway. 

I can visualize the handknit, sewn, and woven clothes—the garments dyed with colors made from indigo, bark and berries. I can picture an early American supper table heartily set with corn, squash, beans, apples, jam, and syrup, accompanied by livestock, fresh game, or fish. There’s also cider and beer at the table. A family gathers around to enjoy time together after a hard day’s work. A pleasant evening is filled with music, song, or someone reading aloud from a book

 A Gee's Bend quilt in patriotic colors by Alabama Folk School instructor, China Pettway. 

A Gee's Bend quilt in patriotic colors by Alabama Folk School instructor, China Pettway. 

During this time, Americans were originally from England, Germany, Ireland, Holland, Scotland, Sweden, and Africa. The traditions of these cultures were uniquely shaping the ways of life in America, and families took pride in passing down their skills and traditions though generations.

These folk traditions of early America not only represent our past, but are at the root of so much contemporary art and culture today.

As summer comes to a close, I invite you to join us at the Alabama Folk School where we strive to keep our early folk traditions alive by teaching those who want to learn. You can construct your own butcher block cutting board, repair your mother’s favorite caned chair, and more in the upcoming workshops:

· Acoustic Guitar & Crafts, September 9-11

· Old Time Music & Crafts, October 13-16

· Watercolor & Painting Workshop, October 23-28

· Traditional Arts & Crafts, November 3-6

Learn more and register by clicking on the workshop titles above. 

The Alabama Folk School: Where Friends Gather

by Lisa Marie Ryder, Director of The Alabama Folk School

Last month at the Bluegrass & Gee’s Bend Workshop, many people came together to dedicate Chris’s Studio, the visual arts studio named in memory of Arnold Petri Christenson. It was a joyous and beautiful occasion. Several people shared their memories of Chris playing banjo and encouraging others at Alabama Folk School workshops. In some cases, Chris inspired other students to learn new instruments or have the confidence to expand on an instrument they’ve played for a long time.

 Students gather for an impromptu jam session on the porch during the Bluegrass & Gee's Bend workshop.

Students gather for an impromptu jam session on the porch during the Bluegrass & Gee's Bend workshop.

Hearing so many heartfelt memories of the friendship and camaraderie Chris exemplified made me realize that there were others in the room carrying on his legacy. Just during Bluegrass & Gee’s Bend alone, I witnessed students support one another to take a solo in a jam session or play onstage during the final showcase. Others shared sewing machines and fabric in the quilting workshop. I saw for the first time, as the new Director of the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell, how folk school workshops are so much more than world class instruction in folk art and music; they are a place we people come together in community and build deep and genuine friendships.

The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell has opportunities this summer for youth, adults, and families to make new friends and catch up with old friends:

Youth Folk Camp, June 14-17, is open to rising 5th to 12th graders and features a unique combination of summer camp community and folk school instruction in fiddle, guitar, pottery, indigo dying and painting, and farming.

C.A.M.P. Camp, June 17-19, is an opened-ended folk school experience where people are invited to bring along their instruments, works in progress, and be prepared to relax and have a good time. We will create the schedule together as the weekend continues. Individuals and families are welcome.

Learn more and register by clicking on the workshop titles above. 

Art As A Catalyst

by Lisa Marie Ryder, Director of The Alabama Folk School

The love for art and music was first planted in me as a young child while dancing to Elton John music with my dad and making aluminum foil Christmas ornaments with my mom. Those seeds were watered and nurtured in the arts and crafts cabin at Waycross Episcopal Camp where I attended every summer of my youth. 

 Alabama Folk School Director, Lisa Marie Ryder (right), on Bear Creek at Waycross Episcopal Camp & Conference Center. Summer 1997

Alabama Folk School Director, Lisa Marie Ryder (right), on Bear Creek at Waycross Episcopal Camp & Conference Center. Summer 1997

The encouragement I received from the Arts & Crafts Director inspired me to participate in ceramics and cake decorating in 4-H, and dive into art, home economics, and music classes in middle and high school. And those experiences ultimately led me to pursue art and museum education degrees and enjoy a vibrant career in art museums and art education institutions around the world. 

When I look back, I can now see how those summers creating art at Waycross were a catalyst in my life. I can confidently say they play a profound role in why I am currently driving across country to begin the next chapter of my life as the Director of the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell.

I couldn't be more thrilled to share with you the upcoming spring and summer workshops at the Alabama Folk School:

* Bluegrass & Gee's Bend, April 18-21
* Cajun Weekend, May 6-8
* Youth Folk Camp, June 14-17
* C.A.M.P. Camp, June 17-19

I hope you will join us for an Alabama Folk School workshop soon, and perhaps you will find it to be a catalyst in your life. 

Introducing Our New Director!

 The Alabama Folk School's new Director, Lisa Marie Ryder, with her husband, James Ryder.

The Alabama Folk School's new Director, Lisa Marie Ryder, with her husband, James Ryder.

 Camp McDowell's new certified Facility Dog, Dolly.

Camp McDowell's new certified Facility Dog, Dolly.


We are very pleased to introduce our new Director of the Alabama Folk School, Lisa Marie Ryder. Lisa Marie and her husband, James, come to Camp McDowell via Camp Latgawa where they served as the Co-Directors of the year-round Episcopal camp and retreat center located in Southern Oregon. 

Lisa Marie was formed and transformed as a camper and staff member at Waycross Episcopal Camp in Indiana. With an undergraduate degree in Art and graduate degree in Museum Education, Lisa Marie was a teaching artist and museum educator in some of the world's finest arts institutions, including The Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C.), The National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia), and Kroeller-Mueller Museum (Otterlo, The Netherlands). She also served as the manager for The National Children's Museum's outreach division where she coordinated the museum's annual participation in events like The White House Easter Egg Roll and the National Cherry Blossom Festival. 

James grew up camping at Camp Caroline on the North Carolina Coast. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Social Science Secondary Education and went on to teach high school social studies in Southern Appalachia. James later earned a Master of Professional Studies in Political Management and worked in Washington, D.C. both on Capitol Hill and in political non-profits. James is an alumnus of Appalachian State University's Outdoor Programs and has worked extensively in outdoor education coordinating high adventure programming for children and adults in both for- and non-profit camps. 

We are also pleased to introduce, Dolly, a Certified Facility Dog who will come to work at Camp McDowell with James and Lisa Marie. Dolly was bred and raised to be a working dog by Canine Angels Service Teams-a non-profit that trains service dogs for children with disabilities. Dolly participated in 18-months of residential training to prepare to work in a camp and retreat center environment. James, Lisa Marie, and Dolly graduated from the Canine Angels Service Teams program in June 2014. Dolly will join James and Lisa Marie at Camp McDowell to provide emotional and therapeutic benefits to guests and staff. 

Our First Ever Annual Catalog, It’s Finally Here!

It's hard to believe that this moment is finally here. Ever since I began working at the folk school over three years ago, I have dreamed of being able to produce a beautiful catalog that would display all of the folk school's workshops and classes. For me, having an annual catalog means that the Alabama Folk School can count itself among the ranks of the other well established art, music and folk schools in the country.

The first annual Alabama Folk School catalog is forty pages long and details all fourteen workshops and sixty four classes offer in 2015. You may download a digital copy here on our website, or you may email me directly at folkschool@campmcdowell.com, and I will happily mail you a paper copy.

I hope you enjoy the new catalog and that it provides a glimpse into the unique experience that is the Alabama Folk School.