The Spirit of the 1890s is Alive in Washington's Folk School Movement

DIY folk schools embrace rural living skills.
Folk school students learn archery.

With life more fast-paced than ever, filled with smartphones, social media and next-day delivery, the idea of unplugging from technology and returning to a simpler way of life has some appeal. This longing may be why folk schools are popping up across the country, including in the Puget Sound region.

Started in mid-19th-century Denmark as an alternative to traditional academic schools, folk schools offer classes in rural arts and living skills. “We need more people who know how to make [these crafts] that are one generation away from being lost arts,” says Stacey Waterman-Hoey, founder of the Olympia-based Arbutus Folk School, which offers classes in blacksmithing, stone carving and fiber arts.

Similar classes are offered at the Turtleback Folk School on Orcas Island, which opened in March, and CedarRoot School in Jefferson County, founded in 2010. The schools emphasize skills-based, hands-on learning, such as treating illness with herbal medicine and the practice of saving seeds, concepts that might have been familiar to a student’s great-grandparent. Children’s courses focus on the outdoors and interacting with nature.

At these schools, what was once considered old is made new again. “The metal, wood, bone and stone that we have interacted with for millennia as a species is still relevant today,” says Scott Brinton, director and cofounder of CedarRoot School. 

Arbutus Folk School
$18–$500. Prices vary based on course.
Olympia, 610 Fourth Ave. E; 360.867.8815

Cedarroot School
$35–$490. Prices and locations vary based on course.
Nordland; 360.379.5413

Turtleback Folk School
$0–$120. Prices and locations vary based on course, scholarships available.
Orcas Island


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