South Arts, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, continues to support Hindman Settlement School through its ‘In These Mountains Central Appalachian Folk Arts and Culture’ initiative. In the 2019-2020 school year, we have expanded our After-School Traditional Arts Program to offer a wider variety of artistic mediums for students in Knott and Floyd Counties.
The Pick and Bow After-School Music Program continues at Hindman Elementary and May Valley Elementary. For the first time, we partnered with the Appalachian Artisan Center to coordinate an Introduction to Blacksmithing class for local high school students. At Duff-Allen Central Elementary School, we now offer a clogging and square dancing class and an Appalachian cooking and foodways class. We also coordinate monthly community square dances in Perry County for residential youth served by Buckhorn Children and Family Services. This spring, we will offer an Introduction to Quilting course, along with a Painting & Poetry course, which will prompt students to reflect on their identity and the local landscape.
This fall and spring, Community Scholar Timi Reedy came to the Settlement School to visit our After-School Traditional Arts Program and document the classes for South Arts. We are thankful that Timi recorded insightful interviews with the instructors and students in these programs, and we have quoted those interviews below.
The Introduction to Blacksmithing course was taught by Meritt Conley and Jill Robertson, two artists who live in Perry County. Conley and Robertson also teach metalworking with youth in foster care and with adults through the Culture of Recovery program sponsored by the Appalachian Artisan Center. Robertson’s metalwork is available for sale at the Appalachian Artisan Center and through her website: https://thegypsyforge.com/
A total of four students participated in this eight-week course. Three students came from eastern Kentucky: one from Knott County, one from Perry County, and one from Letcher County. One family drove over four hours round-trip each week from West Virginia to participate in the class.
Robertson had this to say about her experience co-teaching the class, “[Metalworking] seems very therapeutic to these students. This class offers social development and therapy, and what kind of teenager doesn’t want to play with fire? The students who have participated, you can see them learning. They are now comfortable with fire; they could do this independently if they wanted to. That is phenomenal. The thing that I care about most is self-efficacy, the belief in yourself and you can see that piece happening. I want students to see, ‘If I can do this thing, I can do these twenty other things.’ It’s harder to look around and say, ‘there’s nothing here for us, there’s nothing to do’ when you see all these young people do these extraordinary things all the time. Hope becomes contagious. I think we are planting seeds over here and hoping. This is the best investment of my time.”
Conley spoke about the content of the class and the growth experienced by students and teachers alike: “I start the students out with something big and cumbersome to wear them out [laughter], to let them get a feel for how metal moves. We work on posture, we make sure that they are practicing safe techniques and wearing the right safety equipment. They always go home with something that they have made. We usually start by making a hook. I tell students to remember the basic techniques they have learned, and then ask them to imagine what they want to make for the next class. It really helps to visualize and bring into being something that started out as an ambiguous idea. So, we hammer out thoughts like we hammer out metal.”
Courses in traditional music, visual art, creative writing, dance, and textile arts are offered free of charge for students in eastern Kentucky public schools. This project is a component of the ‘In These Mountains: Central Appalachian Folk Arts and Culture’ initiative and supported in part by a grant from South Arts, a nonprofit regional arts organization.