Monday, December 2, 2013

The North House Folk School, and Other Northern Topics

I'm back! I missed my blog, but a two week break was necessary. I was on a small productivity hiatus to clear the mind and prepare for newer and better topics. Yay!

During the hiatus I finally made it to another northern location in November (last year it was Reykjavik, Iceland). Don't judge! Traveling in November has its definite perks: cheaper rates (can you say hotel room with a lake view?) and less people. And when I say less people, I mean practically no people at all.

This year's sparsely populated location was Grand Marais, MN. More specifically, The North House Folk School

To set the scene:

Grand Marais is located 4 hours north of Minneapolis, 2 hours north of Duluth, and 1 hour south of the Canadian border. A quiet fishing town on the shores of the largely untamed Lake Superior, Grand Marais is sleepy, quaint, and beautiful. Most businesses don't even open until 10 in the morning, and the sight of my neon pink hat bobbing down the road caused people to stare out of the windows of the town's idyllic shops.

Harbor view, Grand Marais

Northern graffiti

Aforementioned hotel room view

I was interested in Grand Marais because of its reputation as a vibrant arts community brimming with natural beauty. Although I didn't visit in peak season, I am positive that the reputation is true. I was also interested because I had never been to northern Minnesota, and knew I would be leaving the area soon. So far I have gotten more than I bargained for on the trip. The drive up was shockingly beautiful, with many famous sights along the way such as the town of Two Harbors, MN. 

Two Harbors

Farther along up Hwy 61 are two more parks, Grand Portage State Park (Minnesota's largest waterfall), and Judge Magney State Park (home of Devil's Kettle- a waterfall which pours its waters into a mysterious hole in the  ground). 

Devil's Kettle

I think it's important to talk about the setting of The North House Folk School to understand why it is the way it is and why it exists where it does. I didn't make it there until the second day of the trip, but luckily I woke up bright and early this morning and trekked my way through the snow that will continue to fall for the next two days. When I walked into the small office, a woman behind the desk told me, "You're early." She was was only about 8:30 in the morning. 

Unfortunately, I arrived at the school at a bad time. There were no classes going on, and the last group of interns had just left for the winter. However, I still got to look through the wonderful gift and book shop, which boasted crafts made by the talented instructors at the school. The shop had everything from hand carved Swedish horses to mittens made from Icelandic wool. It also had books on the many types of Northern crafts that the school offers such as canoe building, knitting, sailing, and baking. The nice lady behind the desk let me look through some of the buildings on campus like the canoe building room shown below. 

The campus is cozy and small, and felt more like a summer camp than a school. I can see that the climate in the summer months would make this an ideal setting for learning Northern crafts, however, the winter must inspire much of what comes out of the school such as hand painted winter scenes on birch bark and the incredibly pricey wool mittens I mentioned earlier. The school also brings a unique cultural component to Grand Marais by hosting events like the Arctic Film Festival on December 18 (yes, I am more than slightly heartbroken that I am missing it). The school is an important place, similar in nature to Franconia because of its setting in a community that is traditionally where people go to hunt, fish, ski, etc. - but not to look at art. It is also located in an area that is of course delightfully saturated with Scandinavians, and therefore has all the support it needs to be successful. It has helped to give Grand Marais its reputation as an arts community and to draw people from all over the world. People such as these weirdos.


The town also boasts several galleries and an Arts Colony (although I haven't visited any of these). It is colorful and historical, and the people are very welcoming and eager to talk. It is another one of Minnesota's marvels and a fantastic example of how supportive Minnesota is of arts and culture. In a place like Grand Marais, the arts should be encouraged. The unique blend of undeveloped freshwater shoreline, unexplored forests, and unexpected hills creates a perfect nook for those looking to learn the delicate and intricate crafts of the north.  It's safe to say that Josh, Luke, and I will not be the last creative souls to venture to Grand Marais looking for its welcoming embrace. Although, we may be the only people stupid enough to visit on the brink of a blizzard [truthfully, I am still relaxing comfortably on the North Shore. The anticipated snowfall in the next two days is about 20 inches, and we may or may not be stranded in town with no Wifi or electricity until the weekend. Okay, not really, I'm exaggerating. But seriously, I wanted to make sure this post got written JUST IN CASE. If we get stuck we may just have to stay in town and learn how to build a yurt. We can stay the winter hunting deer and befriending moose. Wish us luck!]. 

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