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Preserving Appalachian folkways

Trail Town Arts Project offers classes in quilting, canning, art, and music

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

If you’ve ever wanted to learn to can, quilt, or even to build your own guitar, the Olive Hill Center for Arts and Education (OHCAE) has you covered with a new series that offers free classes in traditional Appalachian arts for students of all ages and experience levels.

The new class series, dubbed the Trail Town Arts Project, is sponsored through South Art’s In These Mountains project. The series will offer up to six classes to help students learn to become self-sufficient while creating items of both beauty and functionality.

While the series technically kicks off on Thursday, November 10, with a songwriting workshop led by Matthew Parsons, the busiest single day for classes is the following Saturday, November 12 – with classes in quilting, canning and preservation, and pottery.

Classes kick off at 9 a.m. on Saturday, with a canning and home preservation class led by Alisa Messer, supervisor at Commercial Bank of Grayson and a community leader with organizations like the Olive Hill Chamber and Carter County Kiwanis Club. Messer, who has been canning garden produce, and making delicious jams, jellies, and preserves for more than 20 years, will teach students how to prepare and preserve those seasonal items for use throughout the year. The goal of the class, she said, is to “pass on a longstanding foodway tradition by teaching young people about food independence.”

Of course, if you’re preserving food, you need something to eat it off of. You can learn to make your own bowls and plates in the second class of Saturday. a pottery workshop led by Caleb Burchett. Burchett, an art teacher with a bachelor’s degree in studio arts from Eastern Kentucky University, will teach students to build cups, bowls, and plates in his class, which starts at 10:30 at the Olive Hill Center for Arts and Education.

Of course, after filling your belly with good food, served on gorgeous custom dishware, there is nothing like a cozy nap under a warm quilt. Loyd Eden, an 86-year-old retired Air Force veteran, took up quilting 20 years ago. In that time he’s learned the ins and outs of the art pretty well. Eden will teach students the basic skills required to make a quilt and operate a sewing machine. His class starts at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Appalachian art and culture aren’t just about food and physical items, though. Music is as much a part of our identity as blackberry preserves and heirloom quilts. It’s also, along with storytelling, a big part of the Trail Town Stage brand. Those more ethereal aspects of our culture are explored in the songwriting and stringed instrument classes.

Songwriting, the first class in the series, starts at 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 10. Carter County librarian, storyteller, and traditional musician Matt Parsons will teach students songwriting techniques, as well as offering insights on how to perform on stage to a live audience. The course is open to everyone, of all skill levels, and include group and individual mentoring.

If you’re interested in brushing up on your picking skills to complement that new song you’ve written, or just want to join in on a campfire jam, come back on Tuesday, November 15, for stringed instrument lessons with Megan Gregory, starting at 5 p.m.

Gregory, an accomplished bluegrass and traditional musician, is a certified Mark O’Connor Method instructor. She also serves on the faculty at the Morehead State University School of Traditional Music. Students of all skill levels are welcome to join in. While those with instruments are encouraged to bring them if they like, it isn’t necessary to participate in the class.

Of course, you could also just learn to build one if you like.

Few families exemplify self-sufficiency as completely as the Parsons clan. Much of that is down to patriarch William Parsons. Parsons doesn’t just raise and preserve his own food and livestock. He also makes his own entertainment – quite literally. In addition to being an accomplished singer and songwriter in his own right, the traditional music instructor and Olive Hill area resident is a highly regarded luthier, specializing in mandolins. Parsons mandolins are sought out by traditional and experimental players because of his innovative and inventive use of materials and design.

Parsons will teach a class on stringed instrument building and repair beginning at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, November 15.

If you’re interested in learning to build your own instrument from scratch, in repairing an heirloom instrument, or just in properly maintaining and repairing an instrument you already love, Will Parsons is more than qualified to give you the guidance you need to begin.

All of these classes are provided free of charge, and students will meet with their instructors and be provided schedules at their first meeting. Students should meet their instructors in the gymnasium of the OHCAE, at 120 Comet Drive, in Olive Hill, at the scheduled meeting time for their first class.

While all ages are welcome, children age six and younger will need to be accompanied by an adult.

If you require any accessibility accommodations or have other special needs, please contact the OHCAE in advance. You can contact the Center by telephone at (859)583-1495. Or, for those issues or any other needs or questions, you can contact Caleb Burchett by email at arts@ohcae.org.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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