A new school opening in Waterford asks people to step away from their screens for three days and focus on learning traditional crafts and skills.
The Waterford Heritage Crafts School will offer its first classes Friday through next Sunday, giving students a chance to receive a hands-on introduction to archaeology or to learn how to restore antique windows, make quilts or mix and apply lime mortar.
The school is an initiative of the Waterford Foundation, a 73-year-old organization that was created to help preserve the 18th-century village in western Loudoun County. Foundation officials hope that the school, based at the Waterford Old School on Fairfax Street, will attract students who are looking for alternatives to social media, online games and endless screen time.
“The more and more virtual our world becomes, we really need to get back to experiencing life hands-on, rather than through a screen,” the foundation’s director, Tom Kuehhas, said. People “really want to get back to experiencing things firsthand.”
Kuehhas said that learning has been part of the foundation’s annual Waterford Fair since it began in the 1940s, with local people teaching others about their crafts. Over time, the fair has drawn more vendors and artisans from other areas, but teaching has remained an important part of the foundation’s mission, he said.
“To this day, vendors who are artisans are required to spend half their time teaching their trade or craft,” he said.
Kuehhas hopes that the school will build on the success of the fair, which will be Oct. 7 to 9 this year.
“The fair is wonderful, but is only one long weekend per year,” he said.
The Waterford Heritage Crafts School will open with four classes for adults and “mature teenagers,” offering about 10 hours of instruction over the three-day span. Tuition is $300 for each class.
David Clark of the Loudoun Archaeological Foundation will teach a class on the craft of archaeology. Waterford contractor Tim McGinn will lead a course on antique window restoration, focusing on the village’s historic Second Street School.
Stonemason Allen Cochran of Lincoln will teach an introductory course on lime mortar, focusing on how mortar is made, mixed and matched for use in restoring historic brick and stonework. Brenda Ashley and Ceil Karvellas of the Waterford Quilters Guild will lead a class on appliqué quilting.
The classes will follow the folk-school model, which emphasizes noncompetitive education with no tests or grades, Kuehhas said.
People are hungry for the style of education provided by folk schools, said Carol Voigts, a member of the Folk Education Association of America, a network of more than 40 folk schools across the country. The educational concept originated in Denmark in the 1800s and was embraced by influential American educators such as John Dewey, Voigts said.
“It’s not a folk school because it might teach you folk craft, folk art, folk dance or folk music,” said Jan Davidson, director of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., one of the oldest and largest folk schools in the country. “It’s a folk school because it’s saying, ‘Hey folks, here’s your school.’ So no matter who you are, or what your prerequisites are, this is a school that should have something for you.
“The underlying principle is that it’s a school for folks, and to bring folks together,” Davidson said. “And its primary purpose . . . is to provide experiences in community and noncompetitive education.”
This type of education is particularly appealing to the younger generations that have become increasingly dependent on cellphones, Davidson said.
“It’s becoming more obvious to more people that life has got to be made out of more than just moving your thumbs around,” he said, adding that the concentration required in learning traditional crafts is the “exact opposite” of multitasking.
“You absolutely tune out everything in the world except the enjoyable thing you’re doing right now,” Davidson said. “It’s the intense concentration that elevates your spirit, makes you feel really good and, I think, makes you momentarily sane.”
The Waterford Heritage Crafts School is starting small, with just one weekend of classes this year. Kuehhas expects that the foundation will schedule classes over four weekends next year, with the hope that the school will grow from there. He said he thinks that the school is particularly well suited to Waterford, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
“Using this National Historic Landmark village as a backdrop is really unbeatable,” he said. “It’s the perfect setting for it.”