If Dan Kaercher can learn to draw at the Villages Folk School, then most of the rest of us can, too. The class offerings range from traditional arts to blacksmithing to knitting and are taught in each of the scenic and historic Villages of Van Buren County.
Hosted by Dan Kaercher, Iowa's Simple Pleasures features Iowa travel destinations, restaurants, events, parks, recreation and more. Produced by Iowa Public Television, the series highlights fun things for Iowans to do, see and taste, right here at home.
Kaercher: I'm all about having a good time, and if I learn something at the same time, all the better, which is exactly what happened when I visited several communities in Van Buren County. Ever want to step away from your busy lifestyle and experience a simpler time? Well, this Simple pleasure is located in a quaint little corner of Southeast Iowa, the Villages Folk School. It offers classes for anyone wanting to learn traditional, time-honored skills or study the fine arts. The uniqueness of this school is not only the classes offered, but the location. There's no school building housing at all. The classes actually take place all over the scenic, historic, and enchanting Villages of Van Buren County.
Lammert: Van Buren County is beautiful, I think, year around. Every season there's something new to look at. And the fact that they hold the school -- the classes in different locations, not just one, they utilize all of the county, and I think that's a -- that's a plus.
Kaercher: Gin Lammert is one of the many artists who not only lives in Van Buren County but teaches at the Villages Folk School as well. The manager of the school, Ken Burns, shares some stories of students from the classes. We had a man last weekend, never painted in his life. And he sat on the riverbank up in Betonsport, and we looked across the river with the old covered bridge and the colored leaves of the trees behind. And he's sitting there with his easel, sitting on a chair, and he said to me, he said, "Ken, I’ve never done this before in my life," he said, "But this is absolutely incredible." Classes run anywhere from $20 to $200. It just depends on the class they decide to take. Like our blacksmithing class is a $200 class for two days, 9-5. There are four people with four forges, so they have an opportunity to work all day long with a qualified artist/instructor next to them. What I’d like to say about Bill Printy, who has been a blacksmith in Bentonsport since the '70s, is that he's turned the working of iron into a fine art. And the young man who came from Minnesota who saw this on the internet and he asked his mom, "Could I go down and take a blacksmithing class," at the time he asked that, he had no idea that his great-grandfather was the person who was instrumental in getting this blacksmith to this area. So when that story began to unfold and that young man realized that he's pounding on a forge in the same time where his great-grandfather worked his woodworking business, I think it began to show some maturity in him that you wouldn't expect in a thirteen year old. And I think it made a real change in him, and I think it will be something he carries with him the rest of his life.
Lammert: There's a lot of talented people here. They've grown up in this area, moved away, had careers in other forms. A lot of retired people have come back. Some have dabbled in the arts before, and I’ve met a lot of people in theater, the visual arts, and all the humanities here.
Kaercher: I’m sure everybody has a talent in their own way, but have you ever spotted any, like, real talent that others would recognize?
Lammert: Yes, yes. Again, with some of the students that I get, they have been exposed to visual arts before, maybe have taken a few classes in a community college or had a minor in an art degree in school and haven't drawn or painted for a long time. It just kind of reawakens that inspiration inside themselves.
Kaercher: I’m sure that's very satisfying, but there must be challenges too to doing this.
Lammert: The biggest challenge is if you don't like to get dirty, this isn't a medium for you.
Kaercher: You're going to get your fingers --
Lammert: You're going to get your hands dirty, and if you're not careful, you'll have it all over your face or on your clothes. I’m new to pastels. I first thought it was too messy, but then I found out that you can always clean your hands off.
Kaercher: What kind of feedback do you get from your students?
Lammert: I have had some say they were so inspired that they've continued to work on their own, and that's why I’d like to teach.
Kaercher: Now, gin, for the novices, what's the hardest thing? Are they afraid to draw that first line and what have you?
Lammert: What's the hardest thing I think of is breaking that stick of pastel. The first time I had gotten a set of pastels, they come pristine and they're perfect. There's paper on them. And picking it up and realizing the best way to use them is you have it break them in half. That I think is the hardest thing.
Kaercher: Some people really have to be pushed to get past that mentality of doing it right?
Lammert: Well, what I teach, there's no really right or wrong to do it. It's self-expression and it's amazing what will come through once you relax and break that first stick. With so many great classes to take and beautiful scenery to take in, the Villages Folk School makes living the arts easy.