Art, culture and social connection By Abigail Thorpe | Photo By Rachel Adair
Hilary Petterson was introduced to Kaniksu Land Trust six years ago upon moving to Sandpoint with her husband. Since then, she’s worked with KLT as Camp Kaniksu staff, a Kaniksu Folk School instructor—and now as the Folk School coordinator. Originally from Prescott, Arizona, her youth was steeped in a life of folk arts, her entire family played folk music and volunteered at the local living history museum—experiences that drove her passion for connecting people to nature.
Today, Petterson pursues her passion with little distinction between work and play. She lives the skills she teaches, and in her free time you’ll find her weaving baskets, tanning hides, foraging for food, playing music and learning new skills.
Q. Tell us about your story. What brought you to Sandpoint, and what do you love most about this place? A. I became fascinated with humanity and our unique ability to appreciate art, culture and social connections. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities and Sociology from Northern Arizona University and have studied primitive living and wilderness survival skills from nationally acclaimed instructors. I traveled extensively teaching traditional living skills, operating my own nature-connection programs for children, and touring with various old-time folk and bluegrass bands. This is what ultimately led me to Sandpoint six years ago. I knew a couple of wilderness skills teachers that lived in this area, and they invited me to check it out. I fell in love with the lake, the land and with the community of like-minded folks that lived here.
Q. In what ways are you involved in the community, and what inspires you to give back and be a part of making our community strong? A. In these times I think it's important to share skills and strong community connection for our resilience as a whole. From the empowerment of making fire by hand to the sustainability of tending and harvesting your own foods and medicine, or carving your own spoon. We start to create a community story, through craft, that weaves us together and helps us feel as if we belong to this land. It's not about reverting back to the past but about relearning and using what has worked for humans for thousands of years. I'm so grateful to live in a community that supports this kind of connection and education.
Q. Can you share about the Kaniksu Folk School and the vision behind it? A. The Kaniksu Folk School seeks to enrich lives and foster an ethic of stewardship through offering classes in traditional skills and craft. It also aims to empower the community through uniting people around concepts of creativity, common values and knowledge sharing. The act of using our hands to create functional items from natural materials is rapidly becoming a lost art.
The folk school model also encourages local economies and handcrafted products made from locally sourced materials in an effort to decrease fossil fuel expenditures and enhance rural community resilience.
KFS was born in response to requests made by parents of children participating in KLT’s youth programs for a comparable experience for adults. It is modeled after renowned programs such as the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Adults and teens have the opportunity to learn from a high caliber of instructors who have refined their craft for decades.
The fledgling Folk School started last year has been an immense success in our community. In the first year, Kaniksu Folk School has provided nature-based education to over 150 adults in the community as well as supported 13 area craftspeople and artisans through paid instruction.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish at Kaniksu and the Folk School in the coming years? A. As the Kaniksu Folk School coordinator, I really want to make these skills accessible to our community. Each season, the roster of classes expands and more instructors have shown interest in participating.
The summer 2022 season includes a week-long timber frame workshop, a four-day sheep skin tanning workshop, shoe-making, pack basket weaving, dyeing, foraging, and a new traditional culinary arts series. As well as traditional skills, we also offer a community gathering to kick off each KFS new season lineup. These gatherings are free to attend and are welcoming to families and individuals of all ages and backgrounds. They feature craft demonstrations, old-time games and contests, music, food, and details about current and upcoming classes.
The Folk Arts Faire, taking place on September 17, will feature living history amusements, crafts, demonstrations, hands-on experiences, music and food. Our dream is to be able to expand our offerings as well as create a folk school farm campus with classrooms, gardens, a craft shop for local artisans, a tool library, and lodging for resident artists and interns as well as students and traveling teachers.
Q. What does this area and Kaniksu Land Trust provide this community that makes our area unique, and how can the community embrace this to the fullest? A. This isn’t just arts and crafts. It’s investing in yourself with an education in basic living skills that we are losing as a culture. Having a knowledge of how to meet our basic needs makes us feel confident and happy.
Community feedback has helped shape the content, cost and length of classes. Interest in sustainable building practices has emerged out of the housing market crisis. Kaniksu Land Trust is addressing this issue through a grassroots community land trust initiative and through its folk school, offering hands-on classes that empower people to create their own simple shelters. The spring 2022 Kaniksu Folk School season included a three-day yurt building class, and the summer season includes a week-long timber-framing workshop.
There is no other program in this area for adults that offers education around traditional folk arts and skills, and there is a great need and interest in our growing community to keep these traditions alive.
I love the quote from Peter Drucker that says, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Let’s learn our way to a more sustainable society through the community-based traditional skill-building and social learning that comes from a deep connection to the environment and each other.
Learn more about classes and offerings at Kaniksu.org/kaniksufolkschool.