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Jim Mandle

Jim Mandle

At Adirondack Folk School, Even Flatlanders Can Learn Native Crafts

By Anthony F. Hall

Monday, August 8, 2011

When Jim Mandle became a year-round resident of Lake Luzerne (he’s a fifth generation summer resident), he found himself with three goals: to help revitalize the hamlet of Lake Luzerne; to help sustain the local crafts and trades of woodworking, weaving and smithing; and to provide work for local artisans.

With the Adirondack Folk School, which he founded in Lake Luzerne’s former Town Hall last year, he’s on his way to accomplishing all three.

The amphitheater

“We did this all with private donations, some in cash, some in labor, some in the form of tools and other things people were no longer using. I’ve become very good at begging,” said Mandle.

Within the former offices and meeting rooms of  the 19th century building (it was an Odd Fellows’ Hall before becoming the Town Hall), instructors offer classes in rustic furniture building, caning, paddle making, basketry, fly tying, weaving, soap making and pottery, among other things.

Outside, not far from the banks of the Hudson, a pavilion has been completed to house the school’s blacksmiths’ forge.

All classes are taught by experienced craftsmen, artists and artisans, whose work is displayed and sold in the school’s gift shop.

Among the objects made by students displayed, with obvious pride, by Mandle, was a wannigan.

“Who can tell me what this is?” he asks. “Here’s a clue: look at the bottom.”

The bottom of the beautiful wooden box resembles the cross section of a canoe, where, it so happens, it fits perfectly.

“A wanningan is an Algonquin or Abenaki word for a storage box that would be used to hold supplies during a long canoe trip. It’s still a very practical item,” said Mandle.

Students register for courses through the Continuing Education department at SUNY Adirondack (formerly known as Adirondack Community College.) Some classes last half a day, others are extended over a period of days.

Students have come from throughout the state and from as far away as Germany. Among the school’s volunteer staff is an intern from Ohio, who found the school on the web.

“We’re looking for instructors, for members, but most of all, we’re looking for students,” said Mandle.

“This is learning for the sheer joy of it,”  said Mandle. “It’s a chance to try your hand at something new.”

The school is modeled after “the people’s schools” of Scandanavia, in which individuals choose to learn a subject even, and especially if, they have no experience or expertise in the topic.

“We’re modeled after folk schools in Denmark, in Minnesota and in North Carolina, but we’re the only school teaching traditional Adirondack crafts,” said Mandle.

For more information about the Adirondack Folk School, call 696-2400.

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