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  • John C. Campbell Folk School: The Folk School offers visitors a chance to experience a special blend of history, art, and natural beauty in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
  • Bea Hensley, Blacksmith: A National Heritage Fellowship Award winner, Bea Hensley has been blacksmithing since he was a young man. Today, he and his son give demonstrations of traditional techniques to create fine ornamental ironwork.
  • Homegrown Handmade: Culture and agriculture come together on these unique “agri-cultural” trails which can be found in 72 North Carolina counties.

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A recent visit to the Mountain Heritage Center on the campus of Western Carolina University opened my eyes to the rich history of the southern Appalachian people and their culture. The knowledgeable staff at the Center presents programs and exhibits which illustrate the history and traditions of Appalachia by telling the stories of the native people and the natural world, the settling of the area by the Scotch-Irish people and their agricultural traditions, the Depression era, and today’s tourism.

My group began our visit at the Center in the auditorium. A short film explained the area and the history of the people. Staff members, Peter Koch and Suzanne McDowell, brought out a selection of “mystery” artifacts and we were able to examine them closely to try to decide what they might have been used for. Our visit was capped off with a tour of the many exhibits on display. “Temporary exhibits are also available which center around such themes as blacksmithing, traditions in the mountains, mountain trout, the natural and cultural history of an Appalachian watershed, and the enduring popularity of handwoven coverlets and the southern Appalachian handicraft movement.” All the programs have been developed in accordance with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study in Arts Education, English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. They help students to explore relationships between themselves, objects, and other cultures. They also heighten observation skills and encourage students to think critically and draw conclusions.

The Mountain Heritage Center has a wonderful outreach program for school groups. Traveling trunks are available for a four week loan. Fourth grade students can learn about the history and diversity of quilts though touchable samples, curriculum based activities, and oral history materials. Another traveling trunk teaches them about pioneer life in the southern Appalachians through books, artifacts, music, and curriculum based activities dealing with themes of daily life. A new traveling trunk available for 3rd grade classes explores the natural and cultural aspects of gardening.

The Center also loans video programs for grades 2 through 8. Students can learn about Appalachian pastimes, the rich textile heritage of the area, agricultural traditions, or hear about the experiences of a Civil War soldier. Programs usually last around one hour.

Located at 150 H. F. Robinson Building on the campus of Western Carolina University, the Center is open to the public free of charge. Visiting hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 828-227-7129 for more information and to make a reservation for your group.

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