A Dream Realized

Nyberg pushes for and gets
Southern Indiana Folk School

Program will educate students
on the region’s folk arts

(July 2014) – John Nyberg, the new executive director of the Jefferson County (Ind.) Historical Society, soon will fulfill a long-term goal. Since the early 1990s, Nyberg has wanted to open a Folk School, one modeled on a prestigious place such as the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina and other centers for folk arts.

Folk School

Photo by Alice Jane Smith

John Nyberg, left, says he
hopes to introduce folk arts
to area students through the
newly established school, to be
based at the Jefferson County
Historical Society.

When Nyberg interviewed for the director’s job at the historical society in fall 2012, he talked about his interest in a Folk School. He applied for grants for a Folk School. In December, he started his new job as executive director of the historical society, and he hasn’t stopped since then.
Now the Southern Indiana Folk School is scheduled to open late this summer, thanks to Nyberg’s vision, staff and volunteers, plus the enthusiastic support of the historical society board, and a $6,000 grant from the Madison-Jefferson County Community Foundation, and a $4,300 grant from the Community Arts Program at Hanover College, the Indiana Arts Commission, a state agency and the National Endowment of the Arts, a federal agency.
The Southern Indiana Folk School may be the first Folk School in Southern Indiana.
“When I saw the artifacts in the museum here, I knew what I wanted to do,” said Nyberg, 51. Southern Indiana has roots in southern culture from early settlers, so an emphasis on folk crafts is a “good fit,” he said. Also, there are many artisans in this area.
Nyberg is a graduate of the Middle Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in Design and Historic Preservation. His grandmother was a Swedish artisan, and his grandfather had a family farm on Big Creek in Jefferson County. It’s not far-fetched to say that the folk arts and Jefferson County run in his blood. His wife, Kim, who serves as interim director of the newly formed Madison Area Arts Alliance, shares his passion for the Folk School.
Dr. Geoffrey Weiss, grants development officer for Hanover College, is liaison to the Indiana Arts Commission. “This is actually one of the first folk arts proposals we’ve had in my time as partner liaison,” he wrote in an email about the Folk School grant.
“One reason I’m excited about the folk arts grant is that we don’t have a lot of folk arts projects in Region 12 (southern Indiana),” Dr. Weiss said in a phone interview. He added that he hopes the Folk School project “will help get more arts into the community that people respond to and love.” He also hopes it will stimulate more project proposals to the Indiana Arts Commission. 
Folk School classes will be open to all ages. Nyberg envisions classes in which people work together in a way that opens communication. When he was executive director at Historic Rock Castle, Tenn., for example, he established a basket making class with a talented basket maker. Tension was high at the start of the class but loosened as the class progressed. People began to laugh and talk, he said. “It’s the journey that matters and the making that matters.”
Likewise, he said he hopes that Folk School classes will help stimulate conversations among participants, be they families, friends or others whose communication has been stifled by the pervasiveness of social media, such as texting.
Although the class schedule has not been finalized, Joanne Spiller, education director for the Historical Society, said she thinks the first classes will focus on children’s education, such as weaving, learning to quilt and basket making. Later, there will be folk dance lessons for children and adults, but they will be offered at different times. Folk School classes will be separate for children and adults, Spiller said.
Nyberg and Spiller are recruiting instructors from Indiana and Kentucky to teach the folk arts classes.
“We are ready to push forward,” Spiller said. “There are so many people who have many diverse talents. I never have had any problem finding people to volunteer to step up to help with (our) History Camp,” she said. Although Spiller referred to volunteers for the History Camp, instructors for the Folk School will be paid.
Nyberg wants to keep fees reasonable for the school. The school also will be able to offer some scholarships.
The folk school has the support of the board of the Historical Society.
Linda Roaks, a weaver, organist and board member, is an enthusiastic supporter. She also supports the society’s new director. “John has been a boon for the society,” she said.
A volunteer who works with fabrics at the historical society, Roaks promoted the idea of using a motif from a Shelby Township coverlet for the new Folk School logo. Curiously modern as a logo, the motif is from an 1800s woven coverlet by James Cranston. Of the logo, she said, “I think it’s going to be fun.”
“The idea of the Folk School will, I hope, spark interest in the community, whether people are there weaving or making paper,” Roaks said. “I hope we can keep it going. I hope different people will come here, especially those who never would think of coming to an historical society museum.”
Indeed, this is where museums are headed, according to Nyberg. “People don’t want to look at something behind a glass case,” he said. “They want to make it.”                                                                                               Soon they will be able to make it in a pleasant ground-floor room of the Historical Society at 615 W. First St., Madison. The room is accessible from Vernon Street, just across from the colorful gardens of the Lanthier Winery and easily accessible for anyone in a wheelchair or otherwise impaired.

Schedules will be posted on the website of the Jefferson County Historical Society (www.jchshc.org). There will be a link on the website for registration. People may call the Historical Society to register or express an interest in teaching a class by calling (812) 265-2235. There will be a brochure and information on the Historical Society’s Facebook page.

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