From mines to minds in Atlanta: Arts and crafts school in a cabin

The Atlanta School, offering workshops for the first time this summer, will let fans of solitude and wooded landscapes learn new skills while time traveling.

awebb@idahostatesman.comFebruary 12, 2014 

  • WORKSHOPS AT THE ATLANTA SCHOOL

    - Writing in the Pines: June 25-27

    - Small Projects: June 29-July 3

    - Small Structures: July 5-9

    - Solitude, Setting and Story: July 11-13

    Registration: Online; find the link at IdahoStatesman.com.

    Tuition and lodging: $150 a day. Rates are lower for students who want to camp rather than stay in historic cabins. Work-study opportunities are available in exchange for reduced fees.

    More about Atlanta

    Prospectors discovered gold in Atlanta in 1863, the same year pioneers platted Boise’s original 10 blocks. The town, 90 miles east of Boise, is in the National Register of Historic Places. In recent years, it’s become a refuge for artists, lovers of history, miners and others.

The gold rush town of Atlanta sits in a valley east of Boise at the base of Greylock Mountain on the Middle Fork of the Boise River. Running water and electricity are scarce. Solitude, rough-hewn timbers and big pines are not.

Now, visitors will have the chance to experience its history for themselves while picking up skills. The Atlanta School, headquartered in a cabin so picturesque it recently popped up on a website devoted to the most enticing woodsy structures across the globe, will host its first workshops this summer.

Topics range from writing poetry, to learning to lay a floor with reclaimed wood, to preserving Atlanta’s historic cemetery, to building an entire small structure using salvaged windows, hardware and other materials.

The Atlanta School is the brainchild of Amy O’Brien, the school’s principal, and Rachel Reichert, vice principal. The two spent time in Atlanta together in 2013 and started brainstorming about creating a school that would use the historic town as inspiration.

“This year is our ‘testing the waters’ to see what people are interested in studying,” said Reichert, whose day job is working with the Boise Department of Arts and History.

LEARNING BY IMMERSION

Reichert and O’Brien are offering four workshops in June and July, two focused on writing, two on building.

“We are starting with classes we would want to take ourselves,” said O’Brien. She will co-teach “Small Structures” and “Small Projects” classes with architect and public artist Byron Folwell.

O’Brien spent many years as a professional dancer in New York City. She started coming to Atlanta in 1998 to work alongside artist Kerry Moosman, the guiding spirit of Atlanta. He’s worked for years to rehabilitate a number of historic structures in the town.

“Kerry is the master of perseverance. He moves slowly through the town, year after year. Things get done,” said O’Brien.

She learned building skills from Moosman through intensive on-the-job training. She’s rebuilt four structures, which involved digging them out of the dirt, taking them apart, figuring out how to put them together again and re-roofing, insulating and wallpapering.

The full Atlanta School experience will include letting students lodge in rehabbed cabins.

“Each building is like a little art installation,” said O’Brien.

She owns the 1863 cabin that once belonged to Boise pioneer Ira Pierce. O’Brien and crew took it apart, tagged the logs and hauled them to Atlanta from Boise. It took her four years to restore the cabin to its current state — “sturdier than it ever was, except maybe when Pierce first built it,” she said.

OFF-LINE, LOW-TECH, HANDMADE

Reichert’s connection to Atlanta is through her friendship with O’Brien. She fell in love easily with Atlanta, she said, but acknowledges the town may be too quiet and rustic for some tastes. Atlanta has around 30 year-round residents, no gas pumps, no hospital. There’s one cafe with irregular hours and a driver who delivers the mail and who will shop for groceries for a small fee.

Atlantans are on their own, but not completely isolated, say Reichert and O’Brien. The Schwan’s food truck makes regular runs. Residents queue up.

For the past four or five years, Reichert has researched the goings-on at crafts schools across the country.

“It’s always been an interest of mine, small crafts schools in remote, beautiful areas, finding out what they’re doing, how they’re bringing communities together,” said Reichert.

Her research revealed that instructors of old-style crafts often travel a circuit from school to school.

“There isn’t always a lot of new programming, and not a lot of programs that are geographically unique,” she said.

She and O’Brien see the Atlanta School as an opportunity to be place-specific and authentic. The town’s character and past, its lack of modern features — the school has no running water, for example, but does have an outhouse — will directly shape classes. Future workshops are likely to remain utilitarian and low-tech: metal work, rug weaving, furniture making.

Even this year’s writing workshops are place specific. Poet and performance artist Adrian Kien’s poetry class will explore the layers, literal and figurative, of Atlanta. Greg Hahn, who oversees communications and marketing at Boise State, will teach a writing class. Its title, “Solitude, Setting and Story,” hints at the Atlanta sensibility.

Visitors to Atlanta take note: The town is hosting a parade and music festival on July 4. All are welcome.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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