The Folk School Fairbanks moves into new home

John Manthei, left, and Kaiyuh Cornberg stand on the porch of The Folk School Fairbanks' new home off Miller Hill Road in Fairbanks, Alaska Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. The log cabin formerly belonged to Normal Larsen, a longtime Fairbanks woodworker who died in February. As a way to honor her mother's memory, Larsen's daughter, Laurie, struck a deal with the Folk School to make it their new home. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Tim Mowry)

FAIRBANKS — The Folk School Fairbanks finally has a home — both literally and figuratively — and it couldn’t be a better fit.


The Folk School, a group of industrious Alaskans who teach classes focusing on traditional skills such as woodworking, blacksmithing, knife making and knitting, moved into a log cabin on Miller Hill Road last month that formerly belonged to Norma Larsen, an old-time Fairbanksan and woodworker who passed away in February.

The idea to use the house as a home for the Folk School was hatched by Larsen’s daughter, Laurie, and one of the school’s founders, John Manthei, during a conversation at a potluck to remember Larry Mayo, another longtime Fairbanksan who recently passed away.

“She was talking about how she was going to have to get all this junk out of here and what to do with the house and I said, ‘Whoa,’” Manthei recalled.

The Folk School had been looking for property to build a home when Larsen and Manthei got to talking. Manthei toured the house and property with Larsen and they agreed the cabin would make a perfect home for the Folk School.

“The more we talked about it the more we realized Norma would have thought this was the perfect idea,” Manthei said. “She would have embraced everything the Folk School offered.”

While financial details of the arrangement are still being worked out, the Folk School took possession of the cabin a month ago and has been teaching classes in the new space for three weeks now, said Manthei, who has spent the last two weekends teaching a class on making green wood chairs in the Folk School’s new home.

“It’s a perfect fit,” he said.

Norma Larsen and her husband, Al, who died several years before she did, built the three-sided log home near the top of Miller Hill Road sometime in the 1960s. Manthei described it as “funky” and said the woodsy setting, as well as the layout, fits the needs of the Folk School perfectly. The one-story home has only two rooms on the main floor, one of which is a large, open, 26-by-32-foot space that housed the kitchen, dining area, living room and wood stove. That room will serve as the main classroom area while the other, smaller space will house an administrative office. The kitchen will remain where it is to host cooking classes and the basement of the house is being converted into a multi-purpose workshop that will also be used for classes.

Previously, the Folk School’s classes were usually held at the house of whoever was teaching the class, Manthei said.

“I had all my classes in my garage,” he said.

Having a home has “brought a new level of energy” to the Folk School, Manthei said.

“Everybody that comes here falls in love with it,” he said. “It’s energized the whole idea of the Folk School.”

One of the school’s wood carving instructors, Phil Marshall, is working on a sign for the outside of the building.

Having been good friends with Norma Larsen over the years, Manthei thinks she would approve of the arrangement.

“The cool thing about all this is thinking about Norma,” he said. “She would have loved it.”

Perhaps Kaiyuh Cornberg, a 19-year-old creative writing instructor for the Folk School, summed it up best in announcing the school’s new home on the Folk School web site.

“It is delightful and serendipitous that her house should become the home of the Folk School, of which she had been a student before the school was established,” Cornberg wrote of Norma Larsen. “She always had projects at hand and would have wanted to see students finding enjoyment using the very tools she loved to work with, sitting around the kitchen table where she made her art, in the house she helped construct with her own two hands.

“Once more, Norma’s floor will catch wood shavings and bits of bark, her legacy to live on in sawdust, books, weeks in the woods, and whatever else folks come to learn, and to love.”


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