New Olympia nonprofit school to teach a variety of traditional, hands-on skills

Contributing writerOctober 18, 2013 

When she came up with the idea to open a school for traditional arts, crafts and music, Stacey Waterman-Hoey thought her idea was a new one.

“I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were a place where we could do all the stuff that we used to do in scouts or in school that we don’t get to do anymore when we grow up?’” said Waterman-Hoey, president of the board for Olympia’s Arbutus Folk School, having its grand opening Saturday. “I thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone thought of doing this before?’

“Then I did some research and discovered that there are folk schools all over the country, but there are hardly any west of the Mississippi.”

It was time to bring the idea west, she said. “This is a mature region. We don’t have the same history as the Northeast, but we have a fascinating and rich and multicultural history.”

The nonprofit school will teach woodworking, ceramics, fiber arts, and music. One of the first classes coming up is blacksmithing.

“That class filled up in 24 hours, so we’re going to be offering it again soon,” said Matt Newton, vice president of the Arbutus board and a woodworking teacher in the YouthBuild program at New Market Skills Center, the career and technical school that serves Thurston County high school students. He’ll be co-teaching an upcoming Arbutus class on beehive building.

Waterman-Hoey herself is not an expert in traditional art. “I want this school to exist so I can take classes and learn,” she said.

She’s far from alone in the desire to connect with the tradition of making useful objects, said Newton, who has long wanted to start a woodworking school for adults.

“It seems like every time I have a dinner conversation with somebody who doesn’t do woodworking, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I could take a woodworking class.’ A lot of people sit at a desk for eight hours a day using a computer, but while they’re doing that, they are dreaming about making something they saw in Fine Woodworking magazine.

“I think people are starving to get out of the cubicle that they work in all day long and do something experiential and hands-on.”

While it will teach traditional methods, the school will also offer classes in modern techniques.

“People have asked me, ‘Is it going to be like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ with all hand tools and no power tools?’ ” Waterman-Hoey said. “I said, ‘No, we have power tools.’ It’s traditional in that it’s working with traditional materials — wood, ceramics, fibers.

“We are not just an art school,” she added. “There is a folk aspect to it, but there’s a little bit of modern work in there, too.”

Olympia’s enthusiasm for the idea of a folk school is high, judging by the number of volunteers and donors getting involved, Waterman-Hoey said.

The school has a dedicated woodshop as well as retail space selling crafts, tools and sustainable lumber, and flexible space for other workshops and events. A dedicated pottery studio is next on the agenda.

“We were estimating originally that we were going to have spend at least $30,000 to get the woodshop up and running, and it’s been a fraction of that,” she said. “We might end up spending like $2,000.

“We’ve gotten so much support from the community,” she added. “It’s been humbling and beautiful.”

Arbutus Folk School Grand Opening

What: The nonprofit school — a place where artists, artisans and musicians can share their skills — celebrates its grand opening with hands-on demonstrations, a kids workshop on how to make a corn-husk doll, music, stories and local food.

When: 3-9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Arbutus Folk School, 120 State Ave. NE #303, Olympia

Tickets: Free

More information: 360-867-8815 or


Here are the first three classes at the school:

n Scandinavian Knife Making: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Oct. 21-24; $200. Each student will make a knife that fits his or her hand and a sheath, working with wood, leather, metal and more.

n Introduction to Blacksmithing: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 26; $100. Students will learn the basics of blacksmithing, making nails, decorative leaves or barbecue skewers. (This class is full and will be offered again.)

n Top-Bar Beehive Building: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 16 and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 17; $200. Students will learn the basics of working in a wood shop, reading plans and using a miter saw while creating a hive. The class will also cover the basics of managing a hive.

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