Getting Crafty While on Vacation

Satisfy your inner creativity with a multitude of artist workshops at these top U.S. craft schools.

It seems paradoxical that staying up late working, night after night, can be restful. However, when you’re in an art studio among similarly engaged students and gorgeous natural surroundings, that’s the result. Craft schools in many beautiful places offer short summer classes in just about any medium you’ve ever longed to try. Your fellow students could be both amateurs and professionals—you’ll find respectful acceptance regardless of your own level and inspiration.

While the arts and crafts schools are often in remote locations, your session will usually be enlivened by art auctions, lectures and performances. Often other artists have settled in the vicinity, opening studios and galleries that you can tour. Here is a list of the top craft schools, including typical fees, although many schools offer scholarships and work-study deals (expect an additional course fee for materials). Sometimes you can also save by staying off-campus.

Penland School of Crafts, Penland, N.C.

With an enchanting location in a high bowl of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Penland was founded to preserve traditional mountain crafts, but it has evolved into an important center for contemporary art education. Besides the more common media, there are studios in papermaking, book arts and hand printing. Penland is especially known for its pioneering glass program.

I spent a week there learning cast-glass sculpture. Though I studied art in college, years had passed since I’d been in a studio. I had forgotten the intense pleasure of quietly making something beautiful—while others were doing the same thing all around me. I didn’t change careers and become an artist, but I certainly refreshed my own involvement with art. Fees for one-, two- and 2.5-week classes range from $445 to $1,405. Room and board starts at $387 for a week, but costs increase depending on what accommodation you choose.

John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, N.C.

The focus at this 300-acre craft center in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is the culture of the Southern Appalachians. The arts and crafts that are taught include storytelling, blacksmithing, dollmaking, soapmaking, leatherwork and contra dancing— nearly 50 categories in all. Typical tuition is $290 for a weekend course and $460 for a five-day session. For five nights of meals and lodging, the costs range from $269 for a tenting site to $534 per person for a premium shared room with private bath.

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine

Competition is fierce for space in the one- and two-week classes at this highly respected school in Maine. Studios and lodgings are in a cluster of rustic-modern buildings descending a hillside to the rocky waterfront. Internationally celebrated faculty members specialize in blacksmithing, clay, fiber art, glass, graphics, metals, and wood. Tuition for the craft programs are $390 for one week and $730 for two weeks. Room and board can be up to $1,590 depending on the choice of lodging.

Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts, Ludlow, Vt.

This school is located in a picturesque Vermont village. Though a range of contemporary arts are taught, the school also offers classes in traditional crafts such as quilting, stenciling, making sailor’s valentines and painting floorcloths. Tuition for two-day courses is about $144 and is $288 for five-day courses. Room, breakfast and lunch run $87 per night for a single, and $77 per night per person in a double. There are ample spots in town to find dinner.

Snowfarm, the New England Craft Program, Williamsburg, Mass.

Established craft professionals from the Northeast teach weeklong sessions from April through October on this pastoral campus in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Hills. Each session includes 25 hours of intensive class work with the teacher, while most studios remain open 24 hours a day for individual work, which is common at these schools. Media include glass, painting and drawing, furniture making, textiles, woodworking, clay and photography. Tuition, meals and lodging typically run between $705 and $830.

Peters Valley Craft Center, Layton, N.J.

From May through September, there are two- to five-day craft workshops at this eminent crafts school in the scenic Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area of New Jersey. Media include blacksmithing, ceramics, fibers, fine metals, photography and woodworking. Tuition for five-day courses, for example, is usually $460. Lodging in historic houses on the campus ranges from $10 a day (for youth hostel-type accommodations) to $65 a day, per person in a double. Meal prices for breakfast, lunch and dinner average about $30 a day.

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Gatlinburg, Tenn.

On a Tennessee campus that includes both modern and historic buildings as well as a delightful sculpture garden, Arrowmont offers classes in basketry, fiber, metal, painting, woodworking, photography and clay. There are one- and two-week sessions in spring and summer, and one-week and weekend classes in the fall. Tuition for one-week classes is about $440, with room and board running from $312 in a dorm to $682 for a private room with bath.

North House Folk School, Grand Marais, Minn.

North House was founded to pass on traditional arts and crafts skills of Minnesota’s North Country including basketry, toolmaking, sewing, rug hooking, birding and many others. Course lengths can range from part of a day to five days (and occasionally longer, such as a 16-day boat building workshop). There are no on-site accommodations, but many nearby lodging places offer a student discount. You can figure about $75 to $100 a day for tuition.