FOSSTON, Minn. -- From blacksmithing, to basket weaving, to book making, Pine to Prairie Folk School is preserving old-world trades by teaching them to new generations.
Since Jeff Olson, a metal smith, and Stephenie Anderson, a fiber artist and beekeeper, founded the folk art school in 2018, hundreds of students have attended classes at the school in Fosston.
The two decided to form the Pine to Prairie Folk School because both were hosting classes at their homes and doing demonstrations on the road and figured they would reach more people by combining theirs and other artists’ talents. The mission of the school is “to preserve heritage trades and foster community through experiential learning and teaching traditional crafts.”
Anderson, a beekeeper and owner of Bear Paw Honey Bees, is president of the five-member Pine to Prairie Folk School Board and Olson, owner of Olson Iron Works, is its treasurer and artist-in-residence. The school is in a building on the east edge of Fosston that Anderson built in 2013.
Olson teaches metalsmithing at the school. He has a passion for producing Viking art and gets satisfaction turning an abstract idea into something solid.
“Being able to take raw materials and turn it into something you can only see in your mind,” Olson said. “It’s the journey I enjoy the most. When I finish, I’m thinking about that next journey.”
Olson's creations vary from a Viking candle holder, to Celtic cloak pins to a replica of the Hjemkomst Viking Ship. The ship replica, dedicated in September 2019, is at the corner of South Brandt Avenue and Hilligoss Boulevard in Fosston.
Making Viking items is metalssmith work Olson particularly enjoys. Besides the Hjemkomst ship replica, he also made a Viking pendant of Thor's hammer for Matthew Sabatino, a New York fashion designer who owns Barnaby Black American Wilderness Products.
“I don’t want to have mass production,” Olson said. “I prefer the one-offs.”
Besides making unique pieces of metal art, Olson’s artistic focus is the folk school. He enjoys teaching metalsmith classes to people who never before have done hands-on crafts, Olson said.
One of his students is Donna Larson, 74, who made a coat hook in one of Olson’s metalsmithing classes at Pine to Prairie Folk School.
Larson told Olson she never in her life would have thought she could make something like that.
“I looked at Stephenie and I said ‘That’s why we do this,’” Olson recalled.
Larson found the metalsmithing class fascinating and still is in awe that she made the coat hook.
“I look at it, and I’m amazed every time,” Larson said.
Larson is just one of hundreds of youth and adults who have taken classes at Pine to Prairie Folk School during the past two years. Other classes offered include basket weaving, mukluk making and weaving.
“There’s an earth connection, an ancestor connection," Anderson said. “Those seem to be our most popular classes.”
“You’re using the four elements of the earth: fire, earth, wind and water,” Olson said. "Blood, sweat and tears, too. The classes are intense.”
On Saturday, Pine to Prairie Folk School is hosting an Off Grid Expo from noon until 5 p.m. at Ventures Bar and Grill in Fosston. The Feb. 22 event will feature a variety of speakers who embrace the outdoors and nature. They includes, besides Olson and Anderson, Tony Roed, a Fosston knife maker; Matthew Forgit, a lifelong cross-country skier from Fertile, Minn.; and Karen Forbes, who lived full-time in a tipi for five years and now lives in a house in Bemidji, but still grows, gathers and hunts for her food.