LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The Adirondack Outlet Mall is a series of buildings hosting what you might expect: clothing and shoe stores, gift shops, and local restaurants that cater to some Lake George locals, and a lot of tourists. But, if you travel down to the far end of the Log Jam Outlets building, you’ll find one former storefront where the people inside aren’t shopping. Instead, they’re making.
On Thursday, three students gathered around instructor Larry Benjamin as he moved a metal tube through a pair of holes at one end of an almost entirely wooden canoe. It was the 10th day of an 11-day class, at the end of which each student would have their own, handmade wooden canoe – all made at the Adirondack Folk School’s new, second home at the Log Jam Outlets.
“One of the best things about this class is that it doesn’t require any prior experience at all,” said Benjamin, leaning on one of the boats-in-progress. “You don’t have to un-teach anything. Also, it’s a team-building experience. All four of us will work on each others’ boats because four people makes for easy work.”
Those four boats sat in one-third of the nearly 4,000-square-foot space that the Adirondack Folk School is using as a secondary teaching space. The middle third of the room is populated by tables and hands-on equipment, for classes like jewelry making and basketry. The last part of the space is home to an assortment of looms, used for weaving.
That array is just the start of the variety of classes the Adirondack Folk School provides. Founded in Lake Luzerne in 2010, the school hosts teachers running classes across a variety of hands-on forms of craft, from blacksmithing to glass art to woodworking. The outlet annex has been running for about a year, hosting around 50 classes and prompting the school to hire seven new instructors in that time. The benefits of being there are numerous.
“There’s a lot more foot traffic here in the Lake George outlets than there is in Lake Luzerne, so we’re reaching an audience that we wouldn’t otherwise reach,” said Scott Hayden, Executive Director of Adirondack Folk School. “It also gives us a tremendous amount of space – not just physical space, but another, bigger studio to offer classes throughout the year.”
The school was approached by the Moore family, which owns the Log Jam Outlets building – and members of whom have taken Benjamin’s canoe-making class themselves. The outlets are right by Exit 20 of the Adirondack Northway, significantly closer than the school’s main home in Lake Luzerne.
The latest seven instructors join a history of about 150 to teach everything from how to make a ceramic bowl to how to build a banjo, all since 2010. Roughly 50 of those teach during a given season. The running theme through all of them is giving students a hands-on experience where they get to learn and craft a new skill, and come out of it with something unique, and special.
That’s true in Benjamin’s canoe class as much as any. One of his students in the current session flattened three spiderplant leaves against the side of her canoe, embedded under the layer of fiberglass that covers the whole outside of a boat once every slat of wood is carefully slotted into place. Each student also gets to put a personal memento safely inside of the boat – a tradition that takes Benjamin back to building a boat with his own daughter.
“I gave her a film canister and said ‘Put what you want to in there, and I’ll put what I want in.’ She came back in about 20 minutes, and I asked what she chose, and she said ‘A piece of my baby blanket. What about you?’ And I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice – I chose a piece of your baby blanket, too.'”
Benjamin keeps a third piece of that baby blanket in his wallet, just in case he and his daughter ever build another boat. He’s seen others put in letters, photos, and mementos from deceased family members.
The school’s new Lake George location doesn’t change the fact that Lake Luzerne is its home. The town of Lake Luzerne encouraged the school’s start as an effort to bring more visitors to town to stimulate the local economy. Town resident Jim Mandle was inspired by a visit to North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota.
Several years and hundreds of class sessions in, the question of “Can we do this here, too?” has been met with a resounding “Yes.” That answer is written on every chair, instrument, photograph and more to come out of the school – now from one of two places in the southern Adirondacks.
“Our school is where people go to check something off of their bucket list,” said Hayden. “If people have something they’ve always wanted to learn to do, they come here.”