What follows is my interview with Carson Sams, who is heading up the Folk Art School part of Common Ground. Carson is a native Virginian and life-long resident of Spotsylvania County. He is passionate about his art and making sure the skills that made our country hundreds of years ago are preserved, protected and continue to evolve in the modern age. – Cornelia Miller Rutherford
Why don’t you tell me a little about YOU. Where are you’re from?. What’s your background?
I grew up on a small farm in Partlow, Virginia. It’s in the Southern-most corner of Spotsylvania County and is still very rural. We were poor but I didn’t know it. Every day we milked a cow, ate vegetables from the garden, tended to the livestock and brought fire wood in for the night. I thought we had it better than most, for my father was constantly helping and sharing with others that needed it more. It was this way of life that molded and forged me into the person I am today. Spotsylvania county is home for me. It’s where my family and friends live. It’s where I graduated high school, and that’s where I’m going to stay.
You’re a Blacksmith by trade now but you’ve done other things, right?
Yes, I’ve worked in retail, most recently for Lowes Home Improvement but now I’m a full-time craftsman. I work at the Sugar Loaf Craft shows, the Virginia State Fair, Highland Games, the Virginia Renaissance Faire among others and also do a lot of custom iron work.
As a founding member of the Phoenix Event Alliance, you’re specifically focused on creating a folk art school on the site. How do you see your part of the project relating to and supporting the community?
I have talked with and interacted with a number of contractors and tradesman during my time in retail. They all have a similar story about how scared they are for the next generation. Vocational centers are being pulled out of schools, FFA [Future Farmers of America] is no longer being funded, shop class is taking out of rotation. Will the next generation or the generation after that, know how to work with your hands?
Clearly there’s a market for the items you produce. People are drawn to fine hand-crafted items. but how important is it in this day and age to know how to do these this?
It’s vitally important. For those nonbelievers look at the dying art of the craftsman. Go back one generation or maybe two. How many custom cabinet makers are left? [How many] Traditional Stonemasons, Blacksmiths, and Timber framers are left. The skills used by these tradesmen are dying. Go back three generations now . How many people still know how to make their own brooms or baskets? How many still have the skill and knowledge forge their own tools or have the skill to craft their own furniture. I propose a school to preserve and teach the ways of our grandfather our fathers in my generation and for generations to come. Teach person to think, to use their hands; give them the necessary tools and skills to work with them. To show someone the value in and gratitude it takes to create something from your mind and not be afraid of a little hard work, for what happens if we lose it?
Tell me something totally unexpected about you.
I have a large collection of 90s rap music.
Seriously? This does surprise me.
I spent two years in Hawaii during high school during the Rodney King beating and birth of NWA in California. It didn’t hit the east coast with same impact. The music spoke to me. I was one of a hand full of white kids and even less black kids in a high school of more than 3500. Once a week we’d be beat up just because we didn’t look like the native Hawaiians. They would actually just pick a day and that was THE day for a beating. To be hated for your skin color is something no one should experience.
Thanks for taking the time with me today, Carson. If anyone would like to have more information about the Folk Art School or the PEA in general, can they contact you?
Absolutely. Post to this blog and we’ll find a way to connect. I’m constantly looking for artisans willing to share their knowledge with others. You can always message me through my Facebook page: Carson’s Customs, LLC.