6 Top-Notch Craft Schools From Across the Country
Learn to make art with instruction from professional artists
There is no shortage of artisans in the United States, which is why there are also some phenomenal craft schools — and why male and female makers like me embark on annual summer pilgrimages to gain new skills in quilting, jewelry-making, woodworking, metal work, felting, painting, silversmithing and more.
Not only do we learn from respected artists, we also bond with fellow makers. And thankfully, there are usually plentiful opportunities to work outside, as most of the schools are located in a bucolic, isolated setting.
Fiber artist Ellen Schiffman, 68, is an avid student, having taken lots of classes at a variety of craft schools. "I'm a bit of a craft school junkie," she says. "I always try to take classes in media that I'm not working in right now. If I am doing a lot of felting, I will enroll in a slow stitch class. Taking classes gets me out of my routine and energizes me to go in directions that I never would have imagined before. I go home with a new repertoire of techniques and materials I can use in my art."
As gratifying as the experience can be, be aware that going to a craft school can be expensive, adding up to a couple of thousand dollars or more with class fees and travel and accommodation costs.
"You have to look at it as an experiential vacation," advises Schiffman. And if cost is an issue, you can consider taking a day or weekend class rather than committing to a longer workshop.
Top Craft Schools to Consider
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, founded in 1950 and located on an isolated island in Maine, is one of the most famous craft schools in the U.S.
"At all of these schools, the goal is to open yourself up to playing and enjoying the process."
"Haystack is one of the most beautiful places in the country," says Schiffman, "and was designed by an award-winning architect to make the school blend in with the environment." There is studio space to work in ceramics, fiber, graphics, iron/glass, metals and wood, as well as a digital fabrication lab and a 100-seat auditorium for lectures.
Haystack is only open to adults over the age of 18. It is also one of the few schools you must apply to for a space in a workshop. (Most other schools operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.)
"Even though you have to apply, they are looking more for enthusiasm and diversity in their student population rather than a certain skill level," Schiffman says. "So, apply, and don't get nervous about going if you get accepted. At all of these schools, the goal is to open yourself up to playing and enjoying the process. Don't let fear of not being good enough get in your way."
Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts, Ludlow, Vermont
Although bigger craft schools get the lion's share of the attention, Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts has been quietly offering creative learning vacations in the Green Mountains since 1947. Vermont's oldest residential arts and crafts school — celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2022 — is tucked into a hill on the side of Ludlow's main road and comprised of a series of nondescript white buildings. Blink and you'll pass right by the school, but if you turn onto the dirt road, you'll be beguiled by its charm. (The school is my personal favorite, and a place I have returned to many times as a student as well as to teach.)
"Fletcher Farm has a long tradition of nurturing the arts," says board chairperson Susan Damone Balch, a noted quilter. "We have students coming from across the country to enjoy a few days to a week in the countryside and learn both conventional methods of making, as well as new techniques and skills."
The atmosphere is relaxed, and small class sizes mean students receive lots of individualized attention. And because the school is run by the non-profit Society of Vermont Craftsmen, Fletcher Farm is as committed to supporting teachers and artisans as it is students, says Balch. It is also among the least intimidating of the craft schools, offering a plethora of crafts and fine arts for students with a range of art skills.
Snow Farm: The New England Craft Program, Williamsburg, Massachusetts
Snow Farm is located on 50 acres in the bucolic Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts and offers over 150 classes between January and October. It was founded in 1982 as a summer craft school for teenagers, and over the years has expanded its offerings to adults of all ages.
Off-campus, students will find that the Berkshires are an artistically verdant region, near to fine academic institutions like Amherst and Smith Colleges and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (affectionally known as MassMoca and specializing in large artworks). There are also many opportunities to hike and commune with nature.
The wood-turning program — the art of shaping wood with a machine called a lathe — is particularly popular and highly regarded at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
Peters Valley School of Craft, Bevans, New Jersey
Just an hour and a half from New York City, the sprawling campus of Peters Valley School of Craft is situated in a quiet section of western New Jersey in the Delaware Water Gap, a recreational area created by the damming of the Delaware River. The school acknowledges that it exists on the lands of the Munsee Lenni Lenape people, who have a legacy of being fine craftspeople.
Now 49 years old, the school is targeted to adult life-long learners who wish to study with highly regarded artists in a variety of disciplines, such as blacksmithing, ceramics, fiber/surface design, fiber/weaving, fine metals, photography, woodworking and glassmaking. Acknowledged as one of the top craft schools in the world, students come from around the world to study at Peters Valley, according to its website.
Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Just a few miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles both Tennessee and North Carolina, and an hour from Knoxville, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts was established in 1912 and today offers weekend and one- and two-week workshops in various contemporary arts and crafts from March through November of each year. The wood-turning program — the art of shaping wood with a machine called a lathe — is particularly popular and highly regarded at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
Penland School of Craft, Penland, North Carolina
In North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, about an hour from Asheville, Penland School of Craft is another well-regarded craft school with a history dating back to the early 20th century: It was founded in 1929 by Lucy Morgan, who described it as a place to engage in "the joy of creative occupation and a certain togetherness—working with one another in creating the good and the beautiful."
With sixteen studios, 57 buildings, and 420 wooded acres, it is also quite large, and accommodates about 1,400 students ranging in age from 18 to over 80 years old annually. Crafts taught here include book-and papermaking, clay, drawing and painting, glass-making, ironwork and metal smithing, photography, printmaking, fiber art and woodworking.
Pilchuck Glass School, Stanwood, Washington
For crafters interested in glass-making, the Pilchuck Glass School is an ideal destination for summer and fall workshops. The school is located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains on a working tree farm an hour from Seattle. Workshops focus on experimentation with glass techniques and learning to work as a creative team with others (since glassmaking can be unwieldy and often requires more than two hands).
While you're in the Seattle area, visit the spectacular Chihuly Garden and Glass Center for inspiration from Washington-born, renown glass artist Dale Chihuly.