Preserving the Past

By Sarah Ann Schultz (

Article Published: Sep. 26, 2013 | Modified: Sep. 26, 2013
Preserving the Past

Mike and Jane Campbell take a seat on the front porch of their log cabin in Boone. The couple will be demonstrating colonial life skills at this year’s Boone Heritage Festival, returning to Hickory Ridge Living History Museum Oct. 12.

Photo by Sarah Ann Schultz

Mike and Jane Campbell are all about preserving the past.

They live in a colonial-style log cabin in Boone that Mike built himself, and they run an apple orchard that’s been in Jane’s family for more than 100 years. Mike is a frontier skills artist, and Jane is a fiber artist.

As a frontier skills artist, Mike teaches basic self-sufficiency skills that pioneers had, such as how to tan hides, sew leather, process meat, build basic shelters and hew logs.

As a fiber artist, Jane knits, weaves, spins, crochets and does felt-making. Jane is a member of Hands Gallery, Crossnore Weavers, Blue Ridge Spinners and Weavers, Fiber Artisan’s Studio and the Village of Yesteryear at the N.C. State Fair.

Both Mike and Jane taught themselves their skills. Growing up on the back of Beech Mountain, Mike learned many of his skills from his grandparents after developing an interest in history at age 10. Jane developed in an interest in fibers when her sixth-grade teacher taught her how to knit, and she kept experimenting with fibers from there.

“They are both so multi-faceted,” said Mark Freed, cultural resources coordinator with the town of Boone. “They are very passionate about what they do, and they are always willing to share their crafts and skills.”

The Campbells are long-time volunteers at Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, a 18th-century outdoor museum, located at Horn in the West on Horn Avenue in Boone. The museum’s volunteers dress in colonial costume and demonstrate what life was like in the 1700s.

“When kids can visit a site and see that this lady makes thread, but it’s still going to be weeks before it’s converted into blue jeans, they get an appreciation,” Mike said. “That’s what we would like them to do — just get an appreciation of the people who came before them.”

Mike and Jane have been working at the museum for 30 years and don’t plan on leaving any time soon. “I hope we’ll always be museum volunteers,” Jane said.

Mike and Jane also host school groups to Coffey Grounds, the orchard on their property. Kids get to go through a small corn maze and on a wagon ride, and they also get to take home a bag of apples. The Campbells estimate that between 800 and 900 students will visit the orchard within the next month.

For the Campbells, all of their work is intended to teach kids about their heritage.

“What we want kids to do is have an awareness of the past,” Mike said. “Kids really respond to it, usually.”

And both of the Campbells’ own children have carried on much of the traditions themselves. Cole, 21, is a big history buff like his father, and Ivy, 19, works with fibers like her mother.

“Few are so open and enthusiastic about getting younger generations involved in the history and traditions of the Southern mountains,” Freed said. “Mike and Jane are treasures to this community.”

Mike and Jane will both be demonstrating their skills at this year’s Boone Heritage Festival on Oct. 12. The festival, to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hickory Ridge, is hosted by the Southern Appalachian Historical Association and the town of Boone. Admission to the festival is free.

“We’re glad that Jane and Mike are going to be able to join us this year,” said Michelle Ligon, festival planner. “They’re both good craftspeople.”

The Campbells have participated in the Boone Heritage Festival, originally known as the Apple Festival, since it was created 33 years ago.

“It’s certainly a different type of festival,” Mike said. “It’s that great window, which offers us a view to the past.”

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