Friday, August 6, 2021

What's Raspberry Island Folk School?

The past two summers have been tough due to the pandemic, but we are hopeful we can have a few classes in summer 2022. We'll be sorting through choices in the next few months and updating our class selection in February or March 2022. Stay tuned for updates, and thank you for your interest!

We admit, the term "folk school" may be a bit grand for what we do -- but Raspberry Island Folk School is a folk school in its truest sense: simply a place where people learn new skills using their hands.

We were recently featured on the TV show Common Ground on Lakeland PBS (thank you, Scott Knudson!).  You can see the episode here:

We started offering summertime classes in blacksmithing and pottery on our island several years ago, mainly taught by Gary. Over the years, offerings have come to include workshops taught by well-known and sought-after instructors in the folk arts.

Raspberry Island is located on beautiful, historic Big Sandy Lake, about 2 1/4 hours straight north of the Twin Cities. (For more information about life on Raspberry Island, see

All seven acres of Raspberry Island, looking from SSE to NNW

We hope you can join us this summer for an art and nature break!

Because we run our folk school from our home, visitors are welcome by prior arrangement only by calling Gary at 218.851.6085. Classes are held only from May to September; there are no winter classes. Thanks!  

Workshops 2021

We started out slowly in 2021 with three classes and will be updating this site in winter 2022.

Be sure to register as soon as you can, as classes are filled on a first-come/first-served basis as we receive registration forms. 

* Flat Felting *

Thursday, August 19, 2021
11:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. 
Instructor: Christine Valento

Two-dimensional wet felting is wooly fun! We're so happy Chrissy Valento is able to come out to teach this creative class.

Felting with a needle is like painting, but with wool and a needle. In this class you'll create a 2D wet felted artwork, about 9" x 9". The image design will be completely up to you. Chrissy will have some samples on hand to inspire you. You'll learn both wet felting and needle felting, so you'll have some knowledge to take with you to create more wool paintings on your own. Spoiler alert: Felting can be addicting!

Course fee: $50 plus $20 materials fee (latter payable at class)

Limited to 12     Four openings left in this class as of August 6th! 

Notes:  Be sure to have eaten lunch before you arrive. Water and coffee will be provided. Bring a bath towel (it will get wet, but not ruined).

* Beginner’s Class in  Forging Pattern Welded Steel (“Damascus”) *


Saturday-Sunday August 21-22, 2021
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (evening participation optional)
Instructor: Jeff Harper

Students in this class will go home with a couple of billets of their own creation
to use in other courses and projects, like those shown here
-- as well as the knowledge to make more. 

This two-day introductory class will take you through the basics of pattern welded/Damascus steel. On the first day, using high carbon steel, we will focus on material preparation, and will forge-weld a small billet by hand. Our subsequent larger billets will be done with the help of the power hammer. Pattern manipulations such as random and twist will be followed by raindrop and ladder as student proficiency allows. In the evening we will go into forge welding billets of steel cable and chain.

Day two will consist of shaping, polishing, heat treatment, and etching. We will also be continuing work begun the previous day.

Course Fee: $150 plus materials fee $35-40
Limited to 8 students (THIS CLASS IS FULL)
No forging experience required

If needed, primitive lodging is available free on the island (first-come-first-served and limited; see registration form). 

* Forging the Finnish Puukko with Birchbark Handle *


Saturday-Sunday August 28-29, 2021
Instructor:  Gary Hill

The Finnish Puukko is a traditional short-bladed knife for the working man or woman, commonly carried in a sheath on a belt. This class will involve forging the blade from carbon steel, shaping, hardening, tempering and fabrication of a handle from multiple layers of birchbark cross sections stacked on the tang. (Sheath-making will not be a part of the class). 

Course fees: $100 plus $15-20 materials fee
Limited to 4 students  (THIS CLASS IS FULL)

If needed, primitive lodging is available free on the island (first-come-first-served and limited; see registration form). 

How to Register for a Class, What to Bring, Driving Directions, and Contact Information

To register for a class, print and complete the Registration Form (click here) and mail it with your check(s) to Gary Hill, 50569 218th Place, McGregor, MN 55760. Fill out one form for each student, for each class.  

* * * * To teach a class or recommend an instructor, please contact us! * * * * 


Your instructor will supply materials and tools you'll need for your workshop. You should also pack the following:
  • Appropriate clothing and footwear for your workshop (this usually means old clothes you don't mind getting dirty or stained), and something to wear in the evenings if you want to change out of your work clothes.
  • Toiletries and medications
  • Insect repellent
  • Sleeping bag and pillow, and other camping bedding (if sleeping on the island)
  • Towel and washcloth
  • Beverages and snacks as you wish, and a small cooler if needed (refrigerator space is limited).
  • Bathing suit and floaty things optional, for lake swimming off the dock. 


Raspberry Island is located on Big Sandy Lake, about 10 miles north of McGregor, MN, just off Highway 65. Our landing is at 50569 218th Place (see map below). This is where our dock is, and where we will pick you up when you arrive. There is parking available. 

Note:  Please use the directions provided below rather than Google Maps GIS, as they often lead people astray.

Mailing address and phone:

Gary and Janet Hill
50569 218th Place
McGregor, MN 55760

Gary's cell phone:  218.851.6085
Janet's cell phone: 218.259.4090

Gary's email:
Janet's email: (email is preferred)


If we must cancel a course, students will receive a full refund of any payments made for that course. Students who cancel their enrollment more than 21 days prior to the first day of the class will receive a refund of the class fee, minus a $50 cancellation fee to cover preparation costs. To honor the time and energy we and our instructors invest in preparing for courses, students who cancel their registration 21 days or fewer prior to the first day of the course are not eligible for a refund. 


From the south: From the Twin Cities, follow Highway 65 to McGregor (about 2 hours north). Driving north out of McGregor, MN on Highway 65, go 9 miles. On the way, you'll pass Zorbaz restaurant on the right, and Eagle Point Resort after that. When you come to mile marker 127, start looking for a sign that says "Bridge Road." Turn right on Bridge Road (the street sign is Long Point Place). Go 1/2 mile, and turn left on 218th Place. Go a couple tenths of a mile, and you'll see our mailbox: 50569 218th Place. The best way to park is to continue up the road and turn around, and come back to park on the lake side of the road. Be sure to leave room for the postal worker if it's a weekday or Saturday.

From the north: Coming south from Jacobson on Highway 65, you'll see Big Sandy Lake on your left. You'll pass the overlook/memorial on your left, and Fisherman's Bay tavern on your right, and then you'll need to start looking for a sign that says "Bridge Road." Turn left on Bridge Road (the street sign is Long Point Place). Go 1/2 mile, and turn left on 218th Place -- this is the first opportunity you'll have to turn left. Go a couple tenths of a mile, and you'll see our mailbox: 50569 218th Place. The best way to park is to continue up the road and turn around, and come back to park on the lake side of the road. Be sure to leave room for the postal worker if it's a weekday.

Accommodations and Photo Gallery


Accommodations are rustic (outhouse facilities; no running water), but they're comfy. If you prefer to tent, there are places to set up camp. If rustic living isn't your thing, we can recommend local hotels and resorts.

Beds are available in our cabins (shown below) on a first-come/first-served basis, free of charge. You will need to bring your own bedding (sleeping bag and pillow).

Photos of Classes and Class Projects

Gary Hill's sword made from Damascus billet (billet was made in Jeff Harper's 2019 workshop)

Birch bark weaving with John Zasada and Jack Sneve, August 2019

One of our free blacksmith classes for high school students, cooking lunch with their new hand-forged hot dog forks.
The only requirements to get free classes if you're a teen (aged 14-18): show some enthusiasm for blacksmithing,
and be on time at the boat landing!

Gary Hill's trade axe class, June 2019

Students with their finished axes

Tom Latané with students' rived oak boards, Viking Chest Class, June 2019

Tom explains the construction of the Viking chest
After a day of hand-planing!
Hewing a rived board for a Viking chest

Kitty Latané's Tinsmithing Class (June 2019)

Kitty's tin lanterns

Tom Latané demonstrates chasing (photo by Kitty Latané)

Blacksmith demo by Tom Latané (photo by Kitty Latané)

Tom Latane's hammer class, 2016

Getting started on a sunset painting in Anne Rorem's class, July 2017
A few results from Kitty's tinsmithing class
Kitty Latane's tinsmithing class, June 2017
Fred Livesay demonstrates safe spoon carving technique, July 2017

Student work from Fred Livesay's spoon carving class, July 2017

Kjetil Groven's knife students. Kjetil is in the top row on the left. 
Knife students working on leather sheaths

Fire's good for two things: forging iron and grilling chicken
(photo by Kitty Latané)

The crew at Tom Latane's hewing axe class, 2017

Norse axe made in Tom Latane's class, 2017

Gary's barn door latch

Gary Hill's door ring from Tom Latane's 2016 class at North House Folk School

Hammer from Tom Latane's hammer class 2016

Gary Hill's scrolled door knocker from Tom Latane's 2018 class