Skip to main content

Program Overview

Our Artisan Development Program fosters the growth of the next generation of traditional craft artisans. It offers professional development including mentorship, education practice, and studio space for artisans committed to pursuing craft education as a professional pathway. We believe that the future of traditional northern craft must be nurtured amongst the emerging artisans of today—and that our campus is an exciting place for that growth to happen.
Resident Artisans in the program build in-depth experience in their craft, while enhancing the vitality of North House Folk School. They cultivate meaningful relationships, develop craft and teaching skills for future leadership, and forge connections with regional, national and international institutions and artisans.

Program Vision and Direction

The Artisan Development Program began in 2017 with an initial cohort of two artisans. Each year two additional resident artisans join the program, with each cohort spending two years in the program.
The program of study for artisans includes the following:

  • Craft Study — Engagement with a professional mentor, dedicated studio space, budget for mentorship, materials, and tools
  • Teaching Skill Development — Assisting instructors in courses at North House, independent teaching at North House, completing resource improvement projects to benefit classrooms
  • Professional Development and Public Engagement — Traveling to conferences, festivals, and regional events to build professional networks, sell work, and represent North House, as well as demonstrating and representing program on campus. Participating in artist development trainings and opportunities.
  • International Connections — Assisting in creating opportunities for international instructors to visit and teach at North House; spending several weeks traveling and researching craft in Scandinavia in the second year of the program.

Current Resident Artisans

Josh Tolkan

Josh spent his youth paddling rivera of Northern Wisconsin and sailing on Lake Michigan. While attending Carleton College he began paddling Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and sailing the midwest collegiate racing circuit. After spending a summer teaching sailing at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, he became a hobby boat builder. During seven years spent as an affordable housing project and construction manager he built a cedar strip canoe, a nutshell pram and remodeled an RV trailer into a mobile kitchen. Finally Josh decided he had had his fill of management life and needed to be using my hands on a daily basis. In 2016 he enrolled at the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building near Port Townsend, Washington. His year of school culminated in a third place finish for his team at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival’s 3 day Boat Building Challenge! In the fall of 2017 he went to work for Wilderness Inquiry in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There he redesigned and prototyped Wilderness Inquiry’s 24′ Voyaguer canoe and then helped Wenonah Canoe prepare to mass produce that design for Wilderness Inquiry.

Josh is excited to spend two years as an Artisan in Development at North House. He hopes to inspire the North House and Grand Marais community into the history and possibilities of traditional wooden boats, and to use his time here to launch himself into a career as a self-employed boat builder.

Visit Josh's website

Elise Kyllo

Elise Kyllo grew up in South Minneapolis but immediately after college discovered a love for the wilderness while guiding BWCA trips from the end of the Gunflint Trail.  This experience ultimately led her back to Grand Marais and to North House Folk School after many years of farming, urban gardening, being an environmental educator and artist.  Somewhere along the way, wool as an artistic medium entered her life and replaced the paints, clay and inks with a desire to create things of beauty and usefulness with wool. “It’s somewhat of a mystery as to how I fell in love with wool, but undoubtedly it’s the close connection to the land, the sustainability of fiber from sheep, from grass and sun, magically transforming wool into an endless list of things with just water, soap and patient agitation.  Felting with wool is completely intoxicating and never, ever dull.”  

Teaching felting at North House Folk School over the last 12 years has allowed Elise to merge her passion for teaching, art, creativity and living simply. North House created a path back to the north shore, which has led to the building of a house, growing a north woods garden and now the Artisan Development Program.  For the first time, Elise has a studio space and feels excited to be able to focus on developing her felting and teaching skills, work with felting mentors, dig deeper into understanding numerous breeds of sheep and practice the nuances of being a working craftsperson/artist.

Visit Elise's website

Emily Derke

Northern Minnesota is where Emily calls home. The materials growing in the area are of great influence in Emily’s work. Primarily a basketmaker, She works with willow, birch bark, cedar bark, and other local materials to create useful items. Emily has spent time learning basketry in folk school settings, apprenticeships, workshops, and dedicated time practicing independently over the last 10 years. Teaching has been a main focus of her work. The desire to connect with people while creating and working with the materials that grow around us has inspired Emily to continue learning more about the materials and place we live.

Basketry continues to be the main focus of Emily’s work, but she also spends a great deal of time working to harvest and grow food, exploring the land around her, sewing, tanning hides and furs, and continuing to work towards living in a way that connects her to the things we need, use and eat.

As a current Artisan Development Program participant, Emily is looking forward to diving deep into the world of basketry traditions, exploring other crafts related to life in Northern Minnesota, and working on teaching these important crafts.

Visit Emily's website

Christine Novotny

Christine Novotny is a handweaver with a love for color, pattern, and design. Christine has spent most of her life painting and drawing, capturing memory and her love for the natural world through imaginative, colorful paintings. After many years of creating work that either went up on a wall or into her flat file portfolio, she became frustrated with the lack of physical interaction between the work and the viewer. She longed to create work that was accessible, functional, tactile, and beautiful. Christine took a floor loom weaving class in 2014, thinking she would transfer the imagery in her paintings into tapestry weaving. Instead, she instantly fell in love with the precise, methodical, and attention-demanding process of creating textiles on a floor loom.

Christine has gone onto weave rugs (paintings you can step inside!), scarves, table linens, and wall art, all guided by her love for surprising color and design interactions. She enjoys manipulating the proportions and repetitions of old weaving drafts from around the world to create work that feels rich and contemporary, but still rooted in tradition. Christine firmly believes in the power of attention and slowing down, two fundamental skills in creating woven work.

Christine is thrilled to be an Artisan in Residence at North House—to have time and support to create new textiles, challenge herself to learn new skills, and gain the professional tools necessary to support a life in art and craft.

Visit Christine's's website