By Maggie Nelson, former counselor & Meetinghouse director
If you’ve driven past Friends Camp, the only thing you might notice is a double-doored old building whose pointed white gables peek out from the pines that line Route 202. This building is the Meetinghouse, where art lives at camp. It also happens to be the very first building at Friends Camp, originally a historic Quaker meetinghouse where Rufus Jones worshipped. The first campers ate, slept, and had their activities in the Meetinghouse, until camp grew too big for it and sprawled over the grounds of the place we now know and love. Eventually the Meetinghouse was turned into the arts & crafts building.
Art doesn’t just live inside the Meetinghouse. It explodes from it! Walking through camp, evidence of creativity is everywhere. Hand-dyed t-shirts lay drying on a stone wall after campers had learned the art of shibori. In the Pine Grove, a camper sits finger-knitting a scarf. Spilling out onto the front lawn of the Meetinghouse lay a large, round, quilt-like blanket called “the Gift” on which campers sit comfortably, learning how to embroider.
Inside the Meetinghouse, the walls are plastered with decades of history – collages ripped from antique National Geographics, murals celebrating camp values, drawings, poetry, andfaded photographs of campers past. Most who enter the Meetinghouse for the first time gasp from the overwhelming nature of the place. Packed onto shelves from the floor to the tall ceiling is more evidence of camper experimentation and imagination: half-dry clay bowls and spoons, paper mache animal masks, handmade wooden musical instruments, bottle rockets, even a 20-foot-long inflatable whale made out of trash bags. Lining the walls are your typical art supplies: gallons of tempera paint, pints of glitter, stacks of construction paper. But it’s the other things in the meetinghouse which make creativity at camp so special- the things that are not art supplies, but somehow campers still find a way to create with them.
Reams of wallpaper, filing cabinets full of magazines, a box full of baby dolls, a sack full of mysteriously shaped wood pieces, and a roll of silver sticker paper which seems determined to never run out. It’s all of this stuff, this “junk”, which makes our creative juices flow at camp. “What is this? What can I make with this?” is a constant question you ask yourself in the Meetinghouse. It results in a kind of ingenuity and artistic problem-solving that’s hard to find in places where creative chaos is not the norm. It also means campers leave with a broadened sense of what art is and how they can make it. The Meetinghouse is truly an incredible place!