Commentery on the Improbable Community

The utopian, leftist camp that helped spawn the American folk music movement:

"Maybe, by telling these great stories of utopian dreams that survived for even 23 years now the way stories of the Holocaust and Civil Rights battles have been told by recent generations to get us all past the repetition of such horrors, we can repeat the good and not just avoid what's bad.

For just that thought, Bill Horne's The Improbable Community: Camp Woodland and The American Democratic Ideal is a great and necessary read..."

- Paul Smart, Woodstock Times, June 23, 2017

Camp Woodland was my father’s most cherished educational accomplishment. The Improbable Community paints a vivid picture of this special community. It sensitively explains how Norman Studer, a farm boy from an insular Mennonite family in Ohio growing up at the beginning of the 20th century, could become a leader of the Progressive Education movement.

As an innovative teacher, he used folklore as a key to reach urban children from New York City. I am forever grateful to Bill Horne for the passion he brings to telling this story, a passion born of his experience as a camper, and grateful for the skill of his presentation. Thank you Bill!

- Joan Studer Levine

From 1939 to 1962 Camp Woodland created an educational experience that fostered a unique community, not only among campers and staff, but also between the camp and members of the mountain community.

This bonding had a profound impact on campers, mostly from the New York City metropolitan area, and countless community members who found acceptance and appreciation of their arts, crafts, and life experiences. This unique rapport led to the collection of an astonishing array of folksongs, tunes, stories, crafts, and oral histories. Kudos to Bill Horne and to Camp Woodland and all its “Friends and Neighbors.”

- Joe Hickerson, Head, Emeritus, Archive of Folk Song/Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Counselor at Camp Woodland in 1959 and 1960.

Well before there was a folksong revival, Woodlanders visited neighbors to hear fiddle tunes, old ballads and songs which flourished in the surrounding mountain communities.

Although the camp’s story may sound like a fairy tale, The Improbable Community documents how the visionary educator and camp director, Norman Studer, a Mennonite from rural Ohio succeeded. His intellectual and political curiosity led him to New York City where he became a teacher at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village in the 1930s. Later he became one of the founders of Camp Woodland which was the culmination of all his beliefs and struggles.

At Woodland, campers danced to the music of Catskill fiddlers, guitarists and accordion players, with the square dances called by a local resident. They collected songs, performed cantatas about local lore and put on festivals featuring traditional music performed by neighbors.

In this excellent telling, author (and former camper) Bill Horne weaves a complex story that describes how John Dewey’s educational philosophy merged with democratic ideals and the political witch hunts of the 1950s to create the world of Camp Woodland set in the natural beauty of the rugged mountains.

- John Cohen (filmmaker, photographer and musician with the New Lost City Ramblers). “Camp Woodland shaped my vision, and showed me how folk music was a living thing which could be experienced in person. It gave direction to my life’s work collecting, performing and documenting traditional cultures.”