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Article ID: 14102

VoxAcct: 373041

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

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An Interview with Teresa, Frank and Darlene from Brushwood

Author: Daniella Waterhawk [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: August 8th. 2010
Times Viewed: 2,194

Having been to many festivals around the country for quite some time, there is an element of knowing what a great festival site is. When going through the memories of all these locations, Brushwood Folklore Center located in Sherman, NY comes in at number one. A rustic, secluded and clothing optional campground on 180 acres that is mostly woods. And has an amazing history on its birth and growth of over twenty years.

In the late 1960’s a man and woman named Frank and Darlene Barney were attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence when the turmoil of the Vietnam War was beginning to heighten. There was the infamous Kent State incidence that took the lives of some young protestors that really hit Frank and Darlene hard. Having a young child to worry about, they decided that maybe it was time to go back home to Sherman NY, where they had first met in a junior high school math class. Frank’s major was fine arts and having a degree did not insure success. Their dream was to build a place for artists to be able to create their work and live together helping to support each other financially and artistically. At the time for Frank and Darlene, Sherman seemed the best place to do this project. Sherman had a basically live and let live attitude and a piece of farm property was available from a family friend that wanted to support Frank and Darlene’s vision. So for the price of a used car, they purchased this 180 acre farm that had once housed cows. It was not a great piece of property for a farm and turned out to be perfect for a community of artists that included blacksmiths, painters, potters and more.

Now once they got to start the artist community, it was not such an easy go. The financial responsibilities fell to Frank and Darlene who once again had a small child, Teresa, to raise, so they had to go outside of Brushwood to earn a living. Attending medieval festivals and other like minded shows to sell the artwork that Frank created. Now back home Sherman was a good Christian community of mostly Amish, Baptists and Catholics. And even though they may have not like what was happening at Brushwood, and they might tell you on the streets of Sherman’s downtown area, as Frank put it “they would not burn your house down.” But as things at the hearth of Brushwood progressed and not all the artists there could put their fare share of economics into the place, Frank and Darlene had to come up with another plan.

At an SCA event in the late 1980’s Frank met a person from a group called A.C.E. The Association for Consciousness Exploration. They worked out a plan to bring their festival called Starwood to Brushwood. This was the start of a twenty year relationship that assisted in the growth of what Brushwood is today, which refocused the whole original plan.

Now back to Sherman NY. How does one suppose a very small town in southwestern New York might handle a group of neo-pagans coming to their town? It was a very rough start. Frank’s father was a much respected community member and held the town’s elders at bay. The turning point was the passing of Frank’s parents. These same Elders now were trying to run Brushwood out on a preverbal rail. Even to the point of hiring an occult specialist to come and give a talk to the church elders. This did not go in favor of the church. The specialist talked about alternative religious rights and that just because these people were different did not make them devil worshippers. Also this specialist explained very carefully to the elders about condemning other religions and how the church could lose their status as a church if they pursued this form of a witch hunt. So the churches backed off a bit. Of course the merchants in Sherman loved the money that the attendants of the festival brought in and had their support.

This brought on a new front for Brushwood to tackle, the local law enforcement which was a harder force to tackle. They thought all sorts of negative things were coming into Brushwood. And even at one point in the early 1990’s formed a commando type situation and surrounded Brushwood with sharp shooters and an army of deputies. Frank had to go and talk to the sheriff before anything crazy would happen. He stated, “I kept asking the sheriff, what’s the problem? What’s the problem?” Over and over until he finally said back to Frank “It’s just different!” And it was at this point that they laid down their weapons. There were a lot of community meetings with the elders and sheriff that happened in those early days. To where an invitation was given to the elders and the sheriff department to come down into the field and see for themselves what was going on.

Don’s story here. I remember when Frank came to me one day and said that he was going to have some of the Amish Elders come and visit Brushwood during the festival, this was 1992. Frank asked if I would talk to them when they came. I told Frank, of course, just have a runner come down and let me know when they are on the land. So a few days later, as I was straitening up things in my pavilion, I heard Frank say, “Hey WaterHawk!” Turning around I saw Frank and about 6 Amish Elders standing there. Immediately, all the Elders dropped there heads down, so that I all I could see was their round hats. Now, the problem was, was that I was completely Sky clad. Oh well…I asked them in, and provided chairs for them, and began a one sided conversation with them telling them my perspective of what this festival and its people was. The Elders never once looked up at me, even though I had, by then, draped a towel around my waist. During the one sided conversation, my then partner walked into the pavilion, unaware of what was going on, and she was topless……so as you can imagine, their eyes kept to the ground…except for the youngest of the elder, who did sneak a peek. Well hell, I would of.

When I had my say, we all got up and filed out of the pavilion. As the last Elder cleared the opening, he turned, still not looking at me, and stuck out his hand, which I then shook. He then said these words. “We do not condone what you do here….but we have not heard a single word of anger, nor have we seen any trash on the ground”. With that he turned away, and walked with his group back up the hill with Frank. I could not have asked for better words, and the fact that he shook hands with me, made me smile, that I have held on to too this day.

With me being a 13-year veteran of the Sheriff Department, I told Frank that it would be best to invite Law Enforcement onto the land. So a Lt. and Sgt. from the New York Highway Patrol got into their marked car, with me in the back. I decided to goof on some of the people and placed my hands behind my back. As we drove around the field, people were pointing and saying “Look, they got WaterHawk”. I had a good laugh about that. So after the tour I asked the Officers what they thought. “We can’t believe that you can have 1000 people here for a week, and have no real problems” they said. “We have a small family reunion or gathering and we get calls several time a day about problems with them, how do you do it?” they asked. All I could say is that we are a different people, that walk a different way with love and understanding and diversity, and it works here, on this land. They were satisfied with that; what else could they think? Our community works!

This invitation proved to be the best medicine for Brushwood. A good standing relationship started to develop. Now local officers come every year and had a cup of coffee with Frank and Darlene. If there is a problem and it is not often, the response is immediate. They work together as a team to creative a safe environment at all Brushwood events. The community that goes to Brushwood has embraced the local law enforcement folks as well. Brushwood has also created their own safety and first aid team that establishes an environment that ensures all attendees can have a wonderful experience while at Brushwood. Credentials of the people running these two services are not “healers” but paramedics, nurses and an occasional doctor and people that have done security for a living. And this is a volunteered service.

Brushwood has their share on emergency events like in the summer of 2001 a microburst from a storm hit the field and caused some damaged to the camper’s belongings. The community with the assistance of Brushwood staff helped raise money for replacement items like tents and such. There has been an occasional injury as can be expected being in the great outdoors that has immediate response from the teams at Brushwood and all is taken care of very quickly. Safety is taken very seriously and many can take a lesion or two from these two teams.

When it comes to community Brushwood has grown in leaps and bounds. Having over one hundred seasonal campers and an abundance of weekend campers, the community helps out with an occasional project that is needed to be done. Something is happening every weekend at Brushwood. Some sponsored by the Brushwood staff and others that lease the land for their own festivals or celebrations. From weddings and birthdays, to individual groups wanting to put on their own festival, Brushwood is busy. During the years that Starwood was held more and more people would come earlier and earlier just to be at Brushwood before the big event. The community called out to Frank, Darlene and Teresa for some guidance for activities during this time. Hence the festival Sirius Rising was born. Growing organically with the help of Roy Jones, who was the programmer of this event for seven years, Sirius Rising has turned into a Spiritual based festival that honors the elements of nature and celebrates with a focus towards the Earth Spirit. With community facilitated workshops, art and rituals, Sirius has grown in an all inclusive place where many alternative paths can come together to celebrate nature.

With Starwood moving it’s festival location, the community came to The Barney’s and Teresa and Dave her husband and asked if they would help create another festival so people can either stay for two weeks or come to Brushwood either week and have a focused event. Hence Summerfest was born. So it is like Sirius Rising is school and Summerfest is spring break. Having a focus on the more artist creative side it brings Brushwood’s original vision for the land to be an artists place to create. Of course there will be lots of fun and frivolity to do with concerts, celebrations and bon fires. There has been a yearly Pagan wiffle-ball tournament that will continue. As Teresa states “It was a grass roots idea to incorporate the community involved with Brushwood to create a low key festival.” Even though there are festivals around the country that offer more known named speakers and workshop presenters, the focus here is about the community then who might be speaking there.

So what does the future hold for Brushwood? We asked Teresa to give us a few words to explain what Brushwood means to her. “My husband, Dave and I strive to carry on the legacy of Brushwood. It is imperative to us that people have a safe place in the world to explore their creative and spiritual aspects of their lives. Since I was a little girl our home has been a “Sanctuary for the Open Mind” and we plan to continue that tradition. What gives us a sense of accomplishment is to see the joy Brushwood brings so many people and to witness the transformative moments in their lives. When someone comes up to us and says, “thank you, I love it here, I don’t think I’m going to be the same after this experience” it means everything to us. These transformative moments may come during ceremonies, weddings, rituals, a walk in the wood or just having a wonderful time is a supportive, free and friendly atmosphere. Brushwood means many different and wonderful things to many different people.”

“Although there have been overwhelming support, there have also been some have concerns about Dave and I taking over the reins at Brushwood. Forty years ago this summer, Dad and Mom (Frank and Darlene Barney) brought me to Brushwood and started building. They laid the first log in our home on my 4th birthday. My parents have worked tirelessly ever since to create a safe place for artists, free-thinkers and those seeking alternative spiritual paths to enjoy and express themselves. When people started to come around who shared our thoughts about spirituality, we felt less alone. The growth of the pagan community at Brushwood required us as a family to work diligently with the local community and law enforcement to ensure Brushwood remained a safe haven for all. I was raised in this environment of acceptance, tolerance, and perseverance; it is all that I know.

Although my career has taken me many places, I returned to help my parents almost every year during festival season starting in 1990. Over seven years ago, my husband Dave and I moved back home to be close to family and to help with Brushwood. In 2007, our son Max was born (laboring during the Beltane & the Maypole dance) . Last fall, we bought the house across the road from Brushwood. We work closely with my parents every day and the future of Brushwood is in our hands; it is a responsibility we take seriously. Our commitment is visible and our resolve is strong.

We, like my parents, are inclusive in our approach and our beliefs involve steadfast acceptance. I began my relationship with the land as a little girl running through the fields when no one was there, but the wind in my hair, the fire in my heart, the mud on my feet, the tears in my eyes and the spirit in my soul. Brushwood is part of me and I am part of Brushwood. I am humbly thankful Dave is now in my life and has embraced Brushwood and all that is.”

So in a nut shell, Brushwood has no plans of becoming the nest KOA. They remain on the path that was started over forty years ago by Frank and Darlene. As the neo-pagan community grows, so does Brushwood with them. Keeping the Spiritual and creative aspects that has for so long been the Brushwood vision. It is all about continuing the original legacy that has made Brushwood Folklore Center one of the best places in the US to hold a gathering.


Daniella Waterhawk

Location: Buckingham, Florida

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