Mike Campbell has long been fascinated with history and older ways of living. A knowledgeable and seasoned presenter of American frontier skills, he is, among other things, a skilled woodworker, leatherworker, and knife maker. “Most of those people used their skills to make their own clothes, weapons, and food,” he notes. “So you learn[ed] to do a lot of things with your hands, then barter for the rest.”
Mike grew up in the Beech Mountain community of Watauga County, where many traditional skills lasted well into the twentieth century. “My mom was raised in older ways,” he says. “Lots of the houses in Beech Mountain didn’t have electricity until the 1960s.” He also learned from his grandfather, a self-trained veterinarian, who gave him his first lessons in gathering and using wild herbs. “I love herbs,” he adds. “Anything that grows in the woods.”
When Mike and his wife Jane got married, “I decided to build a log house,” he recalls. “It was the log cabins that really brought me into all of this stuff.” Inspired by reading a Foxfire book, he sought out all the information he could about older log cabins. He found a cabin to restore, and started spending time at Hickory Ridge Homestead, an eighteenth-century living history museum in Boone that has several old log cabins from Watauga County. He built his first log house in 1978, and has since been involved in dozens of reconstruction projects all over the region.
Mike spent many years working at Hickory Ridge Homestead, where he continued to learn more about log cabins and other frontier skills. He learned to make leather clothes, knives, and rifles, and to prepare food in traditional methods. He says that Surry County native and Traditional Artist Directory member Mike Lowe has been a big influence. “He has guided me in all the crafts I do,” he says. Through his work at Hickory Ridge Homestead, Mike Campbell developed programs for schoolchildren and the public, and he became a regular participant at heritage festivals, museums, schools, and historical sites in the local community and broader region.
Mike has also learned a lot about local heirloom varieties of apples through Jane’s family orchard. They have given tours to schoolchildren every summer for many years.
Mike Campbell is available for school presentations and demonstrations on frontier skills. He is also available for consultation on historic cabins and construction.