Creative Education at Asheville’s Plonk School

On Monday we added more than 300 postcards of Asheville to our North Carolina Postcards online collection. You’ll find some intriguing images of the Biltmore Estate and the Grove Park Inn. But the postcard that caught my attention is the one above. Mind you, I wasn’t drawn to it because of the photo. Rather it was the title that piqued my interest. Was the Plonk School of Creative Arts for kids? Or adults? What did they teach at such a school? What did the “creative arts” entail at the time the postcard was published?

The Plonk School of Creative Arts was the brainchild of sisters Laura and Lillian Plonk of Kings Mountain. According to a 1964 profile in The Asheville Times, Laura was a 1910 graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne College, did post-graduate work at the Boston School of Public Speaking and received a teacher’s diploma from the School of Expression, also in Boston. Her career included stints teaching speech in Kings Mountain and “oral English and Dramatics” at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts and at Curry College in Boston.

As befitting someone with her education and experience, Laura Plonk placed a great emphasis on speech and drama at the Plonk School. The school’s 1961 catalog suggests that “all the faculties of a child or a young person–mind, body, voice, spirit–must be awakened, trained and directed before a well-provinced and a rich and distinctive personality can be compassed and achieved.” In addition to reading and basic math, preschool-aged children were tutored in speech, Dalcroze Eurythmics, group singing, poetry and French. Children in the primary grades continued studying all of the above and also had classes in “character and spiritual training” to help them with “better school and social behavior.” A similar curriculum was offered for junior high and high school students with the addition of classes in art, math, science and history (the full catalog is below).

One student of the Plonk School was writer Gail Godwin, who spent much of her youth in Asheville. In an interview with Asheville journalist Rob Neufield, Godwin relates that the fainting spells suffered by Jane in her novel The Odd Woman were based on her experiences at the Plonk School. The writer says she didn’t actually faint at the school.

What was true was, there was a school in Asheville called the Plonk School of Creative Art. It was run by two sisters, Laura and Lillian Plonk . . . I couldn’t stand it . . . For one thing, they tried to get our accents out of us so we wouldn’t speak like hillbillies. You’d have to say, “I never saw a purple cow.” Cow, not caih-ow.

Godwin’s mother, Kathleen, occasionally taught at the school. In a 1989 essay, the writer recalls that her mother “taught Drama or Poetry or Creative Writing, or whatever the autocratic Miss Laura Plonk, who thoroughly believed in Kathleen’s versatility, decided needed teaching that day.” Kathleen Godwin also taught at Asheville’s St. Genevieve’s Junior College, which had a grammar school tied to it. And it was to that school that the younger Godwin fled from the rigid speech lessons of the Plonk sisters.

The Plonk School began as the Southern Workshop, a program offered as a summer term in an Asheville public school in 1924. Five years later the sisters opened the Grove Park School. And in 1939, the Grove Park School and the Southern Workshop merged to become the Plonk School of Creative Arts. The school was at several sites. The building in the postcard above is at 1 Sunset Parkway. That site is now home to Zion Ministries Inc. We were unable to find a date for when the school closed. Laura Plonk died in March 1966 and Lillian died in June 1979.
First page of Plonk School catalog

14 thoughts on “Creative Education at Asheville’s Plonk School”

  1. I was a preschool student. I am pictured in one of the photos above. Upon leaving my mother was told that I should attend
    Miss so and so’s school for delicate young ladies. I was promptly sent to Claxton, a public school.

  2. What memories,looking at the pictures of some of the plays we did so long ago. I was in “The Pot Boiler” the one with his arm stretched out. I was so happy I got to say damn in the play. We also did “The Christmas Carol” and “Sun Up” that year. The Billy Graham daughters were also there when I was but a lot younger. Mammie Reynolds also went there but would only go half a year and then take a trip around the world. Her dad Bob said that was better than school. Mammie was worth about 18 Million at that time. My uncle (Dan W.Foster) was going there for speech clases at night after he became president of the west Asheville lions club.I was so far behind in public schools he started me in the tenth grade. Nancy Plonk tutored me every day until I caught up. Graduated in 1959. There was twelve in our class.I enjoyed being there and liked Miss Laura and Miss Lillian very much. They did a lot of good for a lot of people especially the ones with speech defects. Thanks again for the memories .

    1. Hi
      I ‘m Barbara Monteath, I remember you in high school.
      I’m a little younger but I attended Ponk. for 7 years.

  3. I attended the school starting in the 3rd grade in 1947and continued on through the 4th and 5th grade after which my parents moved to Clearwater, Florida. One of my distinct memories of the school was playing the part of a little boy in a radio play that was a tribute to the Freedom Train that made a stop in Asheville on October 5, 1948. As best as I can recall there was also a girl of my age that also played a role in the same radio production. Our parts in the play took us back to the revolutionary war where we met with General Washington. I don’t remember what radio station the play aired on (might have been WWNC). I often wondered if they kept a tape of the program, probably not.
    Even though my stay at the school was relatively short I always felt it played a role in my future academic success and my career as an architect and university professor.

  4. I attended Plonk School as my elementary school, and I loved every minute of my education there. My family lived on Ridgewood, and I was able to walk to school every day. To learn French and interpretative dance at the age of five was an incredible experience. Miss Laura and Miss Lillian left a wonderful legacy as educators. The positive influence that they had on their students will be remembered as long as those students are alive.

  5. Were you taught by Miss Patricia (Patsy) James? Patsy (as she is known to all her friends and family) taught Dalcroze Eurhythmics and French at the school 1954-64. She had a sabbatical during 1961-62 to obtain her Diplome Superieur Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva, during which time her mother (Vera James-Bideleux) took her place. Patsy is now 81 and is taking part in an event at the Dalcroze Society archives at the National Resource Centre for Dance, University of Surrey, UK, on 29 Jan 2015, during which she will mention her time at the Plonk school: Her wonderful personal archive, including materials relating to her time there, is now held in the Dalcroze Society archive. If you remember her classes or performances, I would love to hear your memories, as would Patsy. She no longer uses the internet, but I will pass on any comments to her. Thank you very much.

  6. My Aunt Miss Thérèse COLLET Has been teaching at the Plonk School of creative arts for 3 or 4 years in the sixties. She loved this place, the childrens and the America.
    She was in charge of Dalcroze Eurythmics and piano, and probably also French courses.
    she died Yesterday, and was 96 years old. Thank you to inform who could remember her.
    And thank you for the marvelous time she had with you.

    1. Oh yes I remember Miss James,
      Super individual and She knew her Dalcroze. Movement with music I think now a days it’s still the same.

  7. I was there in pre school. Played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. It was around 1957or 1958.

  8. And I remember Plonk School of Creative Education. . . July 15, 2016
    I began my journey with Miss Laura and Miss Lillian in the summer of 1953. This was a new and different pathway for me. And ‘unbeknown’ to me at the time, I would later find myself jarred out of my comfort zone. It was Sunday evening and we had been informed that supper was being served. I dashed down the stairs, poised myself in front of the hall mirror, arranged a spit curl toward my cheek, and checked out my extra- long half- slip to make sure it truly had not “slipped”. My peripheral vision caught a glimpse of the dining room audience with Miss Laura’s eyes directed at me. That was my first introduction to the “ LOOK”. I sheepishly smiled and seated myself. And, of course, the one place left was to the left of Miss Laura. The flickering candles made the sterling silver dinner ware glisten and soon I had forgotten my “entrance”. The meal was the best. The scrambled eggs, wheat wafers, and clover leaf honey were delicious. And then. . .I was watching my P’s & Q’s being ever so proud of myself when Miss Laura asked, “Nell, would you like another serving of eggs?” I replied, ”Oh, no thank you Miss Laura. I’m full”. Well sir, one would have thought that the sky had surely fallen on Henny-Penny. Miss Laura turned her whole body toward me, and with every other eye on me she said, “Nell, in the future if you are asked the same question, you will reply –“ No thank you. I’ve had a sufficiency any more would be a superfluity!” I’m 78 years old and I’ve never forgotten it. The Plonk kitchen was very distinct. Under the supervision of the “Sisters”, the meals enabled one to gain weight if they were under weight and lose weight if they were overweight! I realized very early that these two Ladies were all about the whole person.
    They encouraged us to improve ourselves through “Character classes”. What I didn’t truly know about myself – wow. At first it was humiliating, then hurtful, then joyful, and as the classes continued, it became a place of grace. I was truly a work in progress and they gracefully shared the tools with me to meet the challenges. Remember the Relax/train your body classes? One would stand straight, feet slightly apart, and try earnestly to clear one’s mind. Focusing on releasing the energy in your body, you would begin with your head -until it dropped and continue down to your waistline. And remember Miss Lillian always reminded us of our sternum bone – we don’t carry drooped shoulders.
    Miss Collette taught piano. She instilled in me that each time a finger touched a note, it created a harmonious melody, a thought in rhythm. She also shared that she believed that everyone is created with a symphony in their souls. She was so unique. Mrs. Dupont taught French I & II. She was so patient with me. I can still hear her say, “Mademoiselle Nell, watch my lips. It sounds like this” as she tapped the pointer on her desk. I was just a little bit mountain. She passed away that school year. She was a dear and I did improve.
    Summer breezes have passed and fall entered with whirlwinds of leaves dancing in their earthy colors. The air had a touch of ole Man Winter and I knew the soft fluffy snowflakes weren’t far behind. As I gazed from the upstairs bedroom windows, I marveled how Jack Frost had artistically sketched his icy geometric designs. My two roommates were Nan Jean Gantt and Sally McRae. They were a couple of years older than I and had had more experienced time at Plonk’s. I remember Nan Jean’s dramatic presentation of “The Swan” and how it was complimented with Sally’s Chopin arrangements. They were so talented and such a support team for me. I don’t think that I ever thanked them enough.
    Time passes – there were presentations of “A Christmas Carol”, one-act plays, recitals with teas, eurythmic dancing, and of course, curfews. And there was the aroma of incense from the small Episcopal Church, a gift of fried chicken from a dear friend, studying for exams before lights out, and a hug or smile when someone knew you needed it. I was so blessed to be able to be under the guidance of Miss Laura and Miss Lillian that summer and the next school year of 1953-1954. What they shared – teaching the whole person – became my guideline as I taught 9th graders. What you know is what you remember after you forget. They left footprints not only in my mind, but in my heart. Thank you and the staff.

  9. I was a pupil at the school in 1943 and 1944 with my younger sister. We were evacuees from England. I still have some of my school books and artwork. Our mother taught at the school and welcomed because she didn’t have an accent.

  10. My mother cheated me out of a possible drama career.

    I Was attending Grace School (now Ira B. Jones) and was in the
    sixth grade. I was in a stage play of some sort. In the audience
    was one of the ladies who operated The Plonk School. I did not know this. At the conclusion of the play, this lady approached
    my mother and offered her a full scholarship for me to attend The Plonk School, and my mother turned her down. I knew nothing of this until my later years and my mother had died.

  11. My mother, Marcelle Hawkins, talked about attending Plonk and said she would walk up the hill to the Grove Park Inn to practice her lines. She went from there to Curry in Boston. She taught speech and dramatics privately in Clemson for many years. I learned Dalcroze from just watching her teach her students.

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