Cover: Family in Mexico with photos
of their relative, away from home,
working in the US. See the photo
essay, “Dream of America.” Photo by Lisa
|FROM THE DIRECTOR|
From the Spring-Summer 2016 issue of Voices:
As the New York
Folklore Society approaches
its 75th anniversary
we are mindful of our
history, while looking
forward to new horizons.
President Tom van Buren stated in his recent
member letter that the New York Folklore
Society was founded in 1944, “to serve the
folklore community, whether in academia,
in applied or public sector work, among folk
artists themselves, and any and all persons
with interest in the subject and its related
fields.” Your membership supports Voices: The
Journal of New York Folklore, as well as the many
programs of the Society. We hope to expand
our membership in 2016. If you haven’t yet
renewed, please do so. If you are not yet a
member, please consider joining!
We have much to report. On February
28, we convened local and national leaders
for panel presentations and townhall-style
dialogue, on the topic of “Democratizing
the (Folk) Arts Nonprofit Workplace.” This
forum about inclusive governance and decision-
making was introduced and moderated
by its organizer, folklorist Eileen Condon,
the NYFS New York City Representative.
The forum was supported in part by funding
from the Technical Assistance Consultancy
Program of the American Folklore Society.
View video of this forum on our website.
Our conference, Crisis of Place: Preserving
Folk and Vernacular Architecture in New York
was a tremendous success, attracting vernacular
historians, architects, folklorists, and
geographers to the Rose Auditorium of The
Cooper Union in New York City on April 2.
Panel presentations highlighted both graduate student work, as well as the important work of
community advocates and public folklorists.
Andrew Dolkart of Columbia University and
Michael Ann Williams of Western Kentucky
University shared the keynote presentation.
During the 2016 Annual Meeting on April
2, 2016, we welcomed two new members
to the Board of Directors. Julie Tay is the
founder and executive director of Mencius
Society for the Arts, which focuses on Chinese
classical and folk cultural arts. Also joining
the Board is Wilfredo Morel, a sculptor and
gallery owner, community arts activist, and Director
of Hispanic Health for Hudson River
Health Care in Peekskill. Our board members
are elected by the NYFS membership. Next
year, with the newly approved bylaws change,
we will be able to deliver a ballot and other
materials to our members via email or other
electronic means, providing greater membership
participation in the Society’s decision-making.
Finally, I am pleased to report that the Society
is partnering with the New York State
Council on the Arts (NYSCA) for a folk arts
survey of a large part of Central and Western
New York State, helping to extend our reach
to and understanding of the folk arts in New
York. Following the groundbreaking work
of the Folk Arts Program of NYSCA, many
areas of the state have received support for
traditional arts activities. This project will seek
to specifically document traditions in new
areas, with Central New York and Southwestern
New York being particularly targeted.
Hannah Davis, our NYFS Upstate Representative,
will begin her work in May 2016, and
will be “on the ground” throughout the rest
of the 2016 calendar year.
Ellen McHale, PhD
New York Folklore Society
|FROM THE EDITOR|
From the Spring–Summer
2016 issue of Voices:
There is a fishing fly
called “Shushan Postmaster.”
Like all handmade
fishing flies, it is a mix of
natural and artificial materials.
In this case, bits of
turkey tail, red hen hackle,
red squirrel hair, black
thread, yellow floss, and narrow gold tinsel
tied on a hook—when done, looking like
something fish would eat.
I’ve been told that this fly has its origins in
my adopted hometown. Teasing out the layered
backstories of the simplest of objects is
an occupational hazard of mine, so you can
imagine my delight when I recently had the
opportunity to learn the whole story behind
this tied fly.
About a year and a half ago, a scheduled
exhibition for my gallery at work was postponed
unexpectedly due to a family crisis,
giving me only a few months to find a replacement.
After an initial thought of panic,
I mused that this could be an opportunity to
pursue something that had been in the back
of my mind for some time: to research and
develop an exhibition on the Battenkill watershed,
a region that I’ve called home for almost
The Battenkill flows some 59 miles from
Vermont through upstate New York’s southern
Washington County to the Hudson River,
north of Albany but south of the Adirondacks.
It became my mission to find both
art and artifact to tell the stories of creativity
inspired by the waters of this iconic river.
Designed to be multidisciplinary, ”Battenkill
Inspired” would showcase the work of living
artists, as well as look at the river’s cultural
history. The search led me to paintings
by local artists, wooden covered bridges built
to cross the river, the many industries that
once drew power from its flow, the lure of Dionondehowa Falls and its pleasure park
and the electricity generated for a trolley system,
the world-class trout fishing with its own
original fly patterns and personalities, the decorated
rafts of the 1960s–1970s for a timed
float and competition, and current efforts to
preserve this valuable resource.
It was a mad scramble to pull this off, but
worth the effort. Some 50 artists, individuals,
and organizations participated. The exhibition
featured paintings and prints, photography
and magazine cover art, postcards and maps,
hand-tied fishing flies, hunting and decorative
decoys, a boat, jewelry, dolls, sculptures,
a bridge model, and artifacts from the many
People loved the exhibition. It resonated
with our patrons, because the layered stories
were connected to the art and artifacts.
The story of the Shushan Postmaster was
one of many stories told. The fly is named for
Al Prindle, the postmaster of the hamlet of
Shushan, 1935–1947, who, after retiring, liked
nothing better than to fish the Battenkill. He
became a fishing buddy and good friend of
Lew Oatman (1902–1958), a retired banker
who bought a home on the Battenkill. Oatman,
who had been a trout fisherman all his
life, upon retirement devoted his time to fishing,
making trout flies, and writing articles on
the art of trout fishing. He became known as
the pioneer of the streamer fly patterns, studying
the baitfish (or young fries) in the Battenkill
and imitating them by creating 17 new innovative
patterns, with names like Battenkill
Shiner, Golden Darter, and Trout Perch. In
1953, Oatman honored his friendship with Al
Prindle with a new streamer fly pattern called
the “Shushan Postmaster,” and an article of
the same name was published in Esquire magazine
in March 1956.
Al Prindle was also immortalized by Norman
Rockwell (1894–1978), the painter/illustrator
famous for The Saturday Evening Post
cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios
that he created for more than four decades.
Rockwell lived upriver in Arlington, Vermont,
from 1939 to 1953, and encouraged
other successful artists to follow him there.
For a time, a little bevy of artists lived along
the Battenkill, including: Mead Schaeffer (1898–1980), credited with 46 covers for The
Saturday Evening Post and called by his editors,
“a fisherman who also happened to paint,”
and John Atherton (1900–1952), a world-renowned
artist/illustrator and one of the great
American fly fishermen of the 20th century,
who wrote and illustrated the fishing classic,
The Fly and The Fish (1952).
Not a fisherman, Rockwell would hire local
folks to be his models, photographing and
then painting them into his pieces. Shushan
Postmaster Al Prindle was among his subjects,
often paired with another Shushan resident,
Alva Roberson—famously depicted in the series,
“Four Seasons” that is often reproduced
on calendars. Al Prindle was also the subject
Rockwell’s painting, “Fishing Lesson,” also
called “Catching the Big One,” that was featured
as The Saturday Evening Post cover on August
Unfortunately, the people behind this story
are long gone, but in my search I did meet
Herbert Eriksson (b. 1925), a link to them
all. As a young man, Eriksson moved from
Shushan to New York City to learn architectural
drawing and estimating. He also picked
up photography, taking photos of bank interiors
and conference rooms for contractors to
use for advertising purposes.
Back in Shushan on the weekends in the
1950s, Eriksson photographed friends, including
Lew Oatman and Al Prindle. Some were
used in Oatman’s 1956 Esquire article, showing
the Shushan postmaster casting in midstream,
walking into the hamlet, and fishing by the
covered bridge. There is also a picture of a
fine catch of trout and of Prindle and Oatman
at home comparing notes.
Eriksson retired to Shushan in 1988. He
made the shift to digital photography and
computer printing, laughing as he observed,
“I had to put a window in my darkroom.”
Now in his 90s, he graciously provided these
and many more photographs of Lew Oatman,
Al Prindle, and the Shushan Postmaster
for the exhibition “Battenkill Inspired.”
Voices Acquisitions Editor
Founding Director of the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library
|Spring–Summer 2016, Volume 42:1–2|
Mary Beth Malmsheimer
Editorial Board: Varick Chittenden, Lydia Fish, Hanna Griff-Sleven,
Nancy Groce, Lee Haring, Bruce Jackson,
Christopher Mulé, Libby Tucker, Kay Turner,
Dan Ward, Steve Zeitlin
Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore
is published twice a year by the
New York Folklore Society, Inc.
Advertisers: To inquire, please call the NYFS
(518) 346-7008 or fax (518) 346-6617.
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