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 Pinto Guira making guiramaking laceplaying mandolin

Folk Arts & Culture

Begin an exploration here of folk artists,
their traditions, and their work
as cultural symbol and identity.



Folk Art & Material Culture

While folklore studies had their origins with the study of verbal arts, folklore scholars in the 1970s expanded the field with important studies examining folk art and the use of objects in everyday life. Scholars of “material culture,” such as Henry Glassie and John Michael Vlach, provided important studies on the repertoires of individual craftsmen, stylistic difference, and the passing on of traditional knowledge.

Baskets made by Eritrean traditional artist Rigat Tesfasion
Baskets made by Eritrean traditional artist Rigat Tesfasion.Courtesy of the Arts for New Immigrants Program. Photo: Evan Schneider, Oregon Historical Society

“Regardless of the culture or tradition, the common thread was the art form’s significance in a person’s home country and the hope of carrying it on in a new place. I was continually amazed by the quantities of musical instruments, tools, handmade linens, special cooking equipment, and more that people managed to transport to this country. The precious suitcase room allotted to these treasures spoke to the importance of traditional arts in people’s lives. Along with these items came more intangible resources: the knowledge of how to do things, the memories that connect people with home, and the desire to weave continuity, comfort, and meaning into life in a new country.”—Laura R. Marcus

(READ “Report from the Field: A Dialogue on Immigrant and Refugee Issues,” by Laura R. Marcus and William Westerman, in Voices 32(3-4), 2006 about a New York Folklore Society Folk Arts Forum.)

IN THEIR OWN VOICES—Listen to Traditional Artists
La Quinceañera Dress Making

Seamstress Francisca “Panchita” Davila was born into a family of farmers in 1934 close to the town of Ponce, Puerto Rico. She learned the art of crochet and tailoring from her mother Mercedes Torres. “Panchita” moved to Amsterdam, NY in 1961 and worked in a handkerchief mill. Today, she is known throughout Amsterdam’s Latino community as a local quinceañera dressmaker and party planner for Latina girls. La Quinceañera is an important event in every 15 year old girl’s life. It is a celebration of her birthday as well as her journey into adulthood. Family and friends gather at the symbolic party where the dresses and even the shoes, songs, and sermons represent the coming together of community by maintaining an important cultural tradition, the celebration of a young girl’s passage into womanhood.

READ A TRANSCRIPT of this documentary that was published in Voices, Fall-Winter 2002.

African-American Quilts and Their Makers

Ora Kirkland and Virginia Hall speak about their art as African-American quilt makers. Africans brought to America a long tradition of working with textiles. They added their own aesthetic to quilting techniques, overturning rules of geometry, balance, and order to create a unique blend of cultural designs, serving both form and function.

READ a verbatim TRANSCRIPT of the documentary.

Akwesasne Iroquois: Native-American Basket Making Traditions

Baskets made of sweetgrass and Black ash splints have an important place in the Mohawk Iroquois tradition at the Akwasane reservation located on the US-Canadian border along the St. Lawrence River. Baskets of varying sizes were an everyday item used for storage, food gathering, and organization in the home. In the 19th and 20th centuries the baskets took on an increasingly economic importance and became more innovative and decorative. The Voices of New York Traditions looks at the souvenir basket trade.

READ about our exhibition, “North by Northeast: Basketry and Beadwork from the Akwesasne Mohawk and Tuscarora.”

James Donato: Chainsaw Carver

James Donato: Out of the Woods— This documentary explores the art of chain saw carving, told by carver James Donato from Altamont, NY. James discusses his feelings about being an artist and looks at the process that goes into making a chain saw carving, mostly of animals and fishermen.

READ excerpts from the transcript from this documentary published in Voices, Fall-Winter 2000.

stone clock

to learn more about the traditional artists we feature, and about artist demonstrations we sponsor.
Celtic crosses
pysanky eggs
handmade doll Ellen
carved fish
dream catcher
hand-crocheted cloche
Green Wing Teal

Breit, Jill. 2005. Knitting It Together: A Case Study of a Sweater. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore 31(3–4).

Farkas, Eniko. 1999. Authenticity and Kitsch: A Hungarian-American Revisits the Folk Art of Her Native Land. New York Folklore Society Newsletter, Fall/Winter 1999.

Glassie, Henry. 1966. The Wedderspoon Farm. New York Folklore Quarterly, XXII(3).

Hansen, Laura, and Steve Zeitlin. 1998. With Greenspace for All. New York Folklore Society Newsletter, Fall/Winter 1998.

Hutchinson, Sydney. 2002. Pinto Güira and his Magic Bullet: A Dominican instrument maker in Corona, Queens. Voices: Journal of New York Folklore 28(3–4).

Martínez, Elena. 2003. The Queen of Mundillo: Rosa Elena Egipciaco. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore 29(3–4).

Morgan, Shirley. 2006. Piecing Together a Community: A Late Nineteenth-Century Friendship Quilt from Peterboro, New York. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. 32(1–2).

Music and Art to remember: The 2002 American Folklore Society Conference. (with photos by Martha Cooper of Native American marketplace). Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore 28(3–4).

Noble, Allen G. 2001. The Tale of a Trail: Material Culture along Ridge Road. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore 27(1–2).

Overholser, Lisa. 2010. Ferenc Keresztesi: Traditional Hungarian Wood Carving. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore 36(3-4).

Pocius, Gerald L. 1996. Lithuanian Landscapes in America: Houses, Yards, and Gardens in Scranton, Pennsylvania. New York Folklore, 22(1–4).

Scheer, Virginia. 2000. The Farmhouse as Boarding House: Sharing Values and Sharing Space in the Catskills. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore 26(1–2).

Zwolinski, Mary. 2001. Gary Rathbone: Wooden Whimsy. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore 27(3–4).

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