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Folk Arts & Culture

Welcome to a growing reservoir of information and pathways that can lead you to more information, people, and organizations in the field of folklore and allied fields.



Occupational Folklore

Occupational Folklore refers to the shared knowledge held by workers within a specific occupational group, as expressed through narrative arts, shared techniques and information, and through shared technology and hand-made objects. Historically, folklorists such as John and Alan Lomax, and Archie Green collected the occupational lore of specific male-dominated professions such as lumbermen, fishermen, miners, and cowboys. More recently studies have been conducted with firefighters (McCarl); trial lawyers; bar-tenders (Bell); subway workers (Gargulski); and masons (van Buren). The Archie Green Fellows Program of the Library of Congress honors the legacy of folklorist Archie Green through the Library of Congress’s Folklife Center’s support of the collecting of occupational folklore. Since 2009, collecting projects have been supported with such disparate occupational groups as dairy farmers; beauticians; Boeing Plant workers; dock-workers and longshoremen; Erie Canal workers; taxi drivers; circus workers; and Thoroughbred Racetrack stablehands. Of interest to the folklorist collecting occupational folklore are shared narrative expressions (storytelling, jokes, proverbs); shared beliefs; tools and specialized clothing; and shared knowledge of occupational skills and processes.

Nancy Groce, in her article, “Local Culture in the Global City: The Folklife of New York,” takes note of the diversity of trades and professionals among New Yorkers, and writes that, ”Even in a city as large as New York, workers from each occupational community are bound together by folklore—shared customs, stories, traditions specific to their jobs. In her article, Nancy discusses the occupational folklore of Wall Street traders, the theater community, and the garment trades within the fashion industry.” [Voices, 30(1–2), 2004].

Documenting these New York City culture bearers in their various industries is described by Barbara Cohen-Stratyner in her report, “Voices of Others: Personal Narratives in the Folklife Festival,” in Voices, 33(1–2), 2007.

Ellen McHale describes the ‘intentional’ community of the backstretch of the Saratoga Springs thoroughbred racetrack as a “a voluntary community forged through a common occupation—the care of the racehorse. Here the assistant trainers, exercise riders, jockeys, and others tend to the horses that are a locus for wealthy owners and high-society spectators and bettors. This backside community creates its own identity through naming practices, speech, and the use of language. It is a community that views itself as generous, open, and regular yet is marked by secrecy and control and ruled by chance. Because the workers’ future is never certain, allegiances are tenuous and identities are constructed.” [From “An Ethnography of the Saratoga Racetrack,” by Ellen McHale, Voices 29(1–2), 2003.]

March 2, 2013, ArtsWestchester,
White Plains, NY

“Occupational Folklore” is the theme of the 2013 New York Folklore Society ’s annual conference, hosted by ArtsWestchester and produced in collaboration with ArtsWestchester and Long Island Traditions.

Paul Margolis, in his regular “Still Going Strong” column in Voices focuses on traditional occupations, including:Brewmaster
Garrett Oliver, brewmaster for the Brooklyn Brewery. Photo: Paul Margolis.

Stone masons assemble a wall
Dulio Prado’s crew assembles a wall in Bedford, New York. Photo: Tom van Buren
“...a fashionable revival of the farm wall—which Katonah-based journalist and author Susan Allport calls “walls of affluence” in her 1990 book Sermons in Stone—has drawn hundreds of Latin American stoneworkers, who can often trace their ancestry to epic wall builders of the Andes...Brazilian Dulio Prado and his mostly Guatemalan crew...have the distinction of being some of the fastest dry-wall builders in the region.”
[From “Set in Stone: The Art of Stone and Wall Building in Westchester County,” by Tom van Buren.]


Photo of Juan Bon Bom Galbez with horse with completed hacerie chapé
Juan “Bon Bom” Galbez with horse with a hacerie chapé, a Chilean braided mane.Galbez is an outrider for the New York Racing Association. Photo: Dorothy Ours, courtesy of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Everett Nack and son launch their fishing boat on the Hudson River. Photo Ellen McHale
Everett Nack and son launch their fishing boat on the Hudson River. Photo Ellen McHale
Shad Fishing on the Hudson

Shad fishing has been an occupation on the Hudson River for many years. Almost destroyed by pollution, shad fishing is making a comeback. Producer Ginger Miles interviewed fisherman Everett Nack about the folkways of this occupational craft.

READ a verbatim TRANSCRIPT of the documentary.

READ the INTERVIEW in Voices 29(1–2), 2003.


The city’s Transit Authority workers tell and retell stories that entertain, instruct, and horrify. The use of insider jargon in their occupational folklore functions like a password to signal their membership in the group. Photo: Martha Cooper.
[From “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors! Occupational Folklore of New York City Subway Workers,” by Ryn Gargulinski.]

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