75th Anniversary Year in Review

75th Anniversary Year in Review

As we close the books on 2019, I want to thank everyone for a fantastic and celebratory 75th anniversary year. New York Folklore was founded in 1944 by Louis Jones and Harold Thompson, two close friends and folklore colleagues who had a vision for a folklore organization that would draw together academics teaching folklore, students of folklore, tradition bearers, and local enthusiasts. Founded in October 1944 at a meeting of the New York History Association at the Albany Institute for History and Art, the New York Folklore Society was instituted and immediately convened a day-long series of presentations about folklore in New York State. This activity continued with twice annual gatherings and a journal that began publication in 1945. We haven’t stopped since! Predicated on a vision of cultural equity and inclusion, the nascent New York Folklore Society aligned itself with social justice and social action movements of the time, including the Progressive Education Movement and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. I am proud of the organization’s seventy-five year legacy of promoting cultural and social justice and I am pleased that this vision remains a vital part of the organization’s mission.

We began our 75th celebratory year with a birthday cake on June 6, 2019 that was handed out to anyone passing by outside our offices and gallery at 129 Jay Street in Schenectady. We were able to share this event with our visiting guests from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The celebration continued with a 75th Anniversary party that was held on November 16, 2019 at the Bethany Arts Community in Ossining. More than 110 guests were in attendance to wish us well. As President Tom van Buren and Vice-President Kay Turner declared, the ongoing vision of New York Folklore – to promote and nurture community – was in evidence. Of the guests attending, New York Folklore’s friends and constituents were in attendance, including folklore colleagues, folk and traditional artists, leaders of allied folklore organizations and folk arts specific organizations, former and current staff members, former journal editors, and former and current board members. Celebration participants came from as far away as Maine and New York’s St. Lawrence County, and from as near as Ossining and New York’s Westchester County.

While this was a grand year, we intend to continue into 2020, as next year will be the anniversary of our publication that began as New York Folklore Quarterly and today is known as Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. To keep abreast of events and other anniversary initiatives, connect with us on Instagram and Facebook, subscribe to our blog, and visit our website. And please join us as a member so that New York Folklore can remain strong for the next 75 years!

New Exhibition: Wood Carving by Mary Michael Shelley

New Exhibition: Wood Carving by Mary Michael Shelley

 

The newest exhibition in New York Folklore’s gallery is the pictorial wood carvings of Mary Michael Shelley of Ithaca, which opened on October 4, 2019 and will be on view until mid-January, 2020. In the Fall-Winter 2009 Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, Mary Michael Shelley offered a biographical sketch. The following is an excerpt from “Carving Out a Life: Reflections of an Ithaca Wood-Carver.”

“I started carving at age twenty-two, when my father gave me a gift of a painted wood-carving he had made of me at the farm where I grew up. This gift from my father inspired me to begin to make my own carved and painted pictures…I think of my pictures as a visual diary that helps me make sense of the events and feelings in my life…

 

Although I’ve done many pictures of diners, sailing, and dream images, the barn is a favorite subject that fills me with the pleasure of visiting an old friend. My barn pictures carry layers of meanings, like Russian nesting dolls. It’s thinking about these layers that keeps me going through long and solitary hours of carving in my studio …

 

So it seems that, in the end, my barn pictures are about me and making sense of the events of my life. I am the cows, the farmers, and the barn – and the skies are my moods.”

To read more from Mary Michael Shelley, you can access this and other Voices articles by becoming a member of New York Folklore. You can also follow Mary Michael Shelley on Facebook and Instagram.

The Birth of New York Folklore: 1944

The Birth of New York Folklore: 1944

Image: Louis C. Jones, 1950

New York Folklore celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding in 1944. The New York Folklore Society was formed as an offshoot of the New York State Historical Association and had the blessing of then-NYSHA President, Ryan Dixon Fox, an educator and President of Union College. Jones writes in Upstate Literature: Essays in Memory of Thomas F. O’Donnell (1985): 

Thompson and I had begun to talk of a New York Folklore Society as early as 1938 when I was finishing my graduate work at Columbia… By the summer of 1944, I had, at Thompson’s suggestion, approached Dixon Ryan Fox, President of the New York Historical Society (as well as of Union College) and found him most receptive to the idea that the new society should be born at a meeting of the Association. It took place at the luncheon meeting held at the Trinity Methodist Church in Albany on October 6, 1944; a few hours later Thompson presided at a session devoted entirely to papers on New York Folklore.”

Jones’s glee of their success is apparent in the correspondence between Louis C Jones and Harold Thompson. Jones related to Thompson in a private correspondence:

I think everything is now set for the meeting next week. By this time you have the program from the Historical Association, which carried everything except the fact that we are going to have a cracker-barrel bull session Saturday morning at 10…… Besides these formal functions, the Jones’s are going to have Open House on Friday afternoon at which we are going to gather in the brighter spirits……..

Jones goes on to describe the party that he is planning, its food and drink, and his and his wife’s attire.  We hope that you’ll join us in Ossining on November 16th to create a memory for the next 75 years!

Citations:

Jones, Louis C. “Early Days of the Folklore Renaissance,” in Frank Bergman. Upstate Literature: Essays in Memory of Thomas F. O’Donnell. Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Louis C. Jones Papers, Collection 410. Courtesy of the Fenimore Art Museum Library.

 

Cultural Bridge: A Cultural Heritage Exchange between New York Folklore and Youth of Osh

Cultural Bridge: A Cultural Heritage Exchange between New York Folklore and Youth of Osh

From February through July, 2019, New York Folklore engaged in a unique partnership project through the United States Department of State and the non-profit organization, World Learning. Involving both a virtual exchange and an in-person exchange, New York Folklore partnered with Youth of Osh of Kyrgyzstan and the US-based Schoharie River Center, as well as Utica College and Duanesburg High School, to involve almost thirty youth and young adults in an exploration of cultural heritage from the vantage points of New York’s Mohawk Valley and the Alay Valley of the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

The project came to fruition with two back-to-back visits by a small delegation from each country. The first visit took place in June 2019, as three Kyrgyz students and two adult leaders were hosted by New York Folklore. After a whirlwind afternoon in New York City, the group was transported to the rural Mohawk Valley to experience the region’s traditional art activities involving textiles, stone, and wood. They attended and participated in the Cooperstown Community Dance, explored the Schoharie Creek watershed by canoe and on foot, and examined the region’s vernacular architecture. As one of the goals of the project was to participate in a service project, the Krygyz and American students worked together to create a timber-framed sign kiosk that they were able to donate and erect for a youth program in Middleburgh, New York. Toward the end of their visit the project presented a mini folklife festival with crafts demonstrations, and music and dance performance that took place at the Duanesburg High School in rural Schenectady County.

Kyrgyz and US exchange participants after hiking Vroman's Nose trail

Kyrgyz and US exchange participants in high spirits after hiking Vroman’s Nose Trail in Middleburgh, NY

As a counterpart of the June visit by Youth of Osh and their students, New York Folklore Executive Director Ellen McHale, Schoharie River Center Director John McKeeby, and three students traveled to southern Krygyzstan in mid-July for a ten day visit. In keeping with the shared themes of cultural heritage and tourism, we were treated to hands-on workshops with folk artists and fine craftspersons; explored the building technology of the yurt (and got to both build one and sleep in one); and explored the Alay Valley through hiking and exploring its high pastures. A service project took the form of erecting a series of three signs that provided tourism information to those hiking the base of Lenin Peak. At the trip’s conclusion, Youth of Osh staged a community folk arts festival that included traditional music and dance performances, folk arts demonstrations, and children’s games and other activities.

People play a Kyrgyz children's game outside yurts

Learning (and playing) a Kyrgyz children’s game with US and Kyrgyz participants. Conor Landrigan of Utica College is performing.
Feature image: Foodways Dinner in a yurt with Kyrgyz and American participants, June 2019

Lessons learned are too numerous for enumerating in this forum. For my part, and for New York Folklore, our circle has widened and there are possibilities for future shared projects and initiatives. We have also made dear friends with Youth of Osh, an important organization that works to ensure a brighter future for Kyrgyzstan and its youth. For the participating young people, they were able to experience another culture – either directly or indirectly. What was perhaps most energizing for the participants, however, was that through the vehicle of cultural exchange they were able to learn about their own culture and to gain a greater appreciation for the dynamics of folk arts and folklife in their home countries.

Remembering the Founders of New York Folklore

Remembering the Founders of New York Folklore

As New York Folklore turns 75 in 2019, and our journal celebrates its 75th year of publication in 2020, I invite our supporters and readers to join us in celebration! This is also a time to look back on our rich history, and remember the people who helped us reach the place we are at today.

We were founded in 1944 as the New York Folklore Society (NYFS) by a group of interested scholars, foremost among them Harold W. “Tommy” Thompson and Louis C. Jones. Dr. Thompson trained an entire generation of New York State educators about the value of folklore as a mechanism to reach students learning about New York State literature and culture. He was always concerned about public involvement in folklore, and he brought folklore to public audiences in New York’s Capital District by hosting a long-running, call-in radio show about folklore on WGY in Schenectady in the 1950s. As described by Louis Jones, Thompson’s course at the New York State College for Teachers was the very first undergraduate course in American Folklore in the nation. Thompson’s enthusiasm for folklore and its expression through the oral traditions of New York’s families, neighborhoods, and communities created an audience that extended beyond the classroom to the state at large.

Co-founder, Louis Jones, an authority on folk art, crafts, and the supernatural, was the director of the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown from 1947 to 1972. Jones promoted the vital connection between folklore and history and its relationship to public history, making the argument that museum professionals should embrace folk culture and social history and shy away from the current focus on “elite” individuals. He affirmed the importance of the narratives of working people, immigrants, and those whose stories had been heretofore largely ignored by historians and museum professionals. This pairing of literature and social and cultural history, and a concern for engaging the public in the recognition and enjoyment of folk cultural expression, continues to influence folklore scholarship in New York State.

Dr. Thompson and Louis Jones helped lay a strong foundation for us in 1945, to grow and build on through the years and continue to do so in the future. Over the next two anniversary years, we hope to provide increased opportunities for New York’s programs and professional development trainings to more fully engage constituencies throughout the state.

This fall, a gala 75th Birthday Celebration will take place at the Bethany Arts Community in Ossining, New York, on Saturday, November 16, 2019. Please plan to attend. Watch our events page and follow us on social media for details. We look forward to seeing you there!