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!

NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable in Utica

NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable in Utica

This year’s NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable took place in Utica from April 3-5. The NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable is a professional development meeting and convening that draws the state’s folklorists and traditional arts professionals for three days of issue-focused meetings and professional development presentations in a Roundtable format. Each attendee is an active participant, sharing their own experiences and expertise in thematic sessions. In 2019, Roundtable themes included foodways and arts in education, including both k-12 education as well as strategies for engaging a diverse adult audience with arts learning. The NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable is a program of the Folk Arts Program of NYSCA, planned each year in collaboration with New York Folklore.

Since 2012, the Roundtable has been located each year in different communities around New York State, taking advantage of the opportunities accorded by different regions and urban areas in New York State to delve into traditional arts and cultural expressions. In each location, participants of the Roundtable are presented with best practices for folk arts engagement. In Utica, participants of the Roundtable visited the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees to learn about Utica’s unique experience with refugee resettlement. They explored the city’s diverse foodways offerings, and discussed arts in education with Lisa Rathje of Local Learning : the National Network for Folk Arts in Education.

Roundtablers enjoy a meal at Karam’s Middle East Bakery

This year’s 36 attendees came from throughout New York State, with special invited guests being Millie Rahn of the Lowell National Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, and Lisa Rathje of Local Learning. Participants of the NYSCA New York State Folk Arts Roundtable are folklorists and cultural arts professionals who work within folk arts contexts in arts agencies, museums, libraries, and university settings. They form a vibrant folk arts network that helps to elevate folk cultural expressions throughout New York.

New York Folklore Opens Inaugural Exhibit

New York Folklore Opens Inaugural Exhibit

New York Folklore opened its exhibition gallery with an exhibition of ebru paintings by Hatice Erbas-Sorkunlu. Hatice Erbas-Sorkunlu is an ebru artist originally from Turkey, currently living in Buffalo. Hatice studied the traditional Turkish tile art of çini at university, and during her studies became interested in ebru. Hatice learned to do ebru while living in Istanbul and later taught traditional Turkish arts to international students at Fasl-ı Bahar, an Islamic College. Hatice has been practicing ebru for 6 years. For this exhibition, Hatice is exhibiting ten framed pieces that illustrate different ebru techniques, with some incorporating Turkish paper cutting.

Erbas-Sorkunlu provided a hands-on ebru workshop for the public and she was in attendance for the exhibition’s opening reception. Her travel and her participatory workshop were made possible by a grant from the Schenectady Initiative Program. The exhibit will be on view through Labor Day 2019.

New York Folklore underwent extensive renovations and building upgrades to open its new exhibition gallery at the end of March. A grant from the William Gundry Broughton Charitable Foundation provided funds to conduct renovations that included floor repair, painting, carpet installation, and the addition of upgraded ambient and track lighting. As part of New York Folklore’s rebranding efforts, the upgrade also included a new sign for the building’s façade.

NYSCA and NYF Collaborate on Upstate Regional Initiative

NYSCA and NYF Collaborate on Upstate Regional Initiative

New York Folklore says a fond farewell to Hannah Davis, who has been our Upstate Regional Representative for the past three years. Her work with us wraps up this month, with a maple presentation at the Rome Art Center. In February, Hannah presented two programs in conjunction with the Munson Williams Art Institute in Utica. The first, taking place at Utica’s First Friday, highlighted the coffee and tea traditions of Utica’s Dominican, Lebanese, and Bosnian communities and the second took place as part of the Munson Williams Proctor “Art Alive” program and highlighted four fine Oneida and Onondaga artists:

Chris Thomas, Beaver Clan – Singer

Adah Shenandoah, Wolf Clan – Dancer

Cameron Shenandoah, Wolf Clan – Dancer

Brittany Ninham, Turtle Clan – Dancer

The Upstate Regional Initiative is a program initiated by the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. The project was developed to conduct field documentation and programming in counties underserved by the Folk Arts program of NYSCA, with the goal to serve as a catalyst for community based projects and to identify artists and cultural traditions within these regions. In the three years of Hannah’s documentation (2015-2018), she traversed eleven New York Counties, including Cattaraugus, Chatauqua, Tompkins, Cayuga, Seneca, Yates, Allegheny, Monroe, Ontario, Wayne, Broome, and the cities of Binghamton, Rochester, Utica, and Rome. The fourth and final year of this documentation project takes place in 2019 with survey work being conducted in Madison, Cortland, Chenango, and Otsego Counties.

New Staff for the New Year

New Staff for the New Year

As New York Folklore embarks on new projects and programs in 2019, I am pleased to welcome two new additions to our staff. Kira Born is not new to our organization, as she (along with Chibuikem Ajulu-Okeke) designed and wrote our new website. However, Kira is transitioning in 2019 from “intern” to marketing coordinator, continuing to work with New York Folklore to bring her expertise in graphic design, digital photography and video, and media production to help New York Folklore better tell its story. Kira is a graduate of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, where she majored in Communication and Information Design.

Elinor Levy also joins our staff in 2019 as New York Folklore’s New York regional coordinator for the Mentoring and Professional Development program, a partnership program with the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. Elinor will assist New York Folklore in publicizing the Mentoring and Professional Development Program in the lower Hudson Valley and New York Metropolitan regions, and will be the point of contact for potential mentoring applicants in these regions. Elinor is the Folk Arts Program Manager for Arts Mid-Hudson in Poughkeepsie. She has worked as a folklorist in many locations throughout the United States, including New Jersey and Las Vegas, Nevada. She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

As we are a statewide organization, we strive to be present in communities throughout the state. We hope to see YOU in this coming year!