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!
On Monday, May 13, eleven folklorists congregated at the New York Folklore offices in Schenectady to learn the ins and outs of DSLR photography. The two-day workshop was led by Guha Shankar of The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, who explained to us the interrelations of aperture, exposure, and ISO, as well as techniques for managing light and flash photography. We also explored the nuances of ethnographic photography, and strategies of photographing tradition bearers in natural settings in a non-intrusive yet engaging way.
The workshop had a healthy mix of instruction, hands-on fieldwork, and review and critique of our efforts with the unfamiliar DSLR cameras. After the initial overview of photography from Guha, we carpooled to Armando & Sons Ironworks, and were treated to a fascinating tour of the shop.
A folklorist paparazzi! Workshop participants practice photography at Armando & Sons Ironworks
Our goal was to practice photography in a natural ethnographic setting, and develop our own photography skills rather than adjust the environment to pose less challenges for us. I found that the two most challenging aspects of photographing at Armando & Sons were the multitude of light sources (each requiring a separate white balance in order to appear true white) and the fast pace of a metalworker in action. Each photographer experimented with their camera settings in order to compensate for the environmental factors.
Later during the workshop we visited and photographed the Electric City Barn in Schenectady, an impressive space designed to enable a variety of artists (carpenters, studio photographers, theater actors, dancers, textile artists) to practice their craft. Next was Perreca’s, a 105 year old authentic Italian bakery, with its wooden work surfaces covered in flour and texture from decades of nonstop use. Each of these locations provided their own challenges of lighting, space, and motion, to be overcome by the photographers’ wits and camera settings. Each provided an intriguing look behind-the-scenes into the history of the businesses and the stories of the people who run them.
Guha Shankar assists Beth Bevars with her camera at Armando & Sons Ironworks
After our photography sessions in the field, all returned to NYF for critique, review, and photograph analysis. We examined how different camera settings were successful or unsuccessful in specific situations, and considered how to improve in future ethnographic photography situations. By the time the workshop wrapped up, we had absorbed lots of information and had taken a great leap ahead in the ongoing process of learning DSLR photography and its application to ethnographic fieldwork.
This photography workshop was sponsored by NYSCA Folk Arts through its Mentoring and Professional Development Program. We are indebted to Guha Shankar and the Library of Congress, and Robert Baron of the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts.
Many talented folk music groups are touring New York State in 2019. Below, find a sampling of upcoming performances, and get your tickets before they’re gone!
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Picker’s Paradise: From Balkans to Bluegrass | featuring Tamburaški Sastav Ponoć (Pittsburgh, PA) and Danny Knicely’s Next Generation (Virginia)
5/10/2019, 7:30 pm and 5/11/2019, 7:30 pm at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY
6/22/2019 and 6/23/2019 at Lake Placid Center for the Performing Arts, Lake Placid, NY
General Admission: $15
Student Tickets: $5
Check with performance venue to confirm dates and times.
Dust off your best dancing shoes and join us, in partnership with the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, for a fun-filled evening of dance and music that celebrates two virtuosic string music traditions—bluegrass and old-time from the mountains of Virginia, and Balkan music known as tamburitza from the urban community halls of Pittsburgh. Whether you are a beginning-level dancer eager to learn, active in the local contra scene, or a Balkan dance enthusiast, this special evening presents an exciting opportunity to learn traditional dances from master dance teachers and try the steps you learn to the playing of two great bands.
Country Blues and Dance | featuring Phil Wiggins Blues House Party (Takoma Park, MD) and The Harris Brothers (Lenoir, NC)
5/31/2019 and 6/1/2019 at Flushing Town Hall, Flushing, NY
Check with performance venue to confirm dates and times.
Throughout the Piedmont and Appalachians, shared musical traditions have existed for centuries that were equally popular among rural blacks and whites. This program explores the roots and connections of these regional rural music and dance traditions as expressed in the artistry of contemporary masters of tradition. Phil Wiggins, the nation’s foremost player of acoustic blues harmonica, leads an ensemble featuring Piedmont blues sounds that were once a staple of rural dance parties. With master dancer Junious Brickhouse, they “reconnect the dance with the dance music,” now most often experienced in concert (without dance). North Carolina songsters extraordinaire, The Harris Brothers, a delightful two-man band with a suitcase drum, draw from the many currents of vernacular music, including old-time, bluegrass, country, and mountain blues, that they were exposed to growing up in the North Carolina foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a hotbed of traditional music.
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 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.