Journal Articles

New York State Council on the Arts Grants

New York Folklore recently announced $225,000 in grants from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). These funds are the result of 21 successful applications submitted to NYSCA by New York Folklore on behalf of folk and traditional artists in the Capital Region. New York Folklore hosted an awards reception to celebrate this great achievement by folk and traditional artists in the region on February 23 at The Linda, WAMC-Albany’s public radio network’s Performing Arts Studio. The celebration featured food representing the grantees heritages.

In Memory of John Michael Vlach

Early in his career, John was elected as a Fellow of the American Folklore Society, a group that recognizes the field’s leading scholars. His folklore scholarship alerted academics across the social sciences and humanities to the power of cultural expression in our lives. He was especially effective in the areas of art and architecture, helping scholars and the public appreciate the significance of America’s folklife. Many of his published studies continue to be required reading for university courses.

A Tribute to John Vlach

In 1981, I began my Master’s degree in Museum Studies at George Washington University (GWU). I took an introductory course in American Studies with Pete Mondale, who assigned a book that would change my life: Black Culture and Black Consciousness by Larry Levine. When I asked Mondale where I could read more books like this, he introduced me to John Vlach, the new folklorist that the department had just hired. John had just written Charleston Blacksmith about Phillip Simmons, an African American blacksmith in Charleston. I was immediately sold on this professor, since my brother was a blacksmith and I had worked at a museum on Black women’s history in Washington, DC (The Bethune Museum) prior to starting my Master’s degree. And, then I learned what folklorists do.

From the Director

With an expanded and competent staff, New York Folklore
has experienced increased activity within the
greater Capital Region, including the inauguration
of the Mohawk Hudson Folklife Festival in
Albany’s Washington Park. In addition, NYF is
experiencing a resurgence of activity in folk arts
education, much of which involves partnerships…

From the Editor

John Michael Vlach (1948–2022) served as the Director of the Folklife Program at George Washington University (GWU) for over 32 years. He was a giant in the field, a Fellow of the American Folklore Society, a leading expert on folklife, folk arts and craft, vernacular architecture, and cultural history …

Miller’s Mills’ Ice Harvest

As many of us in the Northern parts of the country push
through the winter’s chilly wind, sleet, and snow with the same
determination our ancestors did, looking back at history reminds us that our ancestors had “harvest” on their minds. An ice harvest.
Unadilla Lake in Miller’s Mills, where the ice comes from. For two centuries in the winter, the people of Miller’s Mills have come to Unadilla Lake with long saws, pikes, and tongs to cut pond ice, and then store it for refrigeration needs in warmer months

Upstate

[T]he sounds from our surroundings carry many stories: the rivers’ roar in spring; the brooks’ summer babble; the songs of chickadees, jays, and white-throated sparrows; the call of the loon; the chilling howl of coyotes; and the mysterious, everchanging voices of the trees.

Announcement

Our heartfelt congratulations to storyteller, author, poet, Abenaki elder, and Voices columnist, Joseph Bruchac, for being appointed as the first Poet Laureate of Saratoga Springs. The ceremony took place at City Hall on January 17, 2023. Bruchac was selected through a competitive nomination and interview process by members of the City’s Poet Laureate Committee. His two-year appointment will run through December 2024.

Downstate

OK, maybe we’re not the “best book group” in all New York. But back in 2004, author Wayne Barrett nominated us to the Village Voice’s annual “Best Of ” list, and so the name Best Book Group (BBG) stuck… Alex Herzan and I were having a sushi picnic …. when this idea was hatched. I mentioned to Alex that I had decided to mark my 10th anniversary as a New Yorker by reading a year of books about NYC. I hadn’t come up with a list of books yet, but I had decided to start with Ragtime. Alex was excited about my plan and had the great idea to make it a book group.

A History of the Adirondack Pipes and Drums

It is recorded that the founders of the band wanted to pay tribute to the highlanders that fought in the area during the French and Indian War. The band sought permission from the appropriate officials of the British military in Canada to wear the Royal Stuart tartan for pipers and the Black Watch tartan for drummers. A charter was obtained for the organization from a local judge. Instruction in piping and drumming was arranged through members of the Schenectady Pipe Band.

Empire State Legends

If you are wandering in Strykersville, Johnson City, Staatsburg, or dozens of other New York towns, you may be startled to see newer, ruby red markers. This is not a manufacturing error, but a cause for celebration: red signals the commemoration of local folklore. Over the past seven years, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation’s Legends & Lore® program has erected 73 such legend-centric signs across New York State, ranging from well-known community legends, like the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow and Champ the Lake Monster in Plattsburgh, to local oral traditions, like a cannon heist in Wilmington or a bear brawl in Queens.

A Visit to City Lore’s Archives

In September 2022, City Lore, located in Lower Manhattan, had a visitor who told us that she believed we might have a photograph of her mother in our archives. The image that she was looking for showed her mother working at their family-owned vegetable stall in New York City’s Chinatown, shortly after her parent’s immigration from Hong Kong in the 1970s. Fortunately, she knew who had taken it.

May Baskets

Come springtime, generations of children in the greater Glens Falls area spent weeks making May Baskets to distribute to friends and neighbors on the first of May….The custom traveled to America, noted in the late 19th century by Lina and Adelia Beard in their 1887 book, The American Girls Handy Book: ‘A May-day custom, and a very pretty one, still survives among the children in our New England States. It is that of hanging upon the door-knobs of friends and neighbors pretty spring-offerings in the shapeof small baskets filled with flowers, wild ones, if they can be obtained; if not, the window-gardens at home are heavily taxed to supply the deficiency.’

Foodways

Northern New York’s Tug Hill is a little shorter than the Himalayas, to say the least. Not far from the foot of that plateau, however, at the edge of downtown Watertown, New York, I was fortunate to sit down recently with Prabin and Saranga Bhat of B-Hat’s Curry House for a lovely visit, sharing some of their favorite Nepalese flavors.

My Menstruation Ceremony

At the time that the menstruation ceremony was to begin, we all took our mats and blankets to the unfinished concrete balcony of the house, with 360-degree views. Juana had a small bonfire going. She played the bowls. She put crowns of marigolds on our heads. We drank water out of plastic cups, water that had been purified in the singing bowls.