Tag Archives: New York Folklore Society

Ellen McHale: An Eastern United States Folklore Summit

Greater New England: Mid-19th Century Yankee Settlement

This past May (2012), the small town of Cambridge in Washington County was host to a “summit”, of sorts, as folklorists and those allied professionals who work with the cultural arts gathered for an exchange of ideas.

The three day “Retreat” drew approximately sixty folklorists from throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic region and was sponsored by several loosely affiliated groups: Folklorists in New England (FINE), the Mid-Atlantic Folklore Association (MAFA), and the New York Folk Arts Roundtable.

Organized by the New York Folklore Society, the New York State Council on the Arts’ Folk Arts Program, and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Northeast Folklorists Retreat presented multiple opportunities for participants to explore current issues of importance to those who pursue the documentation of culture and contemporary folkways.

Attendees included staff of the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Folklife Programs- State Folk Arts Coordinators for New York, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut- leaders from New York’s folklore institutions- and numerous cultural specialists who conduct their work under the auspices of public libraries, arts organizations, and public universities.

As defined in the American Folklife Preservation Act passed by Congress in 1976, American folklife means the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States – familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, and regional. According to the definition, expressive folk culture, (which includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual pageantry, or handicraft) is mainly learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and is generally maintained without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction. As scholar Barre Toelken explains in The Dynamics of Folklore, (1979, Hougton Mifflin), “Folklore comes early and stays late in the lives of all of us. In spite of the combined forces of technology, science, television, religion, urbanization, and creeping literacy, we prefer our close personal associations as the basis for learning about life and transmitting important observations and expressions.”

Although still closely allied with the disciplines of comparative literature, history, and anthropology, the current discipline of folklore stands at an interesting juncture. In an era when twenty-first century globalization and the next “Big Idea” are often celebrated, folklorists are working hard to recognize local communities’ maintenance of cultural traditions. Because of its emphasis on cultural knowledge shared between and among groups, folklore has gained allies in contemporary movements that are coming to the forefront in American society.

Ideas which share folklore’s concerns such as the 100-mile or “locovore” food movement- “buy local” movements- the “Slow Food” movement- urban gardening- and “sustainability” are used by current community advocates as a lens to examine everything from energy to community infrastructure. Borrowing from these current shared concerns,” the 2012 Folklorists’ Retreat took as its theme, “Sustaining Culture: A Regional Conversation.” Besides providing an opportunity for folklorists to gain practical skills through sessions on audio documentation and digital formats (offered by Andy Kolovos, the archivist at the Vermont Folklife Center), the gathering provided an opportunity for those in attendance to share ideas and perspectives on issues relating to folklore, including definitions of “authenticity” and “sense of place”. Best practices for folklore programs involving cultural tourism, local collaborations, and arts in education were presented and participating folklorists wrestled with issues which arise when working with immigrant and refugee artists, or with presentational formats which use new forms of media.

Typically, folklorists gather annually under the auspices of the American Folklore Society or they gather in various regional groupings. This first ever Folklorists’ Retreat and Roundtable brought together organizations and individuals representing the entire Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Maryland, Washington DC to Niagara Falls. I am curious to see what comes of the resulting synergy.

Ellen McHale is Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society (founded in 1944) and has over 25 years of public sector folklore experience. She is also the folklorist for the National Museum of Racing’s Folk Arts project, documenting the predominantly Latino population in the backstretch/ stable area of the Saratoga Thoroughbred Racetrack through oral history interviews and photography.

New Contributor, Ellen McHale of the New York Folklore Society

Please join us here at New York History in welcoming our newest contributor, Ellen McHale. Ellen is Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society (founded in 1944) and has over 25 years of public sector folklore experience, with over eleven years of experience as the Executive Director of a statewide folklore and  folk arts organization.  She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania and was a Fulbright Scholar to the  Institute for Folklife Studies at the University of Stockholm, Sweden.

Prior to her appointment as Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society, she served as Director of the Schoharie County Historical Society/Old Stone Fort Museum and as the Director of the Shaker Heritage Society.  For over ten years she has served as the folklorist for the National Museum of Racing’s Folk Arts project, documenting the predominantly Latino population in the backstretch/ stable area of the
Saratoga Thoroughbred Racetrack through oral history interviews and photography.

NY Folklore Society Graduate Student Conference

For over 65 years, the New York Folklore Society (NYFS) has held an annual conference, typically with guest speakers, such as master artists and academic scholars, who have addressed a particular theme. This year, in collaboration with Binghamton University’s English Department, NYFS invites graduate students to present their work on legends and tales. In this way, students will be given a platform at a local conference to share their work and connect with other young academics from around the state. The NYFS seeks to encourage young scholars to continue their studies and become active contributors to the fields of folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology and more. This conference presents students with the opportunity for feedback on works-in-progress and mentorship from the academy.

Theme: Legends and Tales

Legends and tales present characters under duress in extraordinary circumstances. They preserve cultural patterns and facilitate social change. Legends such as “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” and “The Killer in the Back Seat” have a kernel of truth- tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Armless Maiden” are clearly fictional but have complex layers of meaning. When legends and tales inspire literature and films, they bring richly resonant traditions to the minds of readers and viewers.

This multidisciplinary conference welcomes papers about legends and/or tales from graduate students in literature, folklore, anthropology, American studies, cultural studies, film studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, social and cultural history, and other fields. The conference organizers especially encourage papers related to the cultural traditions of New York State.

The NY Folklore Society Graduate Student Conference will be held November 12, 2010

at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY.

Students are encouraged to submit proposals by August 15- the final deadline for submission is September 15.

More information can be found online.

New York Folklore Society Latino Artists Gathering

The New York Folklore Society, in collaboration with Go Art!, will hold its second Latino Artists’ Gathering on March 19, 2011 At the Homestead Event Center, Batavia City Center, Batavia, New York.

Supported by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, the gatherings provide an opportunity for Latino artists residing in non-metropolitan New York State to come together to discuss issues and solve common problems. March’s theme will be “Challenges and Opportunities for Traditional Artists in Rural New York”, and we will hear of some of the current initiatives being tried to link artists across distances.

Continue reading

CFP: Latino Folk Culture, Expressive Traditions

The New York Folklore Society has announced a Graduate Student Conference on Latino Folk Culture and Expressive Traditions to be held on November 20, 2010 at New York University, 20 Cooper Square, 4th Floor, NYC.

For over 65 years, the New York Folklore Society (NYFS) has held an annual conference, typically with guest speakers, such as master artists and academic scholars, who have addressed a particular theme. This year, in collaboration with NYU’s Latino Studies and Latin American Studies Departments, NYFS seeks to encourage young scholars to continue their studies and become active contributors to the fields of folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology and more. Continue reading

CFP: Latino Folk Culture and Expressive Traditions

For over 65 years, the New York Folklore Society (NYFS) has held an annual conference, typically with guest speakers, such as master artists and academic scholars, who have addressed a particular theme. This year, in collaboration with NYU’s Latino Studies and Latin American Studies Departments, we invite graduate students to present their work on Latino Folk Culture and Expressive Traditions.

In this way, students will be given a platform at a local conference to share their work and connect with other young academics from around the state. The NYFS seeks to
encourage young scholars to continue their studies and become active contributors to the fields of folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology and more. Continue reading

Folklore Society Sponsoring Events for Latino Artists

The New York Folklore Society will be sponsoring three gatherings for Latino artists in New York State. Supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the gatherings will take place on three locations on three separate dates over this fall and next spring.

Designed for musicians, dancers, craftspersons, and others who are practicing a traditional artform with its origin in any of the Spanish-speaking communities of North and South America, the gatherings will assist artists in sharing resources and experiences. They will provide an opportunity for future collaborations and technical assistance. For additional information, or to find out how to become a “delegate” for the gatherings, contact Lisa Overholser at the New York Folklore Society.

The gatherings will be held as follows:

October 24, 2010 at Long Island Traditins, Port Washington
March 19, 2011 at Go Art!, Batavia
May 14, 2011 at Centro Civico, Amsterdam

New York Folklore Society Issues State Budget Action Alert

“Your assistance is needed now!” declares an Action Alert e-mail issued by the New York Folklore Society late last week in response to Governor Paterson’s revised Executive Budget which proposes to further slash funding for the arts in New York State. The full text of the Folklore Society’s message follows:

On April 27, 2010, Governor David Paterson announced a revised Executive Budget proposal for the 2010-11 fiscal year. This new proposal recommends a total of $25.2 million for NYSCA’s Local Assistance (grant making) budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and the same amount for the following 2011-12 allocation.

This most recent proposal represents a nearly 40% [39.4%] decrease in Local Assistance funding from 2009-10 levels ($41.6 million), far exceeding the cuts proposed for most other New York State agencies.

In his revised Executive Budget, Governor Paterson has also proposed reducing NYSCA’s administrative budget to $4.84 million in 2010-11. This represents a nearly 12% [11.84%] decrease from 2009-10 levels ($5.49 million).

The total proposed 2010-11 budget for NYSCA totals $30.4 million. At this level of funding, New York State’s per capita spending on Arts would drop from $2.48 to $0.77. New York’s ranking as the 3rd highest per capita support for the Arts in the US would drop to 26th, ranking just above Arkansas at $0.74 per capita and below the national average of $0.90 per capita. Source: National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

The New York Folklore Society is a statewide service organization which works to foster the study, promotion, and continuation of New York’s diverse cultural traditions through education, advocacy, support and outreach. Located at 133 Jay Street, Schenectady, New York and found on the world wide web at www.nyfolklore.org.

NY Folklore – Textured Stories: The Works of Denise Allen

The New York Folklore Society will be presenting “Textured Stories: The Works of Denise Allen” at its gallery at 113 Jay Street, Schenectady through March 26th. I asked the Folklore Society to describe Lisa’s work for us and this is what they sent:

She lived for many years in Bedford-Stuyvesant (in Brooklyn), her hometown. Her mother was a seamstress in the sense that she made a lot of the family cloths, etc. Denise, however, was not a trained seamstress. She worked as a legal secretary, and had no intention of becoming an artist. After her mother died, however, she became very depressed. She walked into a Woolworth’s store one day, saw the embroidery kits there, which reminded her of her mother, and felt “called” to take that up to feel a connection with her mother. She has been doing needlework ever since.She does a unique kind of textured embroidery, not only involving needlework, but layering and adding material onto the fabric, such as wood, cardboard, wire, etc. She also creates dolls from the original design to the finishing touches. Her signatures pieces are her story cloths, textured artwork that often tells specific stories from her own life, as well as fictional stories that otherwise capture an expressive truth.

Her work focuses on themes of African-American life, particularly in the colonial period in America, and country living. She addresses themes of slavery, traditional life, life in the country, and so on.

After her son was killed in 9-11 (he worked in Tower 1), and her husband barely escaped (he worked on the 97th floor as a drafter for the Port Authority), she became extremely despondent. Because she had always been fascinated with country life after seeing a county fair event that had come to Brooklyn when she was a little girl, she and her husband decided to move up to upstate NY and live on a farm. She moved up to Palatine Bridge, and has been living there among the Amish for the past several years. She has a wonderful relationship with her neighbors, some of whom contribute wooden frames for her art. She has been working on a 9-11 story cloth, and recently completed it. It is now under consideration to be placed at the 9-11 Museum that is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

Folk Concert to Benefit NY Folklore Society, May 29

Witch tales from Otsego County. The famed Binghamton spiedie sandwich. Irish ballads sung in New York City. African-American spoken word genres. North Country quilting. The work rituals of Saratoga racetrack workers. What do all of these have in common? These are a few of the rich and varied traditions of New York State, which the New York Folklore Society has been documenting and helping to preserve since 1944.

To help celebrate sixty-five years of the Society’s work, and to coincide with the release of the latest issue of Voices, the Society’s bi-annual journal, the New York Folklore Society announces “Voices: Roots & Branches of New York Folk Music”, a benefit concert to be held on Friday, May 29, 2009 in Schenectady, New York at 7 p.m.

Featured performers include Joe Bruchac, Abenaki storyteller and flute player and his son Jesse Bruchac- Adirondack singer/songwriter Dan Berggren- multi-instrumentalist John Kirk and Cedar Stanistreet- ballad singer Colleen Cleveland- Sengalese drummer and dancer Fode Sissoko- and performer/interpreters Kim and Reggie Harris. The concert will be held at Proctor’s Theatre, 432 State Street, in Schenectady, NY.

A Reception/Meet the Artists party will precede the concert at 5:30 p.m. in the Robb Alley at Proctors. The concert begins at 7 p.m. (Reception and Concert: $41.50, Concert only: $21.50). All proceeds will benefit the New York Folklore Society, a service organization dedicated to the study, promotion, and continuation of New York’s diverse folklore and folklife. Tickets are available through the New York Folklore Society, at 518-346-7008, or at http://www.proctors.org/events. A portion of the ticket price is tax deductible.