West Virginia Folklife Program- Fiscal Year 2020 Activities Report
What is the West Virginia Folklife Program? The West Virginia Folklife Program is a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council, dedicated to the documentation, preservation, presentation, and support of West Virginia’s vibrant cultural heritage and living traditions. West Virginia Folklife is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Folk & Traditional Arts Program and the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History. The West Virginia Folklife Program employs West Virginia’s first state folklorist to carry out this work.
What has the West Virginia Folklife Program done lately?
In 2020, we welcomed the second class of the West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, supporting seven master-apprentice pairs studying the traditions of agroforestry/forest farming, Appalachian herbalism, home-birth midwifery, old-time fiddle, old-time banjo traditions of Central West Virginia, seed saving, and sheep-to-shawl: sheep husbandry and fiber arts. Apprentice pairs have adapted their apprenticeships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting virtually and/or outdoors, masking, maintaining social distance, and in some cases postponing activities. The Apprenticeship Program is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
We continued our partnership with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to administer the national Legends & Lore Roadside Marker Program in the state of West Virginia. In 2020, six markers were installed, commemorating the legend of John Henry in Talcott, Ada “Bricktop” Smith in Alderson, Sid Hatfield in Matewan, Johnnie Johnson and pepperoni rolls in Fairmont, and the legend of Wizard Clip in Middleway.
West Virginia Folklife partnered with Baltimore-based WYPR producers to produce two episodes of the Out of the Blocks podcast on Charleston’s West Side, featuring Charleston West Side locals in their own words, mixed with an original musical score. We hosted a listening party of the two episodes at the Council on February 12, 2020.
Clay County fiddler and banjo player John Morris was named a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. State folklorist Emily Hilliard nominated him for the honor. Morris is West Virginia’s first Fellow in 20 years.
We continued our statewide folklife fieldwork survey documenting and forging relationships with traditional artists and tradition bearers across the Mountain State, recording interviews with 41 traditional artists/folklife practitioners in 13 counties. Interviews prior to the COVID-19 pandemic were conducted in person, while those during the pandemic were conducted virtually. We have now recorded interviews with over 150 artists/practitioners and community elders in the majority of counties of the state. We shared this work on our blog at wvfolklife.org and social media sites, through our regular column in Goldenseal Magazine, and at community meetings, guest lectures, and a folklife panel at the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History’s Art in Our Communities Conference.
West Virginia Folklife has also facilitated collaboration of those engaged in folklife activities across the state, worked to expand opportunities for traditional artists in West Virginia, continued to execute our course of action for an ongoing state program, and maintained correspondence with state folklorists and other folklife organizations across the country.
Other FY 2020 West Virginia Folklife Programs:
-We collaborated with West Virginia Public Broadcasting to produce an audio and short video documentary on the Weirton’s Serbian community’s Chicken Blast events. The pieces have aired on West Virginia Morning, Inside Appalachia, and the West Virginia Channel and were republished by 100 Days in Appalachia. We continue to advise West Virginia Public Broadcasting on their Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, leading a workshop for Folkways reporters and reviewing pitches and scripts.
-State folklorist Emily Hilliard published her chapter “‘The Reason We Make These Deep-Fat-Fried Treats’: In Conversation with the Rosettes of Helvetia, West Virginia,” in the Ohio University Press anthology, The Food We Eat, The Stories We Tell: Contemporary Appalachian Tables, alongside other writers from West Virginia and greater Appalachia. She read from and spoke about her chapter, which is based on her fieldwork in Helvetia, at Taylor Books, Shepherd University, and as part of the keynote address at Hindman Settlement School’s Dumplin’s and Dancin’ event.
-West Virginia Folklife collected documentation of West Virginians’ creative responses to COVID-19, including music, stories, writing, craft, art, memes, mask-making, and more. These documents will become part of the West Virginia Folklife archive housed at West Virginia University Libraries, and will be shared in a future online exhibit.
-State folklorist Emily Hilliard presented at a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and Augusta Heritage Center concert in Elkins, and participated in book discussions at the Lexington Gathering and West Virginia University.
-We continued to operate the toll-free West Virginia Folklife Hotline at 1(844)618-3747 where the public can leave “tips” on tradition bearers and community traditions they believe should be documented.
-We continued our archival partnership with West Virginia University Libraries, the permanent repository for our collected fieldwork materials.