West Virginia Folklife Collection Now Online Via WVU Libraries

State folklorist Emily Hilliard interviews songwriter Shirley Campbell. Photo by Mike Keller.

Listen to a young Jackson County man as he demonstrates a turkey caller he made from black walnut and slate found on his family’s land. Stop in for lunch at the home of a Charleston home cook as she prepares Indian roti, curries, and chutney. Tune in to ballads dating from the 16th century performed by Glenville ballad singer Phyllis Marks. View homemade signs carried by teachers during the 2018 West Virginia Teachers’ Strike. Listen to a Jefferson County NAACP leader as he discusses his efforts to preserve the home of John Blessing, a friend of John Brown’s. Or take a trip to the Weirton Serbian Picnic where volunteers roast hundreds of chickens over wood-fired spits. These diverse experiences are all possible without leaving your home, through the newly accessible digital West Virginia Folklife Collection housed at West Virginia University Libraries.

The original, ongoing collection consists of nearly 2,500 items generated by folklife fieldwork and programs conducted by the West Virginia Folklife Program, a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council, beginning November 2015. Those items include unique primary source material such as field-recorded interviews and other audio recordings, transcriptions, photo and video documentation, ephemera, and some material objects documenting the vernacular culture, beliefs, occupational skills, and expressive culture of contemporary tradition bearers, folk and traditional artists, and cultural communities across West Virginia.

Lorelie Nicolas-Tenney harvests sorghum at Appalachian Acres Farm in Upshur County. Photo by Emily Hilliard.

The collection draws from field research focusing on the traditional and vernacular music, dance, crafts, foodways, and material culture of the people of West Virginia, from long settled to new immigrant communities. Highlights and sub-collections include documentation of the foodways and community celebrations of the Randolph County Swiss community of Helvetia, members of the Scotts Run Community Museum in Monongalia County, the 2018 West Virginia Teachers’ Strike, Summers County collector Jim Costa’s collection of 18th and 19th century farm tools and objects of rural life, and participants in the West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.

The goal of The West Virginia Folklife Collection is to create a publicly accessible archive of past, current, and future West Virginia folklife, folk and traditional arts, and cultural heritage. Archival materials were collected by the West Virginia state folklorist, other West Virginia Humanities Council staff, and other partners and contracted documentarians in collaboration with the documented individuals and communities. The West Virginia Folklife Program wishes to thank the Director and Assistant Director of the West Virginia and Regional History Center John Cuthbert and Lori Hostuttler, respectively, and other WVU Libraries staff for their support of this initiative.

Teachers carry homemade signs during a 2018 West Virginia Teachers’ Strike rally at the Capitol. Photo by Emily Hilliard.

Featured items in the West Virginia Folklife Collection:

Vernacular Music

Interviews with and songs of Kanawha County Songwriter Shirley Campbell

Interview with Fairmont hip-hop artist TK Blockstar

Interviews, photos, and video of Clay County old-time musician and National Heritage Fellow John D. Morris

Annual Celebrations

Documentation of the Weirton Serbian Annual Picnic and Chicken Blast events

Documentation of Our Lady of Lebanon’s Mahrajan Festival in Wheeling

Documentation of ramp suppers in Bomont, Helvetia, and Richwood


Interview and documentation of the work of dulcimer builder Sam Rizzetta

Interview, video, and documentation of the work of neon sign maker James L Day

Interview and documentation of the work of quilter Delores Johnson

An excerpt of Eleanor Betler’s oral history interview from the Helvetia, West Virginia Foodways Oral History project, a collaboration between SFA and the West Virginia Folklife Program.


Documentation of the Swiss foodways of Helvetia

Interview and photographs of Daniel & Ellen Lubuguin of Philippines Best Food in Parkersburg

Interview and photographs with salt-rising bread bakers Jenny Bardwell & Susan Brown

Occupational Folklore

Interviews with Kroger Workers and United Food and Commercial Worker Members

Documentation of the 2018 West Virginia Teachers’ Strike

Interview and concert recording of labor songwriter Elaine Purkey

West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program

Recordings of gospel & Black blues musicians Doris Fields (aka Lady D) & Xavier Oglesby

Interview and written materials of Angelita Nixon & Christine Weirick’s apprenticeship in home-birth midwifery

Interview and written materials of herbalism apprenticeships by Marion Harless & Kara Vaneck and Leenie Hobbie and Jon Falcone

Visit the West Virginia Folklife Collection here and see artists, practitioners, and communities featured in the collection here.

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