Folklore and Folklife

Research guide for folklore and folklife. For Special Collections' research guide, see "Folklore and Popular Culture."
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Folklorist / Folk Arts Coordinator for Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts

Note:

Folklore and folklife research contains resources and interdisciplinary research in the areas of education, vernacular architecture, applied anthropology, folk art, folk narrative, folk music, folk belief/religion, and gender studies, as well as research focused on Arkansas folklore, African American folklore, and Native American folklore. 

Welcome to Folklore and Folklife

What is folklore and folklife?

The American Folklore Society introduces folklore in their online article “What is Folklore?” as:

…the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example. Every group with a sense of its own identity shares, as a central part of that identity, folk traditions–the things that people traditionally believe (planting practices, family traditions, and other elements of worldview), do (dance, make music, sew clothing), know (how to build an irrigation dam, how to" nurse an ailment, how to prepare barbecue), make (architecture, art, craft), and say (personal experience stories, riddles, song lyrics).

It’s important to note, though, that definition of folklore and its related terminology has a long and complex history, going back to the coining of the term “folk-lore” in 1846 by William J. Thoms. Though folklorists agree on the components of the definition, the term “folklore” has been difficult to define succinctly. In that same article above (“What is Folklore?”), the American Folklore Society has compiled a list of these varied definitions created and shared by folklorists over the years, but first notes:

The word "folklore” names an enormous and deeply significant dimension of culture. Considering how large and complex this subject is, it is no wonder that folklorists define and describe folklore in so many different ways. Try asking dance historians for a definition of "dance,” for instance, or anthropologists for a definition of "culture.” No one definition will suffice–nor should it.

Learn how Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts, a statewide public folklore program of University of Arkansas Libraries, defines these terms by visit their website.

Images from Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts

Tom and Jenny and Friends

Tom and Jenny and Friends, 2019

In June 2019, Siegel visited Hot Springs, Arkansas, to attend the Hot Springs Kinfolk Folk Festival. As part of the event’s line-up, Jenny and Tom Sartain performed traditional music under the billing “Jenny and Tom and Friends.” Jenny and Tom Sartain are traditional musicians known for regularly performing at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas. Well-known and connected in the Arkansan traditional music world, the Sartains, at various points in their performance, pulled friends on stage to perform with them. (Photo by Virginia Siegel, 2019)

Gibson Family Baskets

Gibson Family Baskets, 2019

These baskets, part of the University of Arkansas Museum collection, represent the work of several generations of basket makers in the Gibson Family of Fayetteville, Arkansas. George Gibson was a featured basket maker among the Arkansas craftsmen highlighted in the 1970 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Today, George’s grandson, Terry Gibson, carries on the family tradition regularly making and selling baskets. Terry, a fourth-generation basket maker, has previously participated in a folk and traditional arts apprenticeship when it was offered by the Arkansas Folklife Program at Arkansas State University, which closed its doors in 2015. (Photo by Virginia Siegel, 2019)

Loose Threads Quilting Circle of NWA

Loose Threads Quilting Circle, 2019

Members of the Northwest Arkansas quilters community, Loose Threads, show off a quilt during the group’s monthly quilting circle gathering at the Washington County Cooperative Extension Office in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Jeanie Wyant (left) formerly participated as an apprentice when folk and traditional arts apprenticeships were offered by the Arkansas Arts Council. She is interested in applying now as a master artist in the Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts apprenticeship program when it is revived. Carla Gay, on the right, organizes and leads Loose Threads gatherings and retreats. (Photo by Virginia Siegel, 2019)

Arkansas Fiddlers Convention

Arkansas Fiddlers Convention, 2019

Musicians gather and perform together in one of many jam circles that were active each day of the 36th Annual Arkansas Fiddlers Convention in Harrison, Arkansas. The event is held yearly at North Arkansas College, with countless halls and classrooms filled with jam sessions of varying ages, communities, and fiddling styles. Many participants have been attending the event regularly over the decades and represent a range of skill levels and musical genres. (Photo by Virginia Siegel, 2019)

Dyess Community Potluck

Dyess Community Potluck, 2019

These baskets, part of the University of Arkansas Museum collection, represent the work of several generations of basket makers in the Gibson Family of Fayetteville, Arkansas. George Gibson was a featured basket maker among the Arkansas craftsmen highlighted in the 1970 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Today, George’s grandson, Terry Gibson, carries on the family tradition regularly making and selling baskets. Terry, a fourth-generation basket maker, has previously participated in a folk and traditional arts apprenticeship when it was offered by the Arkansas Folklife Program at Arkansas State University, which closed its doors in 2015. (Photo by Virginia Siegel, 2019)