A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What is Folklore?

Folkstreams is a wonderful online archive of documentary films made about American folklore. They recently made this short video featuring folklorist Daniel W. Patterson describing folklore. Patterson, a Kenan Professor Emeritus of English at UNC-Chapel Hill, Fellow of the American Folklore Society, and author of ten books, relates in the video that:
“People think of folklore as… a quilt on the wall, it’s a pot on the mantelpiece…it’s an old song…but actually, folklore makes you very uncomfortable.  It’s powerful.  If it’s anything at all it’s powerful because it’s what you use to survive…it comes out of struggle and difficulty.”
In Michigan, folklore is a fiddle tune passed down through generations, a pasty recipe, a style of duck decoys or pottery, a gospel shout.  And it’s also a ritual at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, a quilt made in response to the AIDS epidemic, the refinement of a recipe at a microbrewery, the making of a Quinceañera dress, it’s improvisation in tap dancing. 

As Patterson describes in the video, folklore arises from every-day lived experiences; in the back woods of the Upper Peninsula, on the waterways winding through our state, in the auto factories speckled throughout the mitten, the convivial din of a house party, and even the careful knot in a web of lace, folklore affects and comprises our lives.  We’re always interested to hear how folklore is a part of our readers lives, so please leave a comment with a personal story or thought!

Folkstreams is a great resource to learn about traditions and folklife through videos.  They even have a few films based in Michigan.  The Michigan Traditional Arts Program is also a great resource to learn about Michigan-specific folklife.  Our YouTube channel is a great place to find short videos on contemporary traditions from recent fieldwork and archival footage from our research collections.