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Folklife & Folk Art Education Resource Guide

Tradition bearers are folks who are experts of a group's folklore. Every community has a wealth of tradition bearers. A mother who knows how to make delicious and culturally significant collard greens and ham hocks; a local retired man who can whittle a minute fan out of a block of wood; the principal who can identify all the local baseball cheers. Including the talents of tradition bearers (from your community) in your classroom is exciting. It can build bridges of cultural awareness and understanding between community groups and students. While teaching and demonstrating their traditions, tradition bearers also teach children about the history, customs, and beliefs of their folk group. And thus, by sharing their traditions, children are introduced to culture and art in a positive way. As well, the information in the classroom can be a springboard for discussions of other disciplines.

To begin this process you first need to identify tradition bearers from your community and how they can help you teach a particular subject. Next, you need to contact an artist and set up a date for him/her to visit your class. (See "Locating Community Tradition Bearers," on the next page.) You may want to follow up with a letter of agreement, in which you state the terms of the demonstration: when, where, time commitment, age group of children, layout of demonstration area, and context (what you are teaching and how their presentation will enhance classroom learning). Payment for services is always appropriate. For this you may need to get the artist's Social Security number; check with the district office for payment procedures. As well, you need to follow your school district's policy regarding visitors to the classroom.

Teacher Prep Before Tradition Bearer

Before the tradition bearer's visit, prepare your students by giving them a brief overview of the visitor's background, such as occupation, ethnicity, region, type of custom, verbal expression, traditional art or folk object he/she represents. Also, discuss with the children how the visiting community member's traditions dovetail with the unit you are working on. As well, you may want to discuss with your class ideas for appropriate questions they may want to ask the presenter. Listed below are some examples.

Where and from whom did you learn your tradition?

When and where do you normally practice this tradition?

When or where is the item/expression used or performed?

Are there any beliefs associated with your tradition? Can you share some with us?

Are there any legends or stories associated with the creation of your expression?

Presentation Day

On the day of the tradition bearer's presentation, make sure that you are at the school to greet your visitor. If necessary, make arrangements for someone to help set up. When introducing the tradition bearer to your students, give a generous welcome. Your attitude will enhance the tradition bearer's presentation and your students' attention and learning disposition. As well, make sure you can pronounce the person's name properly, as well as anything connected with the art form. (Ex: bonsai is pronounced "bone-sye," not "banzai.") If your guest is going to be in the school the entire day, make arrangements for lunch at the school.

Locating Community Tradition Bearers

Because tradition bearers are in every community, your community is the best place to begin your search. Listed below are some places where you can become acquainted with the folk artisans in your community.

Your students and their family members

(See "Community and Classroom Folklife Survey " for ideas on conducting a cultural survey in your classroom and community.)

Community festivals

Community festivals which highlight the foodways, arts and crafts, and entertainment of folk groups in your area

Specialty stores

Specialty stores that sell traditional ethnic foods, objects, and clothes

Local churches

Ethnic centers/clubs

State Arts Councils (in Utah contact)

Carol Edison, Director
Folk Arts Program
Utah Arts Council
617 E. South Temple
SLC, UT 84102
(801) 533-5760

Jean Irwin, Director
Arts in Education
Utah Arts Council
617 E. South Temple
SLC, UT 84102
(801) 533-5895

University Programs

Randy Williams
Fife Folklore Archives Curator
Utah State University
Logan, Utah 84322-3000
(435) 797-3493

Jacqueline S. Thursby
Assistant Professor
3139 JKHB, PO Box 26243
Provo, UT 84602-6243
(801) 378-3747

Other organizations

Karen Krieger
Heritage Research Coordinator
Division of Utah State Parks and Recreation
1636 West No. Temple, Suite 116
SLC, Utah 84116-3156
(801) 538-7367

"Yes, there are tradition bearers in your neighborhood!"

Tradition bearers, folk artists, are individuals who "bear" or carry the tradition of a group of people through their art, customs, and words. From a cowboy poet who learned to recite poetry that reflects his ranching lifestyle, to a Navajo weaver who learned not only the art of weaving, but the songs, color aesthetics, and community beliefs associated with her skill, folk artisans make tangible, through their artful expressions, the aesthetics and identity of their folk group. Each year the National Endowment for the Arts recognizes ten artists as National Heritage Fellows. Folklorist Steve Siporin's book, American Folk Masters: The National Heritage Fellows (Abrams, 1992) highlights the first ten years of this program, and is a great starting point for identifying tradition bearers and their traditions. There are a myriad in every community. Such as:

  • quilters
  • carvers
  • traditional storytellers
  • piƱata makers
  • santos carvers
  • basketmakers
  • beadworkers
  • folk song singers
  • wrought-iron workers
  • instrument makers
  • ethnic dancers
  • traditional musicians
  • saddle makers
  • boot makers
  • rawhide braiders
  • cowboy poets
  • tatters
  • Hmong paj ntaub makers
  • foodway artisans
  • gospel singers
  • Tex-Mex musicians
  • candy makers
  • doll makers
  • traditional toy makers
  • hat makers
  • duck decoy makers
  • fly tyers
  • Hawaiian lei makers
  • saddle makers
  • Armenian carpet makers
  • stone carvers
  • blacksmiths
  • Japanese bonsai makers
  • Japanese origami artists
  • Tahitian tifaifai makers
  • Tongan tapa clothmakers
  • leatherworkers
  • horseshoe workers
  • Mexican paper artists
  • German polka musicians
  • powwow drummers
  • powwow dancers
  • Klezmer musicians
  • rag-rug makers
  • soap makers
  • water dowsers
  • bobbinlace makers
  • maypole dancers