Friday, June 22, 2012

Introducing A New Series: Notes From The Field

Square dance caller T-Claw with the Hogslop String Band, Nashville; Jennifer Joy Jameson

Art of the Rural is excited to announce Notes From The Field, a new series that applies the lessons of ethnography and folklore studies within the contemporary frame of rural and rural-urban experience. 

In addition, we are also pleased to welcome Jennifer Joy Jameson to our staff. Currently based in Nashville, Jennifer has worked for a number of museums, festivals, and folk art programs. She is a recent graduate of the Folk Studies MA program at Western Kentucky University and previously studied folklore and ethnomusicology at Indiana University. Though she is involved with many projects, AOTR readers may be familiar with our previous coverage of her exhibition "Yours For The Carters": The Vintage Sound Collections Of Freeman Kitchens.

Jennifer's projects are emblematic of a new generation of folklorists and advocates of vernacular culture -- a movement that works both within, and beyond, the traditional boundaries of the university or the archive. This wave of writers, artists, and curators has consistently presented, across all kinds of interdisciplinary lines, the sheer necessity and vitality of rural art and culture. Jennifer's introduction to this series is included below:


As a folklorist, I study and advocate for the unofficial or non-institutional aspects of culture. These often materialize in the form of artistic or expressive traditions held and passed on among a community or culture, such as crafts, musics, stories, foodways, beliefs, rituals, and customs. I’ve come to engage with these everyday arts through the practice of ethnography, in which I spend time observing, inquiring about, and at times, participating in, a community’s cultural traditions in an effort to document them, and better understand their social context.

Although The Art Of The Rural is no stranger to considering the work and viewpoints of folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and anthropologists, the Notes from the Field series seeks to serve as a focal point on AOTR for engaging with rural arts and culture through a contemporary ethnographic perspective. Other AOTR writers trained in folklore/folklife studies have already contributed to this discourse, and will continue to do so.

Painter & singer Roy Harper at a wax cylinder recording at the National Folk Festival: JJJ

Daniel Frazier at Freeman Kitchens' Drake Vintage Music & Curios, Drake, KY; JJJ

Folklorists typically find themselves working within a canon of folk and traditional artists and their communities—the weavers, the fiddlers, the storytellers, or the altar-makers. With Notes from the Field, I hope to present a discourse for a more open-ended view of what constitutes these key cultural concepts of “community” and “tradition.” How can we consider D-I-Y zine culture and quilting as equal parts folk art? And with the broadening of communication through the Internet, what do these more emergent cultural traditions mean for rural America? Just how rural are rural arts these days (and what can folklore tell us about it)? As a Southern Californian living in Nashville, Tennessee, I find myself wondering how our more canonical folk and traditional arts are playing out in urban settings, and among younger, or revivalist sets. Exhibit A: A friend of mine from Nashville circulates a zine he made as an instruction manual on how to call old-time square dances.

While Notes from the Field may not be able to offer the depth of a complete ethnographic study, this series will offer dispatches from visits with featured artists, musicians, and communities—in their own contexts. When I’m not able to travel, I will point the way to projects involving some type of ethnographic practice. I also look forward to bringing other voices into the series, through interviews or guest posts—and like Kenyon Gradert’s Course on Midwest Culture series, I’ll look for your feedback and ideas in cultivating a dynamic conversation about the ebb and flow of folklife, in and of, rural America.

Vendors selling fried apple pies, Horse Cave Heritage Festival (KY); Jennifer Joy Jameson

Selling handmade canes on the side of the road in Leiper's Fork, TN; Jennifer Joy Jameson