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WORKING AMERICANS: Contemporary Approaches to Occupational Folklife
Robert H. Byington, editor
103 pages
1978 (Date of Issue: 31 December 1978)
Number 3, Smithsonian Folklife Studies
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Abstract

This issue is devoted to the study of occupational folklife, and was conceived as a necessary response to at least two independent but related developments. The first development, within folklore studies generally, is a growing interest in occupational folklife and the consequent demand for appropriate materials and courses to satisfy that interest. The second, at the Smithsonian Institution specifically, was the housing of the largest extant collection of sound tape recordings of occupational folklife. The need for some bridge between the two, a bridge that would describe this unique archive as well as suggest to folklorists new ways of looking at occupational folklife, seemed obvious.

The Archive of Occupational Folklife, housed at the Smithsonian Institution's Office of American and Folklife Studies, contains over six hundred hours of recordings of narrative performances by occupational groups who participated in the Working Americans program of the 1975 and 1976 Festivals of American Folklife. On these tapes literally hundreds of workers representing over a hundred different occupations tell stories about their work which express their own perspectives on their jobs, their fellow workers, their training, and the organizations that represent them as well as their angers, their joys and their fears. They also frequently reveal aspects (metaphorical, realistic, or dramatic) of the actual work processes that inform and shape their stories. This voluminous record of occupational experience is, to be sure, one that was collected out of its natural milieu, but it has proven to be surprisingly effective in its ability to communicate the insider's view of work through verbal art; and it also suggests a strong functional and stylistic connection between physical work processes and their accompanying narratives. The entire collection has been logged; and the largest portion of it, recorded at the 1976 Festival of American Folklife, has been annotated and cross-indexed by subject, occupation and genre. This corpus of tapes is, of course, preliminary material—the barest skimming of the surface of occupational expression. While representing more groups than have ever been collected from before, it still passes over many, many more. The next step is to use the collection as an indicator of important in-depth research and fieldwork projects that will explore more fully the occupational experiences that shape our lives in so many positive and negative ways.

To further this greater end the articles comprising this issue were solicited. Robert S. McCarl, Jr. presents a highly convincing operational definition of occupational folklife. Roger D. Abrahams supplies an up-to-date rationale for inquiry into occupational culture, and relates that inquiry to broader sociological and anthropological studies in the past and present. Based on my own and others' experience in the field, I have attempted to outline useful procedures for the investigation of the most typical and least studied occupations in our culture. Jack Santino illustrates one analytical approach to occupational narratives that indicates the indispensability of such narratives to students of occupational culture. And, finally, Archie Green surveys the history of occupational folkloristics, analyzes it for the lessons it contains, defines conceptual problems that cannot be avoided, and points to sources that the student of occupational culture may not ignore.

Increasingly, occupational folklore and folklife are being collected, annotated and studied, but more is needed: more data and more analysis. My hope is that some of our readers will apply their talents to this exciting but often overlooked branch of contemporary folkloristics, and that this issue will suggest theoretical and practical frameworks for their activity.

R. H. B.


The Meaders Family: North Georgia Potters
Ralph Rinzler and Robert Sayers
160 pages, 49 figures
1980 (Date of Issue: 31 December 1980)
Number 1, Smithsonian Folklife Studies
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Abstract

The Meaderses are among the very few remaining folk potters in the United States-perhaps even the most traditional in both practice and outlook. Thus it is difficult not to be astonished by their pottery at first encounter, for only a few hours' drive separates it from downtown Atlanta, Georgia. This separation, however, as we have seen, is one of time as well as space.

Because of the Meaderses' adherence to nineteenth-century ways, we tend to elevate them to the status of “folk artists.” For the most part, however, their work is not a personal expression of some deep inner urging as, say, the apocalyptic images of the visionary painter, but rather a sturdy craft with utility, not artistry, in mind.

Further, we view people like the Meaderses as somehow immune to change, content to let events in the world at large pass them by. Indeed, we embrace the quilter, chairmaker, or potter precisely because of his or her disinclination to “keep up with the times.” And yet even this is something of an illusion. As indicated throughout this monograph, the Meaderses have been buffeted by social and economic forces beyond their controlling. For example, in some ways the present success of the youngest Meaders, Lanier, completes a circle, inasmuch as it is principally a new clientele of folk-art collectors that encourages him to work in mostly traditional forms.

The Meaderses at times seem bothered by the inordinate attention paid them. They are happy that success has its financial rewards, but recognize its disadvantages as well. In a recent interview, Lanier confided to one researcher:

…I just don't want to have to put up with the notoriety! People have always come and bothered me right at the most inopportune time. I've wondered if everybody in the world is that way. When I go to sit down to eat, then somebody comes and starts rapping on the door. People come hunting this place and hunting me. I'm getting to where I don't know him 'meaning himself': “Well 'I tell them', he's up there someplace …”4

Byrd, Joan Falconer. A Conversion with Lanier Meaders 'exhibition catalog'. (Cullowhee, N.C.: Western Carolina University, 1980).

Lanier has a quality present in many residents of the Old South-a kind of laconic view of the world that combines both humor and introspection. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain his true feelings about those who visit him. That he does profit in some measure by such experiences seems clear, as he told one of the authors, “There are kinds of people out there I never even knew were out there.”

In conclusion, it is fortunate that a family like the Meaderses still practices its endangered craft, for it affords the opportunity to study folk artisans and their activities in the workplace without having to rely exclusively on historical documents, oral accounts, and artifacts to reconstruct such events. Our especial attention to ethnographic context has been in part a response to those researchers whose point of departure has been the object, leaving the maker obscured and unimportant. While much can be learned from the scientific collection and organization of artifacts, we believe that it is not only important but paramount to restore the craftsman to his rightful place in the process.


The Ojibwa Dance Drum: Its History and Construction
Thomas Vennum, Jr.
320 pages, 107 figures
1982 (Date of Issue: 31 December 1982)
Number 2, Smithsonian Folklife Studies
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Abstract

Nearly all North American Indian cultures possess at least one type of drum as part of their song instrumentarium or collection of ceremonial objects. Only the rattle is more widespread and found in more varied guises thoughout the United States. Despite dozens of ethnographies and hundreds of recordings, little is known of the function and use of the drum in many Indian societies. For example, no broad-scale study of drum performance practices has been presented to date. The present volume helps to fill this gap in Indian musical instrument studies, as an investigation of the dance drum in Ojibwa culture and compendium of data pertaining to the dance drum as used by other Great Lakes and Plains Indian peoples.

The present study, developed through the collaboration of an Ojibwa drummaker/singer, William Bineshi Baker, Sr., and a non-Indian commentator, Thomas Vennum, Jr., provides an introduction to one type of drum—the dance drum—used by the Ojibwa. It is also a beginning step toward a comparative study of sound instruments used by North American Indian cultures.

Drawing on ethnographic data, Vennum first explains the role of the dance drum in Ojibwa society by defining its ceremonial use and discussing the relation of the dance drum to other sound instruments, especially other types of drums in Ojibwa culture. An examination of the uses of an instrument, determined by its decorative pattern, and the function of a drum, indicated by its size and shape, is presented as the authors reveal that the pulse of the drum is the very foundation of Ojibwa song. Throughout Vennum's objective descriptions of the function and use of the drum are found Baker's pragmatic statements explaining his traditionalist views of the world of Ojibwa sound instruments. Most emphatic is his belief that the dance drum must be made by those who are given the authority to do so and his parallel belief that the Anglo bass drum is definitely not Indian, which precludes his willingness to sing at such a drum. These statements lead one to believe that an inherent code of the dance drum is its function as an identity indicator; i.e., the drum is Ojibwa—is Indian.

The principle of tribal Indian identity embodied in the drum is further substantiated by the mythological origins of the instrument and legendary history of the migration of the dance drum from culture to culture. Relations between dance drums of the Ojibwa and other Great Lakes cultures with the earlier Sioux Grass Dance drum are explored, stressing especially attitudes about the use and care of the drum. The geographical distribution patterns of the large drum throughout the Upper Midwest are illustrated and, where possible, approximate dates are cited verifying the movement of the drum to particular cultures. A total reverence to the drum by the Ojibwa and their neighbors, the Menominee, is exemplified by their term of address for the drum—gimishoomisinaan (our grandfather). This embodiment of life within the drum further attests to the Indian identity belief surrounding the instrument.

The second major area of concern in this monograph is the technology of drum construction. Here Baker's influence is even more strongly asserted, as this section is not a mere description of technique but rather a strong statement of one Ojibwa's beliefs concerning each component of the drum. Baker reveals his ideology in a description of everything from the preparing of the hide for the drumheads to the minutiae of each decorative attachment. Nothing is allowed to be a part of the drum unless it was prescribed by the metaphysical powers and given its appropriate place within Ojibwa cosmology. To this base, Vennum adds details from other Ojibwa ethnologies to provide an extensive body of knowledge of drum technology within this culture. Although no linguistic analysis is presented, native lexemes or labels, which will benefit future comparative analysts of terminological data, are provided for many of the component parts of the drum. To the prescribed technological components both Baker and Vennum allow that numerous variants may be sanctioned for use as substitutes when needed for constructing, setting up, or playing the drum.

Throughout this description of a material object, emphasis is placed upon its spiritual as well as physical value for a given culture. It is stated that the drum may be seen as a “materialization of a vision as an artifact.” May this vision continue to live and benefit the Ojibwa and their brothers. And, thanks to the willingness of William Bineshi Baker, Sr., to share his beliefs, may we, too, learn to respect and live by the tenets of “our grandfather.”

J. Richard Haefer

School of Music, Arizona State University


The District of Columbia Fire Fighters' Project: A Case Study in Occupational Folklife
Robert McCarl
241 pages, 33 figures
1985 (Date of Issue: 24 June 1985)
Number 4, Smithsonian Folklife Studies
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Abstract

This monograph presents the results of an ethnographic study of urban fire fighters in a casebook format. The primary document of the monograph is an ethnography of fire fighting culture that was generated as a result of eighteen months of participant observation of fire fighters in Washington, D.C., from 1978 to 1980. The original design of this research project was to produce an ethnography that would document the fire fighters' inside view of their work culture and then to present the findings to the members of the culture for their use. The ethnography itself (entitled Good Fire/Bad Night) is included in virtually its original form. It is preceded by a general introduction and accompanied by a critique of the entire public sector project written by the program coordinator, Captain David A. Ryan, DCFD. In addition to this material, concluding chapters place the ethnography in a theoretical framework, focusing on the way in which the expressive aspects of work culture (techniques, customs, and verbal expressions) comprise an informally controlled body of knowledge (the “canon of technique performance”) against which all collective and individual actions are measured in the culture. A glossary and bibliography complete the monograph.


The Korean Onggi Potter
Robert Sayers, with Ralph Rinzler
288 pages, 117 figures, 2 tables
1987 (Date of Issue: 15 July 1987)
Number 5, Smithsonian Folklife Studies
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Abstract

Korea's onggi potters, producers of a class of domestic food jars used to prepare and store soy sauce, kimch'i, and other diet staples, work even yet in circumstances reminiscent of those prevailing during the Yi dynasty (1392-1910). Not only their repertoire of tools and techniques but the very conditions by which they live and organize themselves into work groups mirror those described in nineteenth century accounts. In this study, we consider the history of the onggi industry, exploring a link between the artisans and a community of religious dissenters driven into hiding nearly 200 years ago. We also discuss the extant ware forms and their practical uses and report on the state of the contemporary industry as indicated in field survey data collected at 11 workshops in six South Korean provinces. A bibliography of Korean, Japanese, and Western language sources on onggi accompanies the text.


Tule Technology: Northern Paiute Uses of Marsh Resources in Western Nevada
Catherine S. Fowler
181 pages, 78 figures, 2 tables
1990 (Date of Issue: 30 April 1990)
Number 6, Smithsonian Folklife Studies
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Abstract

The Northern Paiute of western Nevada, particularly the Cattail-eater subgroup, had a number of uses for locally occurring marsh plants, particularly for food and technology. Common items manufactured from cattails, tules, and rushes include bags,mats, sandals, clothing, houses, duck decoys, and boats. The rhizomes, shoots, seeds, and pollen of several species also provided nutritious foods. In the early 1950s, Margaret M. Wheat of Fallon, Nevada, began working with Cattail-eater people to document on audio tape, on film, and in print the many uses of these plants, as well as other aspects of their lifeways. In the late 1960s, she was joined in these efforts by Fowler; together they concentrated on the knowledge held by the George family of Stillwater, Nevada. Wuzzie and Jimmy George had been raised by grandparents who themselves had witnessed the settling of their region by non-Indians. They in turn were in the process of passing some of their knowledge to their children and grandchildren. The monograph focuses on the lives of Wuzzie and Jimmy George and the many uses they knew for marsh plants. It describes the making of simple bags of tules for collecting duck eggs in the marshes; tule duck decoys once covered with duck skins and used in hunting; cattail mat-covered houses, common shelters in the region; and tule balsa boats, watercraft well adapted to marshes. Comparative data from the archaeological record in western Nevada as well as from other Native American groups, principally in the Great Basin and California, are added to place the Cattail-eater data in context. The role of the Georges in transmitting their knowledge to future generations is also explored briefly. The monograph is designed to accompany a film by the same title made in 1981 by the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Folklife Programs.


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