||Throughout Massachusetts, artists
learn, practice, and revitalize folk art traditions that
take many expressive forms. These keepers of tradition are
recognized as outstanding practitioners of craft, music,
dance, and sacred arts. Yet much of their work is hidden
from the public, remaining essentially unknown beyond their
local communities. Some of these traditions have been here
for centuries, while others came with people who moved here
more recently from all over the world.
is Folk Art?
Folk art is expression deeply rooted in shared ethnicity,
religious belief, occupational tradition, or sense of place.
It also involves mastery in unexpected media — the
uniformity and utility of a Nantucket lightship basket,
the rhythmic drive and stunning ornamentation of music from
an Irish button accordion, or the vibrant colors and textures
of a Caribbean carnival costume. These are things of beauty
that hold meaning for specific groups of people. They have
stood the test of time.
The folk or traditional arts are cultural expressions (music,
dance, craft, verbal arts) practiced by groups of people
who share a common ethnic heritage, language, religion,
occupation, geographic region or way of life. These artistic
traditions often are taught within a family over many generations
or within a trade or ethnic culture. Typically, the folk
arts are learned during the course of daily living from
someone steeped in the tradition, rather than through classes,
books or other means of institutional instruction.
Massachusetts is home to a host of ethnic groups, ranging
from longstanding communities of Yankees, Franco Americans,
Irish, Italians, African Americans, Armenians, Portuguese,
Greeks, Cape Verdeans, Wampanoag, Chinese and Latinos, to
newcomers from Cambodia, Vietnam, Brazil, Haiti, Puerto
Rico and the Dominican Republic. In addition to ethnic affiliations,
distinctive regional occupations such as maritime work,
agriculture and the textile industry have given rise to
folklore that is integral to the state's cultural landscape.
Each of these groups has vital artistic traditions and many
master artists, which deserve recognition and support.
Finding Keepers of Tradition
This web site draws from ongoing fieldwork by folklorists at the Massachusetts
Cultural Council. Our field research takes us into peoples homes, kitchens, dance halls, boat yards, places of worship, and festival sites places where folk art is produced, used and valued. We identify, talk with, photograph, and record people practicing folk art traditions, with the goal of understanding these practices from an insider's point of view.
This online collection celebrates the many cultural traditions that coexist in Massachusetts traditions that individuals and communities care enough about to sustain, to enshrine, and to pass on. These living traditions contribute to the quality of life for everyone in Massachusetts by connecting us to our past, building community, and helping us to understand each other.
We continually add to this collection. If you know of an ethnic, musical, craft, or dance tradition that we may not be aware of, we hope you will tell us about it. Folklore fieldwork is an ongoing process of discovery, and the work continues. Please
Holtzberg, Folk Arts & Heritage Program Manager.