I'm an anthropologist with special interest in folk song.
It took a long time for Vermont to be recognized as a place where important folklore was to be found. When the first major collection of vernacular songs from Vermont’s Atwood family was published as part of the Schirmer “American Folk-Song” series, the major ballad scholars, such as Cecil Sharp, were still scouring southern Appalachia thinking that was where the old ways of singing had survived. And they had, but the 1919 book by Edith Sturgis and Robert Hughes showed that Vermont was also a vital place to look. This was shown in the 1930s when Helen Hartness Flanders took up her work.
The impressive value and the generosity of the Vermont Folklife Center was revealed to me when I started a project to explore the place of the Atwoods’ repertoire in American singing history. The workers at the VFC immediately supplied me with recordings made by Margaret MacArthur in the 1960s of the son of James Atwood, the central figure collected by Mrs. Sturgis. They gathered together and opened up all of the materials they had with anything related to the Atwoods or Sturgis’ and were gracious and helpful in enabling the research to continue. Thus far it has resulted in several descendants of Edith Sturgis becoming involved, searching family dwellings for papers, photographs and files connected to their grand-mother’s activities. One grand-daughter has reprinted the original 1919 book of the Atwoods repertoire and included a set “Poems” written by James Atwood about his friends and neighbors and documenting life in Dover, Vermont from about 1880 to 1920.
All of this is in addition to a CD recording of the Atwood songs, the several concerts presenting the songs and verse, and accompanied by projected photos and talk about the fascinating set of characters involved in preserving this invaluable Vermont lore.
My story, of course, covers only one example of the legacy of the Vermont Folklife Center in saving and restoring these irreplaceable gifts back to the people of Vermont. We are very fortunate to have such a talented and devoted crew of workers in charge of these crucial parts of Vermont’s heritage.
Anthony G. Barrand, Ph.D.
University Professor Emeritus and
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
I began working informally with the Vermont Folklife Center in 2008 when I exhibited an documentary photography project in their Vision and Voice Documentary Workspace Gallery. I discovered that my "approach" to documentary work mirrored the "ethnographic" field research concepts that form the foundation of the organization. I've gone on to learn about, and participate in, a diverse array of programmatic activities run by the organization, including the Discovering Community Summer Institute, the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, High School/Elementary media outreach, and much more. While the popular notion of "folklife" congers scenes of "old things"- both activities and people- the Vermont Folklife Center is anything but. Whether it's working with Somali Bantu refugee communities to support New American artists, or piloting service learning projects in schools, the Vermont Folklife center is up to relevant and exciting things.
My interaction with the Vermont Folklife Center has been a wonderful, thought-provoking experience. Through their Fieldwork program I was able to learn the basics of field recording and conduct interviews with elders in my Vermont town. These interviews greatly enhanced work I was already doing in photography, and helped create a richer legacy of information about life here. The staff has been continually supportive and a joy to work with, from the most nuts and bolts aspects of interviews up through interpreting the meanings of experience through people's stories. I feel honored to add my local stories to those of Vermonters from all over the State, and the massive archive is a treasure for all.
For 24 years, The VT Folklife Center has reflected the essence of Vermont's working and cultural traditions. I've had the honor of serving on the Board, once at its beginning and then again currently.
My experience in producing indigenous folk music gave me a deep appreciation of the organization's commitment to preserving and presenting the stories, skills and traditions of Vermonters.
Very much worth a visit in person to our home in Middlebury or to our archives online.
Review from Guidestar
What a treasure the State of Vermont has in the Vermont Folklife Center! A wealth of stories and photographs, a vast archive of audio recordings, an apprentice program to maintain traditional arts, and an exciting summer institute for educators- just to mention a few. Plan a visit soon!
Review from Guidestar
The Vermont Folklife Center is the premier custodian and promoter of the traditional folk arts in Vermont. Has been for over 30 years. I have been honored to support, donate, work with, cheer, and benefit from this astounding organization as a presenter, musician, dance leader, educator and consultant throughout Vermont. They are hands down one of the most important organizations we have in the state.