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Western Ohio Folklife Festival

“Traditional arts are described as the skills and crafts that are informally learned and are passed down through families or groups.”
-Excerpt from “Folklife Research Will Conclude with Festival,” Piqua Daily Call, Thursday, April 26, 1979

Boxes 79/4 & 79/5 of the Ohio Arts Council Collection focus on preparations for the Western Ohio Folklife Festival, which showcased traditional culture in western Ohio farming communities. Fieldworkers Connie Higdon and Sanford Rikoon surveyed folklife in Auglaize, Shelby, Miami, Mercer, and Darke Counties in 1974 and 1975 with an eye toward contracting performers and artisans for the festival as well as for an Artists-in-Schools/Community Residency program. Fieldworkers conducted interviews with various craftspeople throughout the 5-county area of western Ohio and filled out Fieldwork Interview Reports. The bottom portion of these forms instructed fieldworkers to keep track of manuscripts, slides, photographic negatives, and cassette tapes that contained information about the individuals for future archival use. This type of logging allowed archivists to revisit the collection over 35 years later and make sense of the collection project.

Project Overview: “The goals of the western Ohio project are 1) to identify the traditional arts and artists of the region; 2) to develop and carry out a plan or the presentation of these arts and artists to the community in the entertaining/educational contexts of the festival and A-i-S/C residencies; 3) to develop and test a model for future OFA/OAC/community cooperation in projects of this kind, involving folklore researchers, local historical societies, local and state arts councils, community agencies, schools, businesses, and private individuals in both planning and funding responsibilities; and 4) to direct public arts funding to an area and a constituency that have not regularly received the benefits of such funding.” -Excerpt from project grant application prepared by Ohio Foundation on the Arts, Inc. to the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C.

The Region: “The region in which the proposed project will take place is made up of five counties (Mercer, Darke, Auglaize, Shelby, Miami) on or close to Ohio’s border with Indiana…with a total area of about 3000 square miles and a 1970 population of about 250,000. All five counties are predominately rural, and most rank very highly among Ohio counties in agricultural production. The regional economy is, however, fairly diversified, and is contributed to by many small industries, especially in Miami County, which is situated just north of metropolitan Dayton.” -Excerpt from “The Region” section of the project grant application prepared by Ohio Foundation on the Arts, Inc. to the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C

Methodology: “Although I was primarily interested in needlework and foodways, I found that the best method of collecting was the ‘vacuum cleaner’ approach, which meant that I spent time with both men and women, blacksmiths, harness-makers, quilters. The drawback of this approach is that everyone is so willing to share, and I found myself spending as much time with hobbyists as with people whose practice of a craft was part of their familial and regional tradition” (2). -Excerpt from “Field Survey Report and List of Potential Festival Participants (June 20, 1979), Connie Higdon for The Folk Arts Program, Ohio Foundation on the Arts

The Western Ohio Folklife Festival took place September 15th & 16th, 1979 at the Piqua Historical Area, S.R. 66.