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  • Carol B. Spellman (1951–2017)
  • Anne Pryor

The folklore community lost a vibrant light with the passing of Carol Beth Spellman on January 26, 2017. Carol was a Western folklorist through birth, education, and employment. She specialized in folklife and education, filmmaking, and Irish music. Carol exuded vitality with a defining joie de vivre despite living with a serious illness since 1997.

Carol was born October 19, 1951, in Oakland, California, to Edmund and Helen (Heber) Stone. She lived briefly in Hayward, California, and grew up in San Leandro, California, graduating from San Leandro High School in 1969. While enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, she travelled in Europe in 1971 and met her future husband, Kevin Spellman, an Englishman of Irish descent. Carol returned to the United States, completed her undergraduate degree in anthropology at the University of Oregon, continued the transatlantic romance, and married Kevin in 1977. After moving to Portland, Oregon, the city in which they lived for the rest of her life, Carol earned a Master’s degree in Education from Portland State University. She taught in special education and gifted programs in Portland area schools on and off for 20 years, taking time off to have two children, Matthew in 1984 and Catherine in 1989.

Carol’s connection to Irish culture and her love of music led her to earn a second master’s degree. From 2000 to 2002, she commuted to Eugene to study folklore, filmmaking, and ethnomusicology at the University of Oregon’s Folklore Program. Her culminating documentary is based on fieldwork she conducted in Ireland in 2000 and 2001; “For the Love of the Tune: Irish Women and Traditional Music” is available for viewing online.1

While pursuing her folklore degree, Carol began her association with the Oregon Folklife Program (OFP) at the Oregon Historical Society, first as a volunteer and then on staff as a Folklife Coordinator. Her experience and skills in education combined with her cultural training and innate joy made her an outstanding [End Page 210] folklife educator. Carol developed a roster of folk artists from OFP’s larger listing of traditional artists, providing specialized training for more than 40 artists to work with K–12 students in classrooms and other educational settings. She also documented traditional culture across the state and managed OFP’s apprenticeship program.

Carol’s signature project was Portraits of Oregon: Youth Exploring Culture and Community, in which youth conducted research into folklife, cultural heritage, and the diverse populations within their rural or urban communities, then produced short video documentaries. Carol partnered with schools and 4-H groups, training leaders and youth in documentation and video production techniques. In the first year of the project, youth from rural Oregon counties documented the Basque community in Malheur County; Hispanic dance, foodways, and calendar celebrations in Washington County; Native American moccasin making, saddle making, bronco riding, and spinning traditions in Jefferson County; century farms and ranches in Coos County; and wagon restoring, blacksmithing, woodcarving, horse farming, gold mining, and logging in Josephine County.

This multi-year project garnered well-deserved recognition for its excellence. Honors came from Oregon State University’s Extension Service in 2003 and the Folklore and Education Section of the American Folklore Society in 2004; students’ videos were selected for screening in multiple film festivals, receiving awards from the Northwest Film Center’s Young People’s Film and Video Festival in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

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Figure 1.

Carol with Tesoro, her Kiger Mustang. Photo by Katie Spellman.

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Figure 2.

Carol and students at Owyhee Combined School locate Australia on a map during a National Cowboy Poetry Gathering outreach performance by bush poet Milton Taylor. Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland, courtesy of Western Folklife Center.

Carol became active in the American Folklore Society after first attending the annual conference in 2003, a meeting to which she ambitiously brought three teen videographers as presenters in two sessions. She was a member [End Page 211] of the Folklore and Education Section and served as its convener in 2004 and 2005. Thoughtful and playful, Carol often mailed a goofy photo...


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