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1 Introduction Folklore and the Expressive Lives of Elders Jon Kay From 1997 to 2004, I worked as the folklorist at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs, Florida. This was my first long-term position as a public folklorist, which meant that I was based in a community for an extended period. As the folklorist for this state park, I coordinated craft demonstrations, produced public events, and hosted Elderhostel programs. Looking back on those years, it was then that I began thinking earnestly about the expressive lives of older adults: that is, how the stories, foods, crafts, games, music, and other forms of traditional knowledge that a person accumulates throughout their life become a valuable resource for them as they reach an advanced age. This is what this edited volume explores—the creative practices of older adults and how elders use these expressive forms in their daily lives. While working at the Folk Culture Center, I witnessed how traditional arts not only supported older adults in later life but also helped many to thrive well into their eighties and nineties. Each fall, the center hosted a festival called Rural Folklife Days, a multiday celebration of local traditions. Most of the participants at the event were of retirement age; this group of elder quilters, blacksmiths, cane syrup makers, jelly canners, checkers players, musicians, and storytellers shared skills they learned in their youth with thousands of schoolchildren (fig. 0.1). While the event aimed to teach the students about local history and cultural practices, I quickly realized that the older artists got as much or perhaps more out of the event as the students. In addition to the small stipend the park paid the demonstrators for their participation in the event, each elder was rewarded with the opportunity to share their life stories and special skills with the young attendees. I recognized that these demonstrators were not like many older adults The Expressive Lives of Elders (2018): 1–24, DOI: 10.2979/expressivelivesofelders.0.0.01 2 | The Expressive Lives of Elders in the United States, who suffer from isolation, boredom, and helplessness (Yale 2004). Instead, these elders were connected, engaged, and capable. I found the elders involved in this public program inspiring, and they contributed much to my understanding of life as a whole—not just the folklife they were hired to present . Programs such as Rural Folklife Days are not unique in the work of public folklorists in the United States. From the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall to an African drumming workshop at a local library, folklorists work with older tradition bearers to help them share their personal experiences and talents with the public. However, folklorists seldom focus on how the programs and events they produce may work to improve the quality of life of the older participants. Recently, I was hosting a limestone-carving program at a state park in Indiana , when out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older artist whom I had worked with a few years earlier. Glenn Hall’s daughter had driven the ninety-three-yearold man to the event. “He made me bring him here to see you!” she explained. “Long time no see, Mr. Hall,” I said to the retired farmer turned metal sculptor. “It was May the fifth 2012 at the Patoka Festival,” he replied. His daughter stared at him and asked, “How did you remember that?” “Well, it was just about the best day of my life,” he explained. The one-day festival at which Glenn had demonFig . 0.1. Ivy Harris making cane syrup at Rural Folklife Days in White Springs, Florida, 2002. Photograph by Jon Kay. Introduction | 3 strated was just one of several arts programs that I helped produced that year (fig. 0.2). I had enjoyed watching Glenn interact with visitors at the festival but had given little thought to what his participation meant to him. As this book demonstrates , the projects and programs that folklorists facilitate benefit the lives of older adults. Currently, these culture programs are primarily designed to support community engagement and demonstrate the artistic excellence of an art form or artist, per National Endowment for the Arts guidelines. However, public folklore theories, methods, and models, I believe, can also be deployed to improve the lives of older adults. For example, folklorists study the dynamic ways that stories, art, food, music , dance, play, and similar expressive forms help build and support our social lives. When...


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