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Part I Observations on Folklore and Aging 27 Boot Lasts and Basket Lists Joe Patrickus’s Customized Art and Life Lisa L. Higgins In 2006, psychologist and gerontologist Gene D. Cohen published his research team’s landmark multiyear creativity and aging study, which not only examined the benefits of “cultural programs” on “older adults” but also defined the “creative aging” movement. Cohen’s team included Susan Perlstein, who founded the National Center for Creative Aging in 2001. Cohen and his team’s work boosted new research, funding opportunities, projects, and collaboration between organizations. A national movement launched in gerontology and the arts (Cohen et al. 2006). The Missouri Arts Council became a leader in the new movement and participated in a 2013 pilot project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Creative Aging Program specialist Virginia Sanders identified Missouri individuals and organizations whose projects fit definitions of “creative aging.” Sanders also immediately recognized that our state’s folk arts projects (and those in our sister states) have promoted cross-generational and lifelong artistic participation and learning for decades. The Missouri Arts Council then established the Creative Aging Network, forging relationships with project managers, artists, researchers, and educators and fostering participation in theater, film, and dance projects for “mature” Missourians. In the midst of this movement, with eighteen years of anecdotal evidence as the director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program, I grew cognizant of the positive impacts of traditional arts on the elders who participate in our projects. During this same time frame, folklore colleagues Troyd Geist and Jon Kay conducted ethnographic research and engaged artists in “arts and aging” projects in North 1 The Expressive Lives of Elders (2018): 27–41, DOI: 10.2979/expressivelivesofelders.0.0.02 28 | The Expressive Lives of Elders Dakota and Indiana, respectively (Geist 2017; Kay 2016a). Additionally, the media amplified the creative aging movement. Stories about “the road to superaging” (Barrett 2016), applied oral histories as tools for caregivers (Bahrampour 2016), and Glen Campbell’s 2012 farewell tour caught my attention professionally and personally. Physicians diagnosed my father in 2007 with an early onset dementia that put him in a nursing home at sixty-one and killed him within two years; and a year ago, after two major surgeries, my mother moved into a long-term skilled care center where she tells me she is sometimes bored. They are two of many relatives and friends who entered, or may soon enter, the so-called golden years in the midst of new aging models. As I participated in Missouri’s Creative Aging Network and studied Geist’s and Kay’s work, I came back repeatedly to my anecdotal thinking and a question about folk artists and their lifelong engagement in traditional communities. What is it about traditional arts that seem to sustain their bearers? Based on years of research, Gene Cohen discovered a connection between artistic participation and elders’ well-being; Troyd Geist developed projects that adapted traditional expressions for the benefits of residents in long-term care communities; and Jon Kay articulated the functions of memory objects for their makers. Most often, they (and I) worked with elders in retirement. These studies and projects brought us understanding about how the arts enhance wellness. For instance, when I first met old-time fiddler Cliff Bryan during a site visit in 2000, he was seventy-two years old and days away from the auction of his family’s farm in rural Pomona, Missouri (population 511). Like many master artists we work with, Cliff’s expressive life followed a trajectory—one where he was personally driven to learn a tradition as a child, eagerly sought out his elders for instruction, practiced diligently , and interacted socially. In much of adulthood, though, Cliff sidetracked often from his music and its social traditions to earn a living and raise his family. After the auction, Cliff and Sue, his wife, moved twelve miles away to the city of West Plains, where they lived in a sweet ranch house and hosted weekly music parties in their kitchen for seventeen years. Between 2000 and 2016, Cliff also taught six students in our statewide Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, passing a regional old-time fiddling style down to his younger students. From the first to the sixth apprenticeships, we noticed that with weekly (likely daily) fiddling, this established master artist continued to improve his artistry. By the seventh apprenticeship, his fiddling began to decline some due to age, but the apprenticeship was successful...


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