Kristin Congdon and Natalie Underberg. "Religious Inspiration in
Ruby C. Williams' Creative Practices: Presentation and Teaching
Approaches in Folkvine.org." Journal of Cultural Research in Art
Education, v24 (2006).
Natalie Underberg. "Ethnographic Storytelling on the Internet:
Folkvine.org and the East Mims Oral History Project Web Site."
Bilan du Film Ethnographique seminar, March 2006, Paris, France.
Bruce Janz, "Artistic Production as Place-Making Imagination."
The Inaugural Annual International Conference: Symbolic Meanings of Spaces/Places; The International Association for the Study of Environment; Space, and Place; held at Townson University, April 2005.
Kristin Congdon, "Community Arts in a Digital Age."
Culturework: A Periodic Broadside for Arts and Culture Workers, March 2005, Vol. 9, No. 3, University of Oregon.
Contributing authors: Kristin Congdon, Craig Saper, Alex Katsaros, and Chantale Fontaine. "Folkvine.org: The Challenges of Presenting Folk Art On-line."
Culturework: A Periodic Broadside for Arts and Culture Workers, November 2004, Vol. 9, No. 2, University of Oregon.
School of Visual Arts Conference: Art and Story, October 2004:
• Kristin Congdon, "Folkvine: Art and Artists on the Web"
• Craig Saper & Lynn Tomlinson, "Outside In: Schooling, Kit-Bashing, Quilting, & Clowning Around Online"
• Alex Katsaros, "Approaching the Production of Folkvine.org"
Outside In: Schooling, Kit-Bashing, Quilting, & Clowning Around Online
Craig Saper & Lynn Tomlinson
The experimental video Outside In: Schooling, Kit-Bashing, Quilting, & Clowning Around Online was initially presented at the School for Visual Arts conference on ... [insert conference name here]. It examines how the Folkvine.org project might influence scholarship and scholarly presentations. The video was written by Craig Saper and directed by Lynn Tomlinson.
Approaching the Production of Folkvine.org
Approaching the production of each and every electronic page featured on Folkvine.org, our team attempted to adopt a guiding metaphor of "channeling." In other words, as Kristin explained in her presentation, we asked ourselves: what would the artist do, if he/she had the same tools of production available to our diverse team at the University of Central Florida?
We hoped this approach would allow us, as Craig mentioned, "to get at something usually difficult or impossible to experience in print or descriptions." By strategically channeling some of the artists' methods for our Folkvine.org production, each featured site could become an extension of the artists' work.
For the sake of discussion, I shall perform a brief analytic inquiry, regarding the choices we made for our project, Folkvine.org, and then navigate through the site itself for an open discussion. To begin with, I am interested in asking pragmatic questions such as "what is gained and/or lost by our approach of "channeling'" and "what is the effect of our choices on the viewing experience"?
On one hand, a viewer may claim that something crucial is missing. As Kristin noted in her presentation, our approach has removed these artists from their physical contexts by explaining them on the Internet. Thus, in our chosen medium of the World Wide Web, perhaps it is the "lived experience" of these artists that indeed is missing-resulting from a loss of the "community embodiment" message that usually surrounds the artist's work. Therefore, whose message is displayed on Folkvine.org? Is it the artist who is out of context? Is it the Folkvine production team, who in a sincere attempt to "channel" the artist's message, is still interpreting it to some extent?
Perhaps there is a third message in play besides that which comes from the artists or the UCF Folkvine team. As Marshall McLuhan claimed, the medium itself has a message. In our case, we utilize an online interactive medium. Although a full-scale, McLuhan-esque analysis of this medium is beyond the scope of this presentation, his insight "the medium is the message" does indeed raise the other side of the pragmatic question I pose about loss. In effect, what might be gained back (instead of what's lost) by our choice of medium?
If the "lived experience" of the artists what indeed lost (in its translation to a different medium), perhaps another kind of lived experience returns by virtue of the website user who interactivelyencounters the content posted there.
Following this train of thought to a logical conclusion, the Folkvine teammates were essentially the first users of the sites-as our lived experience encountered the lives of our participant artists, within their community contexts. Thus, what you see at Folkvine.org is the result of that encounter. We invite you now to bring your own lived experience to bear on the online environment posted there. In turn, you shall weave your own text of interest to you-and the unique way you thread through the content comprises the message of the online interactive medium.
I hope this extended metaphor, of the user's unique text encounter as a thread through the material posted in Folkvine.org, will help you to imagine and evaluate the viewer's potential experience there. Overall, the message of our channeling approach is collaboration, with the artist and his/her community, within our Folkvine team, and now with our Internet participants. In terms of lived experience, our collaboration has been an encountering of worlds-and each will never be quite the same again.
School of Visual Arts
Conference: Art and Story
The following materials were originally presented in New York City at the School of Visual Arts Eighteenth Annual National Conference on Liberal Arts and the Education of Artists. The theme for 2004's conference was "Art and Story."
• Read: Folkvine: Art and Artists on the Web- Kristin G. Congdon
• Watch: Outside In: Schooling, Kit-Bashing, Quilting, & Clowning Around Online -Craig Saper & Lynn Tomlinson
• Read: Approaching the Production of Folkvine.org -Alex Katsaros
Folkvine: Art and Artists on the Web
Kristin G. Congdon
Folkvine is an ongoing interdisciplinary partnership project at the University of Central Florida that attempts to place art on the web in a manner that adequately represents select artists and their communities. In other words, the Folkvine Group collaboratively works to artistically tell the stories of selected artists within the context of their community settings.
This project began with a conversation I had with Craig Saper in the Spring of 2003. We had similar interests. We both like quirky things, stories, and networked art. We are interested in education, community events, and the kinds of questions posed in the humanities. We decided to work together on a project that would place a series of folk artists on the web. At mid-point in the development of the project, the web site would be introduced to each artist and his or her community or communities with the intention of having a dialogue about what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. We wrote a $25,000 grant to the Florida Humanities Council to develop eight sites. Receiving only $13,000, we rewrote our goals to target only four artists. While we certainly could have used more funding, we could not possibly have worked with more than four artists in the period of a year. Our reduced funding, in this regard, turned out to be a blessing.
The Folkvine Project also turned out to be a more complex journey than Craig and I anticipated. Numerous issues, challenges, and questions have been raised. I will highlight a few of them of them today.
As I often work in the role of a folklorist, I wonder how folklore can be presented in an authentic manner. I recognize that bringing a traditional artist (which is how I am defining folk art here) to an audience outside the context of the artist's community often distorts the understanding of the art form. In other words, if a gospel group doesn't have an engaged response from an audience of believers, the art form isn't really authentic gospel. And if a Navajo coyote story isn't told after the first frost in a Navajo context with people who understand the lived experience of Coyote, then it isn't really an authentic Navajo tale. Something is missing. While recognizing that the web is not a traditional context for our selected artists, it is our hope that, at least in some ways, we might successfully represent, on the web, the community values, environmental space, and lived experience of each artist and his or her cultural groups.
Craig and I readily recognized that to accomplish our goals, we needed a strong collaborative team. Davidson and Goldberg describe humanities research today "as problem-or issue-based rather than disciplinary, and collaborative rather than individualistic in [the] model for research and thinking" (2004 B8). Working with their manifesto for the humanities, we agree that history matters, that creativity counts, that diversity is important, and that communication clarifies (B8-B9). Our collaborative team included our artists and any member of their community whom we could involve.
On the university side, for Folkvine I (we are now formulating the second phase of our project, Folkvine II) besides Craig Saper and me who function as co-directors, the team included, Natalie Underberg, a folklorist and editor, Lynn Tomlinson, the director of videography and editing, Chantale Fontaine, the lead web designer and Jeff Beekman who assisted her, technical coordinators Alex Katsaros and Mel LeClair, and researchers Jeremy Bassetti and Devin Dominguez, Several others gave us additional support when we asked. This part of the team was comprised of faculty, doctoral students, undergraduate students, and two professionals from the community.
This project, which uses newer technology, is educationally oriented. Even though film and television have been used for educational purposes for a long time, it is has not been until recently that technology has been thought of as having a major impact on education. We recognize, like Don Marinelli and Randy Pausch that "Technology today is changing society and education in fundamental, sometimes unnoticed ways" (B 16). Recently one of my honors students looked me square in the face and claimed, without embarrassment or apology that she didn't read much; rather she liked television and the computer. Perhaps Kerry Freedman is correct when she says claim that "television has become our national curriculum" and that "more students watch a nationally broadcast television program than are taught through the same curriculum text" (324). Perhaps the use of computers and digital media is taking the place of television. We know that we could write about our four artists, but we believe that placing them along with their work on the Web, is more effective in interesting a new generation of learners.
While ideas about collaboration and education are compelling to us, so too is making visible each artist's community. Jan jagodzinski claims that there is a "longing to bring art back into its ritualistic function where it is embodied in community" (16). For it is in this space, he claims, where it has its spiritual and healing effects. These are aspects of art that have been somewhat lost as it has been isolated in museums and galleries. And the proliferation of technology has been primarily capitalistic in its goals instead of educational. Technology has become so central to our lives that it is often thought of as our salvation. Jagodzinski, like many other scholars, believes that technology has replaced God in our contemporary world. Alix Ohlin claims that in today's Western world, instead of God, we have a sprawling network of technology, government, business, and communications. These forces of globalization have become our religion. This is not to say that we necessarily subscribe wholeheartedly to a belief in the goodness of the network, yet the network works mysteriously, transecting the world, even as it impinges on our daily lives in specific ways. (23-24). While we find some truth in this way of thinking, it became our quest to see if technology can be used in such a way that the spirituality and building of a community's values might be encouraged rather than destroyed through the use of the Internet.
One crucial element of building a community sense on the web was to be reflective of the way in which the artists and their communities aesthetically represent themselves. We aim to make each site look like what the artist would have created if she or he had the skills of our entire Folkvine team. That means that both the look and the movement of the site needed to correspond to the artist's way of living in the world. Each site has a very different look and feel because of this goal.
Another key issue we address is that of story. We employ the ethnographic method for interviewing, using the folklorist as our model. Our goal is to understand the artists and their communities on their own terms through patterning their everyday life (Wilson 3). Telling the story of art by using the ethnographic method helps us, as David Freedberg states, to reclaim its original function as well as "to sense the roots of our admiration, awe, terror, and desire-indeed, to understand the very act of function itself. . ." (433). The story of our selected artists is key to the understanding of their art. We can't understand it without the narrative. Story, therefore, is central to our goals.
When we scaled back our artists from eight to four, we did so based mostly on economic considerations. We picked the four artists who lived closest to us.
Ruby Williams lives on the outskirts of the historic African American town of Bealsville. She sells fruit, vegetables, and folk art at her self-constructed produce stand and "Walk-in Gallery." A visitor can purchase black-eyed peas, strawberries, collared greens, and watermelons. They may also select one of Williams' brightly painted artworks on plywood or a handmade "Bonnie Bon Bonnie" doll.
If you purchase a painting, it often comes with a thought provoking or whimsical saying such as "Tired of Being the Good Guy," "Timing me is Wrong," "I Sing Because I am Happy, " or "It Hurts to Hate." Visions from God inspire her to create. Ruby Williams believes she was put on this earth to heal and minister through her produce, her artwork, and her community space. A visit to her environment might include a meal cooked on an outdoor smoker, a spiritual healing experience, or a walk through her small farm complete with vegetables, fruits, and sometimes, small animals such as turkeys and chickens.
Hawaiian quilt artist, Ginger LaVoie, was raised in Central Florida. Although not born Polynesian, as a youth she was drawn to Hawaii and island living. In 1968, after graduating from high school, she moved to the island of Molokai in Hawaii where she became immersed in the island culture. She married in 1977, to a man who loves to surf; together they have three children. While living in Hawaii, she studied traditional Hawaiian quilting, and became an expert in not only quilting designs and techniques, but also its history and folklore. Her quilts are all based on tradition, but each one is original. LaVoie invents new designs and plays with new arrangements, but her work is always grounded in the Hawaiian culture.
Lavoie's quilts are now in such demand that she has women in North Carolina doing the quilting for her. She continues to do all the designing and appliqué work. She believes that the laying on of the design is a caressing of the quilt. She refers to this process as a "birthing of the quilt." It is the starting point for the birthing of every one of her quilts.
"Diamond" Jim Parker passed away before we could finish our documentary work. Nonetheless we continued to create his Web site as it took on new meaning. Born in Hastings, Nebraska, in 1938, "Diamond" Jim Parker used to go to the Shriners' Circus with his father when it came to town. He noticed how circus people loved their animals, and it was this relationship that first caused him to want to join the circus. As a child, he got to know many of the performers as he helped tend to the ponies each year. In 1957 he joined the Navy and was sent to Hawaii. There he met up with some of the same circus people he had known as a child. In 1960 one of his friends, a stilt-walker, dressed Parker up as a clown to help with ticket sales. This event was his first performance as a clown. Since he was in the Navy, he became a Navy clown. He is called "Diamond Jim" because of the diamonds that were painted on his face.
After retiring he put all his extra time and money into building model miniature circuses. Living in Gibsonton, Florida, many of his neighbors are also retired circus people. He was quick to comment on how special and close his community is. He was also a circus historian. Old performers donated about 50 percent of Parker's collection to him. They continued to give him their prized possessions because they knew how much he loved circus memorabilia.
Wayne and Marty Scott are well known for the superb clown shoes they make, which are sent to clowns all over the country. Living in Howey in the Hills, they are a "can-do" kind of people. They recently built their house, learning each step in much the same way that they figured out how to make clown shoes. They ask others, use the Internet and library, and inspect things very carefully. Married for half a century, they work well together, building a life that plays on each other's strengths.
They are both clowns themselves and traveled for a time with the circus. Seeing a need for someone to make clown shoes, they cut up an old pair to see how they were put together. When they found that so few people made clown shoes, they figured they'd start a business. Their son, Alan, is now learning the trade. Their shoemaking workshop is in the back part of a truck, which they have on their property without the cab.
Wayne and Marty Scott like to mingle with other clowns, often attending clown conferences where they share their latest creations. They do clown acts that contribute to a movement in Christian clowning. The Scotts claim that one of the most enjoyable parts of their meetings is going to clown church services. They also make clown props, which are a hit in the clown community.
Now that we have finished our first grant with the Florida Humanities Council, we are working on the second, which we call Folkvine II. In our second phase we plan to update Folkvine I and add three new artists to the web site and overlay the site with the exploration of three humanities issues: ideas about social economy, place-making imagination, and re-creative identity. We will also explore how to successfully create one of the new sites in a bi-lingual manner, and we will again, hold public events for the artists and their communities to give us feedback on how we can make our sites more clearly reflective of their aesthetics and world views.
Working on the Folkvine Project has not always been easy. It has taken more work, trust, commitment, and communication than I ever dreamed possible when Craig Saper and I first talked about making a website on artists. We are fully aware that the challenges we have set for ourselves are not the kinds of goals we will somehow finalize. We know that we will never fully succeed. Additionally, we claim to have only begun our journey.