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Folk Arts Celebration

Although it is often seen as an exotic thing practiced by distant or isolated people, folk art in fact touches the everyday lives of us all. It is part of our heritage and an important element of our individual cultures. As such it is not only a part of our birthright but a valuable part of our lives as well.

Folklore consists of those forms of culture that are passed down by informal means, such as word of mouth for example. Each time that an item of folklore is practiced or taught it is evaluated by members of the community who help to shape its development and evolution. For this reason folklore is composed of those things that are produced by the members of a society as a whole, and represent the broadest interests and values of its members. Folk art, as an aspect of folklore, therefore embodies those arts that are the result of generations of refinement through the creative efforts of the members of a community over time. This community can be established by any of a number of boundaries. These can be of a geographic, a social, or a religious nature.

As folk art is transmitted through time by individuals in face-to-face interaction, it is constantly being adjusted, evaluated, and reinterpreted by each succeeding generation. The raw materials upon which this transformation is affected, however, is the product of traditional processes and the artistic choices of past generations. For this reason it comes to reflect and conform to community aesthetics and values more completely than those arts that are nurtured in a more isolated envionment. It is also for this reason that folk art more than any other is the expression and possession of us all and our collective heritages.

Because of its history of settlement, Kansas exhibits a rich mosaic of individual cultures and the traditional arts associated with them. The people who came to Kansas from the Old World and the eastern United States brought with them their ancestors' traditions that were themselves forged through generations of occupation in their native lands. Here in Kansas they met with the cultures of the American Indians to compose the base line of the future culture of the state. This was not the end of the story, however, as the members of each culture were forced to adapt to the new environment. To live in Kansas one had to accept the terms that the natural surroundings presented and innovate accordingly. From these innovations and the contact that took place between the various individdual cultures, a new landscape was formed that is now uniquely Kansan, possessing its own traditions and arts, which coexist alongside the old.

In the second half of the 20th century many of our traditional arts have become endangered by the divisive effects of modern society. At one time a greater number of people spent much of their lives in their native communities, surrounded by a familiar people and environment. It is precisely this sort of community that gave birth to so many of the traditional arts that we know today. With increasing mobility, however, it has become much more difficult for individuals to enter the long-term apprenticeships which are so essential for the mastery of these complex and beautiful arts.

The changing natures of work and social relations has also exerted a powerful influence upon the preservation of these means of expression. Where people once depended upon community labor and informal interaction with their neighbors to satisfy their personal needs, they now rely increasingly upon more formal contacts with fewer and fewer individuals. This also has tended to disrupt many of the informal networks which had made it possible for members of communities to frequently meet and share skills and talents. Even entertainment is something which is all too often performed in relative isolation as we come to rely on the mass media for diversions.

From Celebrate Kansas Folk Arts © KSHS 1993

Entry: Folk Arts Celebration

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: May 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.