"Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills and other folkloric documentation can serve as a mirror to show us the culture we have, but also what we’ve lost and gained along the way, for better or for worse. Throughout the collection, Gainer provides evidence of how folk songs are distilled democratic cultural nuggets of a community, conveying the values of its people. He declares, 'They are called folk songs because they belong to the people and not any one individual.' Folklorist Lynne McNeill says this another way: 'Group consensus shapes folklore, so folklore is a great measure of group consensus.' I, for one, am proud to live and work in a place where the group consensus is for singing."
Read on via West Virginia University Press
"Jim Shaffer’s shop is dusty and smells like a horse stable—a comforting olfactory association that I suddenly realize has less to do with horses than with the rolled and bundled straw I see stacked high along the walls. Though the pole barn that houses Shaffer’s Charleston Broom and Mop Company is just a few miles from the capital city of Charleston, West Virginia, the unincorporated area where it sits along Davis Creek in Loudendale is a wooded, quiet, and close-knit community. Everyone who lives here knows Jim, and many people across the state know him too. At 87, Shaffer has been making brooms for seventy years and is the last handmade commercial broom maker in West Virginia."
Read on in Southern Cultures
"It’s not that Helvetia is inauthentic or fake—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. And to say that the presence of a Swiss community in the remote mountains of West Virginia is unlikely would deny the history and impact of the waves of immigration and relocation to central Appalachia by diverse cultural groups (there were several Swiss settlements scattered across the region in the late nineteenth century). But what makes Helvetia unusual resides not only in the cultural, historical, and social preservation of the nearly 150-year-old village but in something less tangible. There is an enchantment about the place that exudes from the hand-painted signs of coats of arms, Swiss phrases, historical markers, and the public buildings and homes adorned in Alpine gingerbread and bright floral patterns. It’s a magic that exists in the intimacy of a community whose families have been neighbors, friends, and colleagues for generations."
Read more via HUMANITIES Magazine
Along Davis Creek, in Loudendale, WV, outside of Charleston, there’s a long green building on the side of the road with the words “Charleston Broom and Mop Co.” painted on the side. That building is the workshop of James Shaffer, who at age 87, is the last hand-made commercial broom maker in the state. He first learned the trade in 1946, meaning he’s been making brooms for 70 years.
Read on via West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Welcome to Helvetia, population 59. In a high mountain valley “an hour from anywhere,” the little town sustains the traditions of the Swiss immigrants who settled there in 1869. West Virginia state folklorist Emily Hilliard spent 2016 documenting Helvetia’s seasonal celebrations to understand how this isolated community draws strength from its land, its history, and its people.
Read on via Bitter Southerner
We arrived at the small country store at dusk, giddy for our first hot dog. The hand-painted sign outside Buddy B’s in Sissonville, West Virginia, advertised fresh produce, pinto beans and cornbread, and “Best In Town Hot Dogs.” Inside, bulk seeds, bags of peanuts, and jars of penny candy lined the red gingham–papered walls, and a cash register and food counter stood on either side of the door. We gawked like tourists at the hot dog clock and hand-painted hot dog sign, outlined by the triple-underlined text, try our hot dogs they are go-o-o-o-d. As the cashier-cook prepared our dogs, we surreptitiously took pictures.
Read on in Gravy
This piece originally appeared on the now defunct site Gilt Taste, edited by Francis Lam.
There’s a recording I came across one day while browsing the archives of the American Folklife Center. The tape is not old—it was recorded in 1995—but if you didn’t know that, you could guess that it was from any time, really. There’s a slight tape hiss and the West Virginia accents from Kenny and Martha Pettry are thick. They’re talking about berry pies that Kenny’s mother used to make, and he lists them off in a cadence, pausing between each one. “Yea, my mother made pies out of mulberries. Blueberries. Blackberries. Huckleberries.” Then Martha interjects, “I just never did care for no mulberries.” The two talk over each other for a bit until she finally exclaims, “The mulberry’s the worst berry there ever was!”
Read on via Paste
In our Spring issue, we introduced West Virginia’s new state folklorist, Emily Hilliard. Emily will be writing a regular column for GOLDENSEAL about her discoveries in West Virginia folklore.
Whenever someone asks me what I do for work, the conversation often goes something like this: I say, “I’m a folklorist.”
The questioner usually replies with something to the effect of “That’s so cool!” Then there’s a beat while he or she stops to ponder and works up the courage to ask sheepishly, “Now . . . what is that exactly?”
Read on in Goldenseal
The last Friday in April, I drove along the Buckhannon River through the village of Helvetia, West Virginia to the coat of arms-adorned community hall in the center of town. Though I’ve been visiting the Swiss-German community for five years now— first as a tourist, then as a journalist, and now as a folklorist— this was my first time here in the spring. Having previously contended with whiteout blizzards just to make it to the 59-resident town perched in a high mountain valley, I was struck by how lush and alive everything seemed. Spring ephemerals dotted the roadsides, locals were out walking and doing yard work, and the distinctively pungent smell of ramps wafted out from the kitchen of the hall.
Read on via the Southern Foodways Alliance blog