Folkways

The Inside Appalachia Folkways Project expands the reporting of the Inside Appalachia team to include more stories from West Virginia as well as expand coverage in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Ohio 

The project establishes the Inside Appalachia Folkways Corps, which launched with 10 specialized freelance reporters from four Appalachian states.

The initiative also will include developing ongoing partnerships with folklife organizations and artisans across the region, as well as expanding WVPB’s educational components surrounding Appalachian folk life and culture, providing a tool kit for educators to incorporate "Inside Appalachia" into classrooms everywhere.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Normally Robert Villamagna would be in his art studio in Wheeling, West Virginia, hammering out old metal pieces from children’s toys, chip cans and coffee cannisters that he finds at local flea markets. He has made artwork out of scrap metal for decades and was named West Virginia Artist of the Year in 2016.

But starting July 25, he has not made much art.


Clara Haizlett/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

In a quiet neighborhood in southeast Ohio, Talcon Quinn and her 12-year-old apprentice Juniper Ballew have revived an age-old tradition with just three ingredients: a deer skin, some water and a handful of animal brains. They have transformed a hairy, fleshy animal skin into buckskin, a buttery soft material stronger than fabric. 


Pat Jarrett/ Virginia Humanities

Shape-note singing has deep roots in Appalachia and the American south. Popular first in 18th and 19th-century New England, shape-note singing is a tradition that relies on group participation. But what happens when groups can’t get together and sing? In a special report exploring folkways traditions, as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Kelley Libby spoke with singers in Virginia and Kentucky. 


Ben McManus

As part of our Inside Appalachia folkways project, we have been exploring Appalachia’s unique connection to Wales. Both regions mountainous landscapes, a history of coal extraction, folktales and it turns out, music. 

There is a growing community of musicians from both Wales and Appalachia who share an interest in the culture that binds them together.


Michael Gallimore

The West Virginia Dance Company, based out of Beckley, W.Va., often performs dances that tell stories about social or cultural topics in the Appalachian region. One of their recent performance pieces, “Catching Light,” choreographed by Toneta Akers-Toler, was inspired by West Virginia glassmaker Ron Hinkle. In a special report exploring folkways traditions, as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Jordan Lovejoy profiled the choreographer and her work. 


Emily Hilliard / West Virginia Folklife Program

An old-time musician from Clay County has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts’ fellowship -- the first West Virginian in 20 years to receive the honor.

John Morris has been named one of nine NEA National Heritage Fellows. According to a press release, it is the highest honor in the United States for folk and traditional arts. 

Betty Maney holds a small double weave river cane basket
Rachel Greene

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have been making baskets for centuries. While it is an old artform, basket makers are resilient -- adapting to changes not only in their craft, but their traditions too. 

Peter Stevenson

Before the pandemic hit, our Inside Appalachia team was planning a reporting trip to Wales as part of our ongoing folkways project, as the country has a strong historical connection to Appalachia that we wanted to explore. The trip’s been postponed, but in a special report as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Caitlin Tan interviewed two Welsh storytellers who through their craft bring us artistic parallels between our region’s sister country.


Music Comes Naturally To Son Of Hammons Legends

May 15, 2020

The Hammons Family of Pocahontas County, West Virginia are known around the world for their distinctive old-time music that reflects the early Appalachian frontier of West Virginia.  Nine members of the Hammons clan, Edden, Pete, Maggie, Sherman, Burl, Lee, Currence, Mintie and Dona will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame this year. That ceremony has been rescheduled to November. 

Nicole Musgrave

Girls Rock Whitesburg in Whitesburg, Kentucky is a music camp for female, gender-fluid, non-binary, and trans youth. Over the course of a week campers learn an electric instrument, form a band and write songs. At the end, they perform in front of a live audience. While the camp focuses on electric music instruction, participants also learn how music is tied to social justice.


Deep Mountain Farm

Just outside Fayetteville, West Virginia, there's a 42-acre farm that has just about everything -- chickens, lambs, sheep, produce and dogs. The latest addition is a litter of Great Pyrenees puppies, who will become guardian dogs for the sheep.

Christine Weirick owns and operates Deep Mountain Farm with her husband Chris Jackson and their two young daughters. 


CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Despite social distancing limitations that meant reimagining an in-person training for the Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Corps Project, 12 storytellers are now off and running (from a safe distance, of course) to gather and share unique stories of arts and culture from across the Appalachian region.

Debra Williby-Walker

When Brady Walker first learned that some people go hungry, without a meal, he was four years old. And unlike most kids his age, he decided to take action.

Brady lives in Mercer County, W.Va., but he had a family friend named Ursula Candasamy, who has since passed away, in South Africa. So Brady began by collecting produce seed packets — some donated, some with his own savings — and he sent 910 packets to Ursula who distributed them to those in need. 

Brady, who is now eight years old, said he is motivated to keep sending seeds because, “people won’t be hungry, and I’m helping other people, and I like helping people.”

Amy Knicely

As the number of coronavirus cases have quickly grown across the nation, including in West Virginia, leaving the house has become increasingly discouraged. In fact, the White House Coronavirus Task Force recently recommended to either not go or limit trips to the grocery store to avoid large gatherings. 

And even when people do go to the store the shelves are often sparse. Although the National Grocers Association assures there’s not a food shortage in the country, some people are preparing just in case. 


Caitlin Tan

In March, West Virginia saw 90,000 unemployment claims. In a typical month the state averages 5,000. According to the U.S. Labor Department, one of the industries hit the hardest nationwide is arts and entertainment — a sector that depends heavily on social events, something that is nearly impossible during the coronavirus pandemic.

We recently spoke with West Virginian artists to see how they are coping, and we wanted to check in with the Tamarack Foundation For The Arts, which directly supports nearly 2,000 artists in the state. They have recently promoted their interactive newsletter to help West Virginian artists still feel a sense of community.

Susan Brown and Jenny Bardwell

Kerri Namolik lives in Shepherdstown, W.Va. with her husband and two daughters. She is an assistant professor for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College and is working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But like many parents, she has also found herself homeschooling her two girls – Scarlett and Lilah – and using baking as a way to implement some math.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the past two years, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia team has been working on a folkways project that focuses on artisans and craftsmen within Appalachia.

For many of these people, their art or craft is their primary income, and a lot of them depend on social events, like concerts, farmers markets and craft fairs. In this new world of coronavirus and social distancing, that is proving difficult.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the past few months, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia Folkways Project has cultivated a connection between two groups of people thousands of miles away — high schools in Lincoln County, West Virginia and in Merthyr Tydfill, Wales.


Storyteller Uses Song To Inspire Children To Learn About Nature

Mar 13, 2020
Credit Saro Lynch-Thomason

These days, kids are spending less time exploring the outdoors and more time in front of screens.

A 2019 report by the independent non-profit Common Sense Media found that on average, 8-to-12 year-olds in the United States spend approximately five hours on entertainment screen media every day. But numerous studies show that time outside is great for kids, helping them reduce stress and stay healthy. 


West Virginia Public Broadcasting has selected 13 storytellers to be a part of the second year of its Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Project.

The project expands the reporting of the Inside Appalachia team to include more stories from West Virginia, as well as expanding coverage in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Ohio. Storytellers will explore Appalachia’s rich folklife, arts and material culture.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Old-time music is a large part of West Virginia’s heritage – it is the folk music of the state. And although it has now gained the popularity of people from all over the world, hundreds of years ago it was isolated within Appalachian communities. However, as it gains traction, some people think the uniqueness is lost. 

In a special report exploring folkways traditions, as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Caitlin Tan explores the master-apprentice relationship in the old-time music community.


A Little Daytona In Ona

Feb 21, 2020
Lexi Browning / for WVPB

Ona, West Virginia is a town with two stop lights, but it’s also a place where legends are made. 

Greg Sigler has been racing at Ona Speedway for nearly two decades. But today, he’s coaching his 15-year-old son, Cole, from the sidelines, using a headset that lets them talk back and forth. Cole, who drives a white 2006 Cobalt sporting the number 99, has just embarked on his own racing career. It’s his first time behind the wheel of a car.  


Mason Adams / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On any given Friday night, a parade of customized cars and trucks cruise from north to south and back again on Williamson Road in Roanoke, Virginia. 

Modified with neon lights, spinning rims and streamlined spoilers, these vehicles do not necessarily scream “folk tradition”—but they are just the modern version of a long-running Appalachian tradition. 

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In rural Preston County, West Virginia, potter Mel Sword’s house is located at the end of a gravel road, near a road called "Wildflower Way" and a creek that feeds into the Cheat River. His home nestles rolling fields of green grass, and behind that are mounds of dirt, clay that to Sword is half the reason he bought this property about ten years ago.

Caitlin Tan / WVPB

Deep within the mountains of central West Virginia, is a tiny village called Helvetia. It was originally founded by Swiss settlers in the mid-1800s, as they felt the steep mountains, thick forests, winding river, all resembled their homeland.


Hands holding Oxheart tomato
Rachel Greene

In Appalachia, organizations like seed libraries and community gardens are helping to save traditional heirloom vegetables from being lost. Sometimes, the seeds are found in unexpected places like when Travis Birdsell visited the barn of an Ashe County farmer in 2017.


There, he found tomato seeds smeared on the side of an old grocery store sack.

 

“All the words said were 'Big Red,'” Birdsell said.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia’s Mountaineer Heritage Hunting season began Jan 9, two weeks after most hunting seasons have closed. It is the second year since its conception, and most notably, it is limited to primitive weapons - like flintlock muzzle loader rifles. 


The 66th Mountaineer, Timmy Eads, in the 2019 WVU Homecoming parade.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia University’s mascot, the Mountaineer, is a big deal in the state. In fact, fans are called ‘Mountaineer Nation.’ West Virginians have long identified with the mascot as it symbolizes independence, strength and curiosity -- a true frontiersman attitude. 


Wetzel County Workshop Keeps Folk Toys Alive

Dec 20, 2019
Zack Harold / For Inside Appalachia

  When I was a kid, the thing that intrigued me most about Santa wasn’t the beard, or the flying reindeer, or the repeated breaking and entering. No — I was fascinated by his workshop. I loved to imagine the elves working tirelessly to make toys that would end up under Christmas trees around the world.

But you know, I never once imagined the elves making the season’s hottest toys. 

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Flea markets are a common feature across rural landscapes, especially in Appalachia. If you have never been, there is typically something for everyone, and one West Virginian artist is turning the unique finds into art. 

“Sometimes it’s the imagery. A portion of my work has an industrial aspect to it, and I don’t mean just the materials, but the imagery,” Robert Villamagna said.


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