Project restores, Increases Accessibility
to Past Wisconsin Fieldwork Efforts

Photo of "Lower Wisconsin River 'river rat' and storyteller Ray Schlump, Muscoda, Wisconsin
Photo by Mark Wagler
Lower Wisconsin River "river rat" and storyteller Ray Schlump, Muscoda, Wisconsin. Schlump was the subject of fieldwork by Mark Wagler in 1979.

The Center has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for a two-year “Access to Prior Folk Arts Projects in the Upper Midwest” initiative aimed at finding, restoring, and making accessible several Wisconsin field research projects from the past quarter century.

Since the 1970s, regional nonprofit arts and historical organizations have regularly used grant money to document local and regional folk traditions and produce public programming. Over the years, the region's traditional practitioners have appeared in festivals, artist demonstrations, workshops, concerts, school residencies, exhibits, video productions, recordings, and publications. The rich materials generated from the field surveys and subsequent productions – written reports, color slides, black and white photos, audio and video tape-recordings, etc. – are in various states of preservation and storage. Some are in archives with excellent public access, such as those at the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire, and some are in archives with more restricted access, as at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. However, some in the private collections of organizations and individuals who sponsored or created the documentation have little or no access.

The project’s purpose is to make it easier for researchers, educators, and especially the people featured in the documentation, to locate and use these important resources. Independent folklorist Janet C. Gilmore has been hired to guide the project. For the past quarter century she, too, has created field research materials, developed public programs and publications, and protected such research and production documentation within established archives. She will prepare a list of projects and productions, learn their status and determine their accessibility, develop procedures for renegotiating access and permissions, and prepare a computerized finding aid for the collections.

Janet started the project in January 2003 and so far has met with archiving colleagues at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, at a “Building Bridges with Folklore Archives: Pedagogy, Fieldwork, Collective Memory” conference in Provo, Utah, and at the Midwest Folklorists Retreat in Illinois. She is learning “best practices” for working with ethnographic archival collections and is reviewing database systems commonly used as collections finding aids. She will be deliberating with CSUMC and Max Kade Institute archivist/librarian Kevin Kurdylo, and likely information technology expert Sara Ziemendorf, as well as others across the University and State Historical Society systems to determine which software will be most effective for linking our efforts with related organizations and archival collections.

Janet Gilmore is an independent folklorist based in Mount Horeb. Since the 1970s she has collaborated with regional cultural organizations to document folk practitioners and present their traditions to the public in exhibits, festivals, artist demonstrations, educational programming, videos, and publications.

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Last updated: February 25, 2004