Folklife in Wyoming

Folklife is a complex, important and large component of culture. It encompasses the art, traditions and knowledge that passes down among a group of people and can be seen through dance, music, artwork, storytelling, ceremonies and belief sharing. While sometimes thought of as something “old” or “old-fashioned,” folklife is instead fluid and changes as the community changes. The elements of folklife – doing, making, believing, speaking and teaching – create a shared sense of identity by connecting people to the past through actions of the present.

wooden box full of decorated eggs
Lisa McDonald, Ukrainian egg decorating

The Wyoming Folklife Archive collection at the American Heritage Center (AHC) documents the activities, artworks and traditions of the many diverse groups in the state. Within the collection you’ll find examples of folklife from Basque, cowboy, Eastern European, Hispanic and Shoshoni communities, among many others. Some elements of dances and craftwork might be familiar, while other elements of cuisine and architecture are new. They all nevertheless represent the widespread uniqueness of Wyoming’s many communities.

decorate origami on a stand on a table
Rose Aguilar, Gillette, Okinawan painter and Origami maker

In 2015, an exhibit, The Art of the Hunt: Wyoming Traditions, was shown at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne. It was a collaborative project between the Wyoming Arts Council and the University of Wyoming’s American Studies Program that explored the deep-rooted traditions, stories and skills Wyomingites have that connect them to hunting. Hunting involves more than the pursuit of animals. It can be stories of previous hunts, sharing of knowledge about how to track, strategies, and migratory patterns, as well as the creation of tools used in the pursuit.

The 5-year-long collection of research behind the exhibit is housed at the AHC. Within it contains photos of and interviews with over 100 people involved in Wyoming’s art of the hunt, such as saddle makers, fly fishers, knife makers, ranchers and taxidermists.

In addition to The Art of the Hunt: Wyoming Traditions materials in the Wyoming Folklife Archives collection, you can see photos of blacksmithing, leather working, jewelry-making, painting, woodcarving, ropemaking and more.

wood carving of grass, tree, and barn
Larry Simmons, Glenrock, Woodcarver

You can also listen to song recordings and both audio and video interviews of fly tiers, knifemakers, spinners, weavers, poets, and songwriters.

The Wyoming Folklife Archive collection at the AHC was created by the folklife coordinators and specialists at the University of Wyoming’s American Studies program and builds on the work of the State of Wyoming’s Council of Arts. Today new records showing Wyoming folklife are collected through the combined efforts of the UW American Studies program, the Wyoming Arts Council and the Wyoming Humanities Council.

To learn more about Wyoming folklife, see the Wyoming Folklife Archive papers at the American Heritage Center.

Blog contribution by Rachel Gattermeyer, Digital Archivist, Reference Services


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