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What Is Folk Art?
Bay House

Three Kings folk art sculpture

Chinese Cultural Association of Long Island

Clam shell artist


Ask this question to a group of academic and public sector folklorists, and you will get a variety of answers ranging from “a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation within a specific group that reflects religion, gender, occupation and recreation, region, ethnicity, age” and other ways that we define ourselves. Ask collectors and you will likely hear that folk art is the result of an inspiration or belief that propels them to create an idiosyncratic art form.

We believe that folk art comes from a way of life that has been passed down and shared within various groups. A tradition bearer continues to practice the tradition, one learned from their family or community that has been part of their heritage. The work they create, a story, joke, ballad, musical form, dance tradition, or material objects including houses, boats, quilts, crafts and instruments is based on learning from their family and friends over a long period of time, typically three or more generations. We also believe the artist continues the tradition because they value their heritage, rather than for its economic value. The artists featured on our site all learned within their immediate families or neighbors the traditions they carry on, whose origins stretch back at least 50 years or more, but have changed over time as new influences are incorporated into their repertoire.

In order to preserve these traditions we document the artists’ background, seeking to understand the tradition’s history and continued importance in their daily life, through oral interviews, observation and historical research. We also present them in public settings so that others may learn of their tradition. Finally we advocate for their right to continue their tradition, when outside events threaten their right to do so.

For more information on how folk art is defined, we invite you to visit the New York Folklore Society web site (http://www.nyfolklore.org/resource/what.html).

And feel free to write us or call us!


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