What do roley hole marbles, white oak baskets, shape-note singing, and banjoes have in common? All are examples of Tennessee folk culture or "folkways" represented in the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project Collection (Record Group 59). The collection, permanently housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), documents folkways unique to Tennessee and highlights Tennessee's significant contributions to national studies of folklife. While there are formal definitions of folklife, the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center provides the following poetic description on its website:

The everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass on to the next generation:
The traditional songs we sing, listen and dance to
Fairy tales, stories, ghost tales and personal histories
Riddles, proverbs, figures of speech, jokes and special ways of speaking
Our childhood games and rhymes
The way we celebrate life
– from birthing our babies to honoring our dead
The entire range of our personal and collective beliefs
– religious, medical, magical, and social
Our handed-down recipes and everyday mealtime traditions
The way we decorate our world
– from patchwork patterns on our quilts to plastic flamingoes in our yards, to tattoos on our bodies
The crafts we create by hand
– crocheted afghans, wooden spoons, cane bottoms on chairs
Patterns and traditions of work
– from factory to office cubicle
The many creative ways we express ourselves as members of our family, our community, our geographical region, our ethnic group, our religious congregation, or our occupational group
Folklife is part of everyone's life. It is as constant as a ballad, as changeable as fashion trends. It is as intimate as a lullaby, and as public as a parade.
In the end ... we are all folk.

The recordings and images within this collection are accessible for purposes of education and research. While TSLA houses an item, it does not necessarily hold the copyright on the item, nor may it be able to determine if the item is still protected under current copyright law. Users are solely responsible for determining the existence of such restrictions and for obtaining any other permissions and paying associated fees that may be necessary for the intended use.

In the late 1970s, Bobby Fulcher of the Tennessee Division of Parks and Recreation began a concerted effort to document and preserve Tennessee's diverse folk culture. In 1979, the agency and its partner, the Tennessee Department of Conservation, received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the collection and organization of folklife resources. The Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project was designed to contact and record local musicians, craftsmen, and storytellers in communities around six state parks; present programs in the parks using those local people; document on film and audio tape the folk art and folklore of the area; and organize and present an annual community folk arts festival within a state park. Fulcher (then a state parks naturalist) coordinated the efforts and hired three "fledgling" folklorists, Elaine Lawless, Jay Orr, and Raymond Allen, to carry out the project.

The state was divided into three regions (East, Middle, and West), with one folklorist assigned to each. Two state parks in each region were then identified as target areas and served as the base from which the folklorist worked. In 1979, these were the Cumberland Mountain and Pickett State Parks in East Tennessee; Montgomery Bell and Cedars of Lebanon State Parks in Middle Tennessee; and Natchez Trace and Meeman Shelby State Parks in West Tennessee. In 1980, the target areas included Cove Lake and Norris Dam in East Tennessee; Fall Creek Falls and Rock Island in Middle Tennessee; and Chickasaw and Pickwick Landing in West Tennessee.

Using state parks as a base, field workers associated with the project surveyed the surrounding areas, taping and photographing people and events representative of the area's folk tradition. Weekly programs were held in each of the "home" parks, with larger mini-festivals held in each region at the end of the summer. This original project continued with grant funding through 1984, and the Tennessee State Library and Archives agreed to house the original materials. Bobby Fulcher, now a State Park Ranger, continues honoring craftsmen today and collects oral histories on a smaller scale with the help of summer park interns and volunteers.

The Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project produced more than 500 hours of audio tape, 9600 slides, and 2200 black and white negatives, including duplicates of scores of historic photographs which had been cached for years by their owners. Several years ago, TSLA initiated a project to digitize selections of the audio recordings and photographs from the collection in order to improve public access. The recordings, held originally on reel-to-reel and cassettes, and the accompanying photographs, include material on traditional quilting, burial customs, storytelling, blacksmithing, herbal medicine, fishing, logging, farming techniques, and music. Nationally recognized ballad singers Dee and Delta Hicks and Joe, Ethel, and Creed Birchfield (founding members of the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers) are just a few of the musical artists featured in the collection. To date, the bulk of the collection remains unprocessed and in the original formats. Approximately twenty percent of the audio recordings have been digitized. The recordings and images found in this TeVA collection represent just a sample of the rich material yet to be discovered. The digitization project is ongoing, and we will add items as they become available.

  • Belanus, Betty J. (1989) Evaluating public sector folklore: The Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University.
  • Carroll Van West, editor-in-chief; Margaret Duncan Binnicker, associate editor. A History of Tennessee Arts: creating traditions, expanding horizons. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004.
  • (1979, July - July 1980). Tennessee Conservationist Magazine.
  • (n.d.). The Bulletin of the Tennessee Folklore Society.
  • Olson, T. (2009). A Tennessee folklore sampler: Selections from the Tennessee folklore society bulletin, 1935-2009. Knoxville, Tenn.: The University of Tennessee Press.
  • Jones, O. (1967). Peculiarities of the Appalachian mountaineers; a summary of legends, traditions, signs, and superstitions that are almost forgotten. Detroit, Mich.: Harlo Press.
  • Cogswell, R. (2010). Tradition : Tennessee lives & legacies. Nashville, Tenn: Tennessee Arts Commission.
  • About. (2014). Retrieved October 2014, from http://www.tennessee.gov/environment/parks/CumberlandTrail/
  • Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2014, from http://louiebluie.org/
  • The American Folklife Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2014, from http://www.loc.gov/folklife/
  • The American Folklife Center Tennessee Collections. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2014, from http://www.loc.gov/folklife/