Beginning about 1950, interest in American folklore and folk arts blossomed nationally. Prominent musicians and painters included folk material and folk themes in their work, scholars and promoters sought out traditional performers and artisans, and state and local organizations developed programs to showcase folk heritage.
In West Virginia, serious efforts to identify and promote folklore began in the early 1960s, and the folk arts had a major place in the celebration of the state Centennial in 1963. Governor W. W. Barron created the Commerce Department in 1961, and appointed Hulett Smith the first commissioner. Smith hired David Callaghan, who worked throughout the four-year term in a variety of crafts-related positions. By 1963, Smith had created an Arts and Crafts Section within Commerce, and hired workers including Donald Page, Jane Cox (later Jane George), John Harper Jr., and K. Carl Little Jr. Early activities included identification and encouragement of traditional artisans, technical support to craftspeople wishing to increase production, and development of markets for handmade goods. In 1963, the department led the effort to organize a crafts fair at Cedar Lakes and in 1964 included a strong selection of native arts and crafts in the West Virginia pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.
Smith succeeded Barron as governor in 1965 and continued vigorously to support folk arts. New workers in the crafts division included Norman Fagan, photographer Arnout Hyde Jr., and Florette Angel. Like most of those hired earlier, these three promoted traditional folklore in various capacities throughout their careers. Goldenseal magazine, the state’s folklife quarterly, was founded in 1975 and remains popular in the 21st century. In 1976, a sales shop was established at the Culture Center in Charleston, continuing for many years as the state’s main outlet for quality handicrafts and an important retailer for craftspeople.
These and other efforts combined with the national folklore revival to produce a lively folk-arts scene in the state. The Mountain State Art & Craft Fair at Cedar Lakes, planned as a one-time statehood Centennial event, remains a thriving annual event. The State Folk Festival at Glenville State College grew from a classroom exercise in Appalachian lore into a legendary showcase of genuine mountain music. By the end of the 1960s, there were at least four annual craft fairs in the state, several existing events had begun to include native folk music, a few small shops were offering local handcrafts, and at least three LP recordings of West Virginia folk music were available. By 1980, festivals, recordings, and craft outlets all numbered in the dozens, and awareness of our folk heritage had become firmly established.
Written by Danny Williams