The Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College promotes activities pertaining to traditional and ethnic folklife, folk art, and crafts. Located in Elkins, the center attracts more than 2,000 people annually for intensive week-long programs, with thousands more attending public concerts, dances, and festivals. A year-round center with a staff of seven, Augusta sponsors field research and documentation projects within the state.
Augusta was begun in 1973 by a group of Randolph County women who were concerned about the preservation and conservation of traditional crafts. Originally the region was a part of Augusta County, Virginia, thus the name. Twenty-two students participated the first year. The program quickly added an emphasis on traditional performance arts and folklore. In 1981, Augusta was acquired and hosted by Davis & Elkins College. Throughout the next two decades, the offerings increased, adding various regional folk arts, traditional crafts, children and senior programs, and more performance venues, including the Augusta Heritage Festival.
Augusta is best known for its educational workshops. Begun in 1972, these have brought together master artists, musicians, dancers, craftspeople, and enthusiasts of all ages. Participants range from complete novices to professional artists, and come from nearly every state and several countries. The themes are not confined to West Virginia or Appalachia. Rather, they include vocal traditions, old-time music, blues, Cajun and Creole, Irish, French-Canadian, swing, guitars, dulcimers, and the folklore, crafts, food ways, and dance forms associated with these traditions. Augusta attracts top practitioners in all these fields, who impart their knowledge to workshop participants.
Augusta’s mission includes documenting, promoting, and nurturing folk traditions. The West Virginia Folk Art Apprenticeship Program, established in 1989, helps to preserve West Virginia’s traditions for future generations through funding of one-on-one apprenticeships. Augusta’s research and documentation of folk artists have resulted in the production of more than 40 compact disks, audiocassettes, and video documentaries of West Virginia’s traditions and culture. The Augusta Collection of Folk Culture at Davis & Elkins College’s Booth Library offers scholars access to a large collection of field recordings, oral histories, historical concert tapes, and photographs. A large and very active website offers links to numerous individual artisans and musicians.
Augusta Heritage Center website
Written by Gerald Milnes