Meeting the North Country's Living Legends
The past weeks at TAUNY (Traditional Arts in Upstate New York) have been all about field work. To prepare for TAUNY’s upcoming exhibit on the Heritage Awards, we are interviewing past recipients as well as documenting their spaces and traditions. This means visiting people, places, and gatherings all over the North Country; together with Joel, TAUNY’s other summer intern, I have logged a lot of miles already. Among all the interviews and documentation, we have been able to do things like these (all in the name of field work of course!):
· Become an (honorary) certified taxidermist
· See the North Pole (though we just missed Santa Claus)
· Hug Champ, Lake Champlain’s beloved monster
· See amazing sunsets over the Adirondacks at the end of yet another long, long day
Conducting these interviews is one of the most rewarding aspects of this internship. After all, we get to hear people speak about something they are passionate about: their traditions and crafts. While we interview a wide range of people—in the past weeks, we have met a ballad singer, a taxidermist, a rustic furniture maker, and more—they have in common their absolute commitment to what they do. Even if their tradition is not one I would usually be all that enthusiastic about, the passion and pride of our interviewees is contagious.
Setting up and conducting interviews and visits however definitely comes with a bit of a learning curve. There was some trial and error involved, but by now we have figured out how to balance everything. We need to prepare questions, check our recording equipment, and take care of the logistics. Once we are at the interview, it is critical to listen very closely while trying to come up with the next question and lead the conversation towards what we are looking for, all while taking care of the equipment. Luckily all of our interviewees so far have been extremely nice and welcoming. Still, we have to be prepared for anything and stay completely focused throughout. So yes, our days are fun, but also absolutely exhausting.
Of course, TAUNY does a whole lot more than just interviewing; they also organize workshops and concerts, and run a Folkstore with work from local artists. They take a very broad approach to celebrating local cultures, and getting to be a small part of that for me is still very exciting. Still, even if interviewing and documenting was all we did, it would already be a very worthwhile job. The people we meet have spent big chunks of their lives, if not all of it, developing their traditions and crafts. By going out to listen to their stories and learn from them, TAUNY gives recognition and validation. It creates a community for those involved and interested in traditional arts.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that a day of interviewing also means another day or two in the office just processing all the data we gather in the field. It’s not quite as glamorous as I like to think the interviews are, but still a vital part of the job. But yes, there is not much more to say about that, except that I am glad I finally found a comfortable chair in the office!