by Jeremy Morrison
What is folk art? Amanda Hardeman’s definition includes everything from seafood to song to shoe shining. She sees it as a “living and breathing” part of a society that travels “over time and space.”
“It’s not static, culture changes over time,” Hardeman said, boiling down the academics of folk art. “It’s at the intersection of artfulness and life.”
As Florida’s state folklorist, Hardeman has immersed herself in the state’s cultural riches. During an August 15 visit to Pensacola, she relayed some of the folk art finds that the Florida Department of State has tagged as significant and culturally relevant.
“Anyone familiar with shape note singing?” Hardeman asked her audience at the Voices of Pensacola’s downtown space. “Very common in north Florida, south Alabama and south Georgia.”
The folklorist explained that shape note singing — where singers, sometimes illiterate, used shapes to determine a note’s place on the scale — was regionally popular at one time among a particular population, and therefore it constitutes folk art and is considered an important and colorful strand in the state’s overall cultural story.
Hardeman said that the state of Florida has varying forms of folk art, with a range of influences depending on where in the state you might be. In the Panhandle, she listed off such cultural particulars as fishing, beekeeping, broommaking and quilting, as well as woodcarving, origami and square dancing.
There’s also worm grunting, popular in Apalachicola. This is the process by which people in the region use a metal pole to beat on a wooden stake inserted in the mud to lure — or grunt — worms to the surface, to then scoop them up and sell them as bait.
The folklorist said that the state routinely conducts folk art surveys. The Panhandle saw them in 1981 and, more recently, from 2011 through 2013.
She described some field finds from the 1981 survey that included the recordings of local gospel musicians. Cuing up the state’s online — and publicly available database — she played a version of “Careless Love” by local singer Ida Goodson.
Towards the end of her presentation — put on by Robert Robino Productions, the University of West Florida Historic Trust and the Florida Folklife Program — the state folklorist encouraged attendees to check into opportunities for folk art participants. She said the state has grants available, as well as apprenticeship and award opportunities to further Florida’s cultural endeavors.
The pursuit of cataloging, preserving and furthering the state’s folk art, Hardeman said, is important because ultimately such art, or cultural particulars, defines the people of Florida. The folklorist illustrated this point fairly well when she dug a definition out of her own title.
“Folklore,” Hardeman said, “literally translates into ‘knowledge of the people.’”
To hear field recordings made in the early 1980s of local gospel singer Ida Goodson, check out the state archives here.
Prior to Florida Folklorist Amanda Hardeman’s presentation, local group Polimabatree performed. Enjoy a sample of their performance, as Lepolean Williams accompanies Abena Whasayo Isake’s poetry with his playing of the kora.