The center has been open for a full year. It’s a beautiful two story building on the campus of Fairmont State University, built on what used to be a dairy farm.
||The folklife center’s director, Judy Byers, is giving me a tour of the facility.
The first stop is a large classroom where Byers teaches some folk life courses.
Fairmont State University offers a minor in folklore studies, and this is where most of those classes are taught.
These classes include folk literature, regional cultural geography and history, and oral history techniques.
"Here, everything is conducted; everything from the folk arts, to a discussion, lecture to an introduction to folklore, and an analysis of genealogy and family histories, to exhibit work," Byers said.
There’s another very important room on the first floor of the center.
|It’s known as the archive room, and it’s got almost 100 cardboard boxes
in it, filled with artifacts, writings and other materials.
Some of the artifacts were donated to the center by families in the area.
Byers explains one artifact as she pulls it out of its box.
It’s known as an angel wreath, or death wreath. It’s a crown shaped object made of feathers.
"It’s an artifact. There’s an old Celtic belief that if within the pillow casing of someone who has died, there would be a collection, placed in a circle form of the actual feathers that was a sign that the person’s soul had indeed gone to heaven. So early farm families, the ladies would look for this kind of a structure," she said.
"When someone in the family died, and people died at home, they would after the death, of course clean and change the bedding, and look for these."
Many boxes contain writings. There are, for example, the unpublished papers of the late Ruth Ann Musick.
Musick was a folk tale scholar who spent years at Fairmont State teaching, editing the West Virginia Folklore Journal, and actively working with the West Virginia Folklore Society.
Byers is very excited about being in possession of many of Musick’s collected writings and work.
"You’re looking at collections of lore that have already been disseminated and have been categorized. Witch lore collection, ghost lore collection, ready to be put into either digital form, plus publications. Enough for 20 more books," Byers said.
"These are holdings from all over the state that she helped to put together."
On the second floor of the center, the building houses two rooms.
||One is the Great Room of Cultures, which contains displays giving
information about important industries that brought economic development
to the state of West Virginia, as well as the European immigrants and
African Americans who settled in the state to work in those industries.
"Who were all these people? First came the Native Americans, and then the German, Swiss settlements, the Welsh, the English, Scots-Irish, French, African Americans," said Byers.
"Then because of the Industrial Revolution, after the Civil War, coal and all of the other minerals like gas and zinc, opened up, and we needed more population. Railroads and timbering were developed to bring the populations in."
The final room of the center contains an exhibit honoring folk music in West Virginia.
Displays tell the story of folk singers and songwriters, as well as feature instruments used by Appalachian folk musicians.
Some of the instruments might seem crude: a washboard, bells, even a guitar made with cardboard and one string.
Others are more finely crafted: a mandolin, a banjo, a hammer dulcimer.
Byers says music bonded people together in Appalachia.
"Music is a universal language, and we have today a love for music. That’s why we wanted this exhibit, because we wanted to tell the story from the music," Byers said.
"Every Thursday night, we have a band that comes and practices. An old fashioned string band, they call themselves the Kennedy Barn String Band."
The folklife center is working on publishing the latest series of stories from Ruth Ann Musick’s collection.
A book of children’s stories is coming out next spring called “Mountain Mother Goose: Child Lore of West Virginia.”