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Lectures >> Botkin Flyers: Swaney Lecture
Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series: Texts from the Event
Bridles, Bits and Beads: Folk and Fieldwork from the High, Wide and Handsome
State of Montana
featuring Alexandra Swaney, Director of Folklife
Programs at the Montana Arts Council
by Alex Swaney
Thursday, July 21, 2005
12:00 noon to 1:00 pm
1st Floor, James Madison Building
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave., SE
The fast horses and Indians you see on this flyer conjure up a stereotypical
landscape of the Old West. It's an image from the Real Bird family's
re-enactment of the Custer's Last Stand. There still are cowboys
and Indians in Montana -- those are some of the peoples who live there
and many still do practice their traditional arts. But as everyone who
lives there knows, Montana is changing rapidly and becoming more of a playground
for people of means, and less of a bread and beef basket to the country.
In addition, there are traditional folk in Montana that defy many of the
usual characterizations we have in mind.
Bridles, Bits and Beads was the first traveling folk arts exhibit curated
and toured throughout Montana by Alexandra Swaney in her first two years
as folklife director at the Montana Arts Council. Dr. Swaney will present
a slide show with commentary covering this exhibit along with an overview
of the Montana Folklife Program of the last ten years, accompanied by audio
selections. You will meet such artists as:
Bill Allison, saddle maker from Roundup, Montana, who feels really good
about making something that suits the working cowboy, and about being able
to stay where he wants to be.
Nina Russell, jazz pianist born in Washington D.C. who worked in the Chicago
clubs in the thirties, spent the forties in Los Angeles, and came to Montana
because her father had been a buffalo soldier at Wounded Knee and later
in Montana. The last third of her life she became an institution in Kalispell,
Montana, playing every week at a local nightclub into her late eighties.
Bill Ohrmann, visionary painter, who at
age eighty began painting colorful scenes of the collapse of the earth
and its ecosystems, based on his personal experiences as a rancher in
the Flint Creek Valley of western Montana.
Iris Allrunner, star quilter and porcupine
quiller from the Fort Peck Reservation who founded the battered women's
shelter on the Fort Peck Reservation and believes that traditional arts
are essential to the continuing social and spiritual well-being her people.
Her quilts are also framed and hanging in the tribal casino.
John "the Yank" Harrington,
accordionist, who came from Ireland to Butte, Montana, but who vowed never
to work in the mines. He became a Butte institution, and for many years
collected and recorded many of the musicians who lived or came through
Butte. His collection is now being accessioned by the American Folk life
Alma Hogan Snell, Crow ethnobotanist
and relative of Chief Plenty Coups, and grand daughter of tribal elder
Pretty Shield, who knows the old ways of cooking and curing with the plants
growing right around her house.
Pat Kennedy, Chippewa Cree elder and
well-known composer of powwow social songs who was also a spiritual leader
and received an award from the Institute for Noetic Sciences for his attempt
to bridge the spiritual gap between white and Indian worlds.
Not forgetting that Montana really is a huge state with regions that have
their own identity, you will hear about lefse, lutefisk, and the poetry
and songs of D. W. Groethe from its Norwegian immigrant culture. You will
also experience slides and audio from fieldwork surveys from the last ten
years carried out by folklorists Blanton Owen
and Jens Lund in north central
and eastern Montana.
Alexandra Swaney received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University
of Colorado in 1975, based on fieldwork in Mexico, where she interviewed
elders in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila to discover cultural attitudes
toward aging, and found that their stories were far more interesting than
her dissertation topic. She has been Director of Folklife Programs at the
Montana Arts Council for the last nine years.