Alabama Folkways Articles

 December, 1996


by AimeƩ Schmidt

For over a year, folklorist AimeƩ Schmidt, of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, has been traveling the state's highways and backroads, with camera and tape recorder, exploring and documenting folk traditions--everything from hand-fishing (grappling) for catfish in the rural Black Belt region to constructing St. Joseph Day altars in the homes of Italian Americans in Birmingham. The results of her work will be exhibited in the State Capitol building in Montgomery beginning January 18, 1997.

Alabama Culture and Community is an exhibit of photographs, art objects and artifacts exploring the themes of home, work and ritual in the state's traditional culture. Organized by region (Northeast Alabama, Tennessee River Valley, Industrial Corridor, Black Belt, Piney Woods, Wiregrass and Gulf Coast), the exhibit is more a comprehensive survey of those traditional expressions of culture that have grown through time among the many communities that have settled in this state--communities that share the same historical occupation, religion or geographic area.

Through photographs, narrative and objects the exhibit travels the state taking the viewer to an all-day Sacred Harp singing with dinner-on-the-grounds on North Alabama's Sand Mountain, to the shop of Marion county folk potter Jerry Brown, to the Tennessee Valley Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention in Athens, to an East Indian Hindu celebration of Diwali (the Festival of Lights) in Montgomery, to a wild hog hunt in Choctaw County, to the world's largest peanut boil in Luverne, to the annual blessing-of-the-fleet celebration in Bayou La Batre on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

According to Henry Willett, Director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, "Alabama's cultural traditions are local, rooted in time and place, rooted in communities. Communities are defined by their past, through their stories and rituals, and through collective memory. It is Alabama's cultural traditions which give communities a sense of from where they have come and of how to feel a little better about where they are going. In communities throughout Alabama, a commitment to the maintenance of a link with the past reinforces trust in the future. Preserved, nurtured and passed down from one generation to the next, it is more Alabama's sturdy and varied cultural traditions which uniquely define the state and its regions."