American Folk Art: A Guide to Sourcesby Simon J. Bronner

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  • American Folk Art: A Guide to Sources by Simon J. BronnerReview by: M. Jane YoungThe Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 98, No. 389 (Jul. - Sep., 1985), pp. 362-365Published by: American Folklore SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/539956 .Accessed: 19/12/2014 03:25

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  • BOOK REVIEWS BOOK REVIEWS

    prising is that High, with Ledford's help and support, packed up and lived alone in the Gorge for a summer-a fact one imagines few if any of the local residents may have been really ready for-and that she did this not in order to interview Gorge-dwellers but in order to experience

    something of the life that residents knew. Past Titan Rock is divided into three major portions, each of which involves a separate way of

    writing about culture. In Part I, the section bearing the book's title, High gives a personal account

    of her solitary stay in the Gorge. Interspersed with that account is High's version of the regional

    history, which she tells in an authoritative and interesting way. In Part II, "A View From Chim-

    ney Top," High presents generous pieces, punctuated with her own spare and appropriate com-

    mentary, from the masterfully told personal testimonies of Lily May Ledford. The beauty of this

    part is that High does not get in the way. Part III contains the surprise: it is fiction. High presents five short stories based on live expe-

    riences-hers and those told to her-about life in the Gorge. Many of the characters and story lines are recombined from collected personal narrative. Some details are creations of the author.

    One would think that this enterprise would weaken the book (Michener's Chesapeake, for in-

    stance, always leaves this reader oddly dissatisfied: the man did some real fieldwork-why didn't

    he just simply report on it rather than making stuff up? Does fiction enhance the telling of his-

    tory? Etc., etc.), but surprisingly High neither stereotypes nor romanticizes the people of the

    Red River Gorge by writing fiction about them. I suspect that she succeeds not because of her

    method (in her introduction High says that she hopes to avoid stereotyping her subjects by writ-

    ing "from several viewpoints, both in content and form") but because she is a personally and

    politically sensitized observer and a powerful author. Past Titan Rock is a remarkable book be-

    cause of the accurate detail and human truth contained in its pages.

    University of Pennsylvania MARIA BOYNTON

    Philadelphia

    Material Culture

    American Folk Art: A Guide to Sources. By Simon J. Bronner. (New York: Garland Publishing,

    1984. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities vol. 464. Pp. xxxi + 313, preface, intro-

    duction, about the editor and contributors, illustrations, indices. $35.00)

    Production of an annotated bibliography is frequently a cumbersome and thankless task, de-

    spite the great contribution it makes to scholarship in a discipline. One can easily point to ref-

    erences and topics that "should have been" included, for the nature of such a work is that it can

    be neither all-inclusive nor definitive. Simon J. Bronner, editor of American Folk Art: A Guide to

    Sources, circumvents this problem to some extent by making no attempt to encompass every

    aspect of American folk art. Rather, he chooses to include only certain "major topics," which he

    and the volume's contributors, whose areas of expertise include these topics, address in biblio-

    graphic essays. By emphasizing such topics Bronner is "affirming that the study of folk art

    spreads out to social and historical issues, not inward to a narrow devotion to the object" (p. ix).

    Thus, these essays and their cited references tend to be primarily interpretive works, focusing on

    the study of objects in their cultural context rather than in isolation.

    Bronner's introduction offers a brief sketch of "the emergence of folk art as a term and concept

    in the literature of cultural studies" (p. xii). He traces the development of interest in folk art

    prising is that High, with Ledford's help and support, packed up and lived alone in the Gorge for a summer-a fact one imagines few if any of the local residents may have been really ready for-and that she did this not in order to interview Gorge-dwellers but in order to experience

    something of the life that residents knew. Past Titan Rock is divided into three major portions, each of which involves a separate way of

    writing about culture. In Part I, the section bearing the book's title, High gives a personal account

    of her solitary stay in the Gorge. Interspersed with that account is High's version of the regional

    history, which she tells in an authoritative and interesting way. In Part II, "A View From Chim-

    ney Top," High presents generous pieces, punctuated with her own spare and appropriate com-

    mentary, from the masterfully told personal testimonies of Lily May Ledford. The beauty of this

    part is that High does not get in the way. Part III contains the surprise: it is fiction. High presents five short stories based on live expe-

    riences-hers and those told to her-about life in the Gorge. Many of the characters and story lines are recombined from collected personal narrative. Some details are creations of the author.

    One would think that this enterprise would weaken the book (Michener's Chesapeake, for in-

    stance, always leaves this reader oddly dissatisfied: the man did some real fieldwork-why didn't

    he just simply report on it rather than making stuff up? Does fiction enhance the telling of his-

    tory? Etc., etc.), but surprisingly High neither stereotypes nor romanticizes the people of the

    Red River Gorge by writing fiction about them. I suspect that she succeeds not because of her

    method (in her introduction High says that she hopes to avoid stereotyping her subjects by writ-

    ing "from several viewpoints, both in content and form") but because she is a personally and

    politically sensitized observer and a powerful author. Past Titan Rock is a remarkable book be-

    cause of the accurate detail and human truth contained in its pages.

    University of Pennsylvania MARIA BOYNTON

    Philadelphia

    Material Culture

    American Folk Art: A Guide to Sources. By Simon J. Bronner. (New York: Garland Publishing,

    1984. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities vol. 464. Pp. xxxi + 313, preface, intro-

    duction, about the editor and contributors, illustrations, indices. $35.00)

    Production of an annotated bibliography is frequently a cumbersome and thankless task, de-

    spite the great contribution it makes to scholarship in a discipline. One can easily point to ref-

    erences and topics that "should have been" included, for the nature of such a work is that it can

    be neither all-inclusive nor definitive. Simon J. Bronner, editor of American Folk Art: A Guide to

    Sources, circumvents this problem to some extent by making no attempt to encompass every

    aspect of American folk art. Rather, he chooses to include only certain "major topics," which he

    and the volume's contributors, whose areas of expertise include these topics, address in biblio-

    graphic essays. By emphasizing such topics Bronner is "affirming that the study of folk art

    spreads out to social and historical issues, not inward to a narrow devotion to the object" (p. ix).

    Thus, these essays and their cited references tend to be primarily interpretive works, focusing on

    the study of objects in their cultural context rather than in isolation.

    Bronner's introduction offers a brief sketch of "the emergence of folk art as a term and concept

    in the literature of cultural studies" (p. xii). He traces the development of interest in folk art

    362 362

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    http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

  • BOOK REVIEWS

    studies in America and Europe, its relationship to disciplines such as art history and anthropol- ogy, and the change in meaning which the term "folk art" itself has undergone. Some of this information is amplified in his essay, "History and Background."

    The other major topics addressed by contributors to this volume, each of whose essay contains its own separate annotated bibliography, fall, according to Bronner, into three main groups. The first group, on the methods and components of folk art study as a whole, includes "Background and History" by SimonJ. Bronner, "Art Criticism and Aesthetic Philosophy" by Michael Owen

    Jones and Verni Greenfield, and "Genres" by Kenneth L. Ames. The second group serves as a guide to "important groups, individuals, and themes in recent folk art study" (p. xxv) and in- cludes "Biographies" by Sara Selene Faulds and Amy Skillman, "Region and Locality" by C. Kurt Dewhurst and Marsha MacDowell, "Ethnicity and Religion" by Robert T. Teske, "Afro- Americans" by Eugene W. Metcalf, "Workers and Trades" by Doris D. Fanelli and Simon J. Bronner, "Symbol, Image and Theme" by Elaine Eff, and "Topics on the Horizon" (including "Public Folk Arts," "Folk Art and Aging," "Folk Art and Gender," and "Commercialization, Popularization and Modernization") by Simon J. Bronner. The third group is devoted to "re- sources and applications of folk art study and education" (p. xxv) and includes "Educators and Classrooms" by Kristin G. Congdon and "Films" by William Ferris. There is also a section con-

    cerning "Collectors and Museums" by Elizabeth Mosby Adler, which Bronner doesn't include with any of the above. The book concludes with Author and Subject indices, both of which enhance its value as a reference tool.

    Without a doubt, the topics discussed are of major importance in the study of folk art. Never- theless, Bronner offers no strong rationale or guiding principle to explain the inclusion of these topics or the exclusion of others. The choice appears, instead, to be determined and/or limited by the special areas of expertise of the editor and his contributors. The result is a somewhat un- even treatment of issues and areas in folk art study. Perhaps in anticipation of this criticism, Bron- ner comments in the introduction that "It is a guide which may not have everything you are looking for or you think should be there, but it will provide leads, some opinions, at least a fair share of answers, and some good questions to ask" (p. xii). What seems to be missing, however, is a clear statement of what the editor and the various contributors take as their definition of "folk art." There is clearly no single definition which informs all of the essays, but this fact in itself could have been a subject for discussion in the introduction to the volume. One might ask, for instance, why there is a separate section on Afro-Americans, but not one on Native Americans or Chicanos. It would be interesting to know whether such omissions are the result of major theoretical stances (for instance, that Native American art is primitive art, not folk art, and that not enough research has been conducted on Chicano folk art to merit its inclusion), or whether they were based somewhat arbitrarily on the interests of the editor or contributors, or whether they were due to something else entirely. Although not much has been written about Chicano folk art, some scholars do regard material on Native Americans as germane to the field. The essay in this volume by Jones and Greenfield ("Art Criticism and Aesthetic Philosophy"), for example, relies heavily on sources concerning Native American art.

    In addition to the lack of a strong definitional stance, the essays themselves are uneven. Some are too short to treat the topic under discussion adequately, or even to qualify as "essays." This criticism applies to the bibliographical annotations as well. Some are too short to be helpful to readers who do not have prior knowledge of the works cited, and many lack critical commentary on their relevant publication. The volume would have benefited greatly from more comprehen- sive essays and from annotations that included critical commentary. Of course this would have necessitated a somewhat longer book, but would, I believe, have made American Folk Art of more general use. There is also a great deal of redundancy in the annotated references; some works, especially those by Bronner andJones, are repeated and re-annotated over and over in the various

    363

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  • BOOK REVIEWS

    topical sections. This is a consequence, of course, of having separate annotated bibliographies for each topic rather than a single, central annotated bibliography to which each essay could refer

    by means of numbered entries. Organization of entries by topic does, however, make it easier to find thematically linked references than would a single, central annotated bibliography. Fi-

    nally, the number of typographical errors and awkward phrases throughout the book detract from its readability and comprehensibility. Surely so expensive a book could have been edited more rigorously.

    In addition to the above-mentioned technical problems, the volume displays a theoretical

    stance I find disturbing, particularly given Bronner's statement that the book is a "social state-

    ment of its time" (p. xxv). Bronner's own essays, which purport to outline major trends in

    American folk art scholarship, contain some surprising statements about masculine and feminine

    trends in the discipline. These statements, the implications of which are quite serious, are made

    in a somewhat casual manner and would benefit from explication and substantiation. I refer to

    comments which describe a "feminine view" (p. xx), "feminine, leisurely tastes" (p. 2 and cited

    on p. 226 by Adler in reference to Bronner's mention of"feminine taste"), and "masculine and

    feminine perspectives" in folk art study. The following is an example of Bronner's use of such

    terms.

    Mounting awareness of social issues may yet initiate a sociology of folk art study. For instance, one could con- sider the change in folk art study over the last few decades from the "aesthetic" approach to the folkloristic model as a shift from feminine to masculine perspectives. The decorative emphasis on painting and sculpture current among the collectors of the thirties came largely from wealthy women. The folklorists of the seventies

    studying folk art commonly were men stressing masculine genres oftools and technical crafts. They were closer to the class of the people they studied, and more easily called for the study of their art in context. [p. 4]

    Earlier in this essay Bronner equates the "aesthetic approach" with that typical of the approach taken in art history, which focused on isolated objects rather than cultural context in folk art

    study. But the implication of the above-cited passage is that the study of objects taken out of

    context-a "decorative" emphasis-constitute a feminine perspective, whereas the contextual,

    tool- and technique-oriented approach is masculine. I find this position untenable. Although folk

    art study in the 1930s may have included some wealthy female collectors, the resultant perspec- tive seems to have been shaped more by social class, or even academic orientation or lack thereof,

    than gender. Surely, the "aesthetic" approach also owes its origins to male art historians and

    collectors; nor do the attitudes of a few, albeit influential, women constitute a "feminine per-

    spective." Bronner also ignores the women who did conduct research on contextual aspects of

    folk art in the 1930s. For instance, Ruth Bunzel's book, The Pueblo Potter, can hardly be cate-

    gorized as acontextual, nor does it ignore the techniques and tools used in pottery production.

    Perhaps its publication date of 1929 disqualifies it from "the thirties," but Bronner's temporal frameworks are somewhat vague. Further, although the most visible figures who employed the

    contextual approach in folk art studies in the 1970s may have been men, it seems odd to char-

    acterize the contextual approach itself as an essentially masculine one, particularly since a number

    of prominent figures at this time who espoused the "aesthetic" approach, especially art histori-

    cans and collectors, were also men. Rather than assign this new direction in folk art studies to a

    shift in gender-related perspectives, I suggest that it has arisen in recent decades from an emphasis

    (not necessarily masculine) within the discipline of folklore itself on context, process, and per- formance.

    Finally, there is a kind of class implication in the above-cited passage that is also puzzling. Bronner suggests that the male folklorists of the 1970s studying folk art were closer to the class

    of the folk they studied than were the wealthy women of the 1930s and that hence the men were

    more appreciative of context. I suspect that all folklorists of the 1970s were, by and large, from

    364

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  • BOOK REVIEWS BOOK REVIEWS

    a much higher socioeconomic class than the folk artists they studied. Furthermore, closeness in class need not be a necessary condition to the study of folk art in context. As I mentioned earlier, the current emphasis on context in folk art studies is due largely to the emphasis on context throughout the entire discipline of folklore-an academic, rather than a sociological issue. I find Bronner's attempt to frame such important issues casually in terms of gender- and class-related perspectives to be inappropriate.

    Despite my criticisms of certain facets of this volume, it clearly meets a pressing need in folk art study, particularly because it includes a number of seldom-cited but valuable sources and also contributes to the related disciplines of American studies, art history, folklore, and anthropol- ogy. Taken as a whole it stands as a useful research tool and one that has been long-awaited by scholars of folk art.

    University of Texas M. JANE YOUNG Austin

    Book Notes

    The Occult in America: New Historical Perspectives. Edited by Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. Pp. 246, introduction, contributors, index, foot- notes, illustrations. $16.95)

    Until recently, occult activities and their place in popular culture received little scholarly at- tention. Considered bizarre aberrations, they and the social movements they spawned were rel- egated to the status of footnotes in the history of American civilization. This situation is chang- ing, however, as scholars reexamine assumptions about the marginality of the occult and docu- ment the persistent presence of occult activities in American history.

    The Occult in America is a valuable addition to this scholarship. Although historical in focus, its contributors come from several disciplines, including folklore, literature, and sociology. Its ten essays cover a wide range of topics: the Salem witchcraft trials, the Fox sisters and spiritu- alism, Theosophy, the impact of the occult on Mormonism and Christian Science, women in occult movements, paranormal memorates, and UFOlogy's battle for scientific credibility.

    The tone of the volume is set by the editors' introduction and by Robert Galbreath's opening chapter. Kerr and Crow discuss common themes and influences among the threads of American occultism. Noting the complexity of connections among various occult movements and schools, they compare the situation to "a historical hourglass in which the sands of witchcraft, popular ghostlore, mesmerism, Swedenborgianism, and scientism pour through the channel of spiritu- alism, then ... disperse into Theosophy and parapsychology" (p. 4). Galbreath's provocative essay questions the notion of"occult revivals," the equation of occultism with irrationalism, and the frequent attempts to label occult activities as manifestations of historical crises. He also points out the need for greater terminological precision in defining the area.

    Most immediately interesting to folklorists are the essays by Larry Danielson and Jon Butler. Danielson compares paranormal memorates and popular printed pieces to the "objectively ver- ifiable" accounts considered most reliable by parapsychologists. Analyzing them in light of their characteristics as folk narratives, he argues that "sensitivity to the ways that narrative transforms experience . . . will ultimately clarify the truths that paranormal memorates seek to express" (p.

    a much higher socioeconomic class than the folk artists they studied. Furthermore, closeness in class need not be a necessary condition to the study of folk art in context. As I mentioned earlier, the current emphasis on context in folk art studies is due largely to the emphasis on context throughout the entire discipline of folklore-an academic, rather than a sociological issue. I find Bronner's attempt to frame such important issues casually in terms of gender- and class-related perspectives to be inappropriate.

    Despite my criticisms of certain facets of this volume, it clearly meets a pressing need in folk art study, particularly because it includes a number of seldom-cited but valuable sources and also contributes to the related disciplines of American studies, art history, folklore, and anthropol- ogy. Taken as a whole it stands as a useful research tool and one that has been long-awaited by scholars of folk art.

    University of Texas M. JANE YOUNG Austin

    Book Notes

    The Occult in America: New Historical Perspectives. Edited by Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. Pp. 246, introduction, contributors, index, foot- notes, illustrations. $16.95)

    Until recently, occult activities and their place in popular culture received little scholarly at- tention. Considered bizarre aberrations, they and the social movements they spawned were rel- egated to the status of footnotes in the history of American civilization. This situation is chang- ing, however, as scholars reexamine assumptions about the marginality of the occult and docu- ment the persistent presence of occult activities in American history.

    The Occult in America is a valuable addition to this scholarship. Although historical in focus, its contributors come from several disciplines, including folklore, literature, and sociology. Its ten essays cover a wide range of topics: the Salem witchcraft trials, the Fox sisters and spiritu- alism, Theosophy, the impact of the occult on Mormonism and Christian Science, women in occult movements, paranormal memorates, and UFOlogy's battle for scientific credibility.

    The tone of the volume is set by the editors' introduction and by Robert Galbreath's opening chapter. Kerr and Crow discuss common themes and influences among the threads of American occultism. Noting the complexity of connections among various occult movements and schools, they compare the situation to "a historical hourglass in which the sands of witchcraft, popular ghostlore, mesmerism, Swedenborgianism, and scientism pour through the channel of spiritu- alism, then ... disperse into Theosophy and parapsychology" (p. 4). Galbreath's provocative essay questions the notion of"occult revivals," the equation of occultism with irrationalism, and the frequent attempts to label occult activities as manifestations of historical crises. He also points out the need for greater terminological precision in defining the area.

    Most immediately interesting to folklorists are the essays by Larry Danielson and Jon Butler. Danielson compares paranormal memorates and popular printed pieces to the "objectively ver- ifiable" accounts considered most reliable by parapsychologists. Analyzing them in light of their characteristics as folk narratives, he argues that "sensitivity to the ways that narrative transforms experience . . . will ultimately clarify the truths that paranormal memorates seek to express" (p.

    365 365

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    Article Contentsp. 362p. 363p. 364p. 365

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 98, No. 389 (Jul. - Sep., 1985), pp. 259-384Front MatterThe Symbolic Village: Community Born in Performance [pp. 259-286]Treasure Tales and Pedagogical Discourse in Mexicano New Mexico [pp. 287-314]The Serious Side of Jump Rope: Conversational Practices and Social Organization in the Frame of Play [pp. 315-330]NotesDi folkloristik: A Good Yiddish Word [pp. 331-334]On the Final [s] in "Folkloristics" [pp. 334-336]

    Book ReviewsGamesReview: untitled [pp. 337-339]

    Folklore and IdeologyReview: untitled [pp. 339-340]

    FolktaleReview: untitled [pp. 340-342]Review: untitled [pp. 342-344]Review: untitled [pp. 344-346]Review: untitled [pp. 347-348]Review: untitled [pp. 348-350]Review: untitled [pp. 350-351]

    FolksongReview: untitled [pp. 351-353]Review: untitled [pp. 353-354]Review: untitled [pp. 354-356]Review: untitled [pp. 356-358]

    FolklifeReview: untitled [pp. 358-360]Review: untitled [pp. 360-361]Review: untitled [pp. 361-362]

    Material CultureReview: untitled [pp. 362-365]

    Book NotesReview: untitled [pp. 365-366]Review: untitled [pp. 366-367]Review: untitled [pp. 367-368]Review: untitled [p. 368]Review: untitled [pp. 368-369]

    Record ReviewsFrom ContributorsReview: Ragtime [pp. 370-371]Review: Italian-American Records [pp. 371-374]

    Film ReviewsOccupational FolkloreReview: untitled [pp. 375-376]Review: untitled [pp. 376-378]

    FolklifeReview: untitled [p. 378]

    Folk Music and DanceReview: untitled [pp. 379-380]

    Back Matter [pp. 381-384]

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