by Steve Howe
Harney County folklife is alive and strong. That was the prevailing message at a presentation by Douglas Manger, a contract fieldworker for the Oregon Folklife Network. Manger presented at the Harney County Library on Thursday, May 8.
Manger, a folklorist based in Texas, spent a week-and-a-half in the county conducting a cultural survey of the area. This involved documenting the activities of some of the region’s “tradition-keepers.” These traditions include silver-smithing, bead-work, saddle-making, cowboy poetry, and fiddle-playing, among others.
Manger’s work supports a larger-scale project by the Oregon Folklife Network (OFN). Established in 2010, the mission of OFN is “…to make a meaningful difference in Oregon communities and Tribes by documenting, supporting, and celebrating our diverse cultural traditions and by empowering our tradition-bearers,” according to their website.
According to a press release from the University of Oregon, OFN was awarded funding by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for the purpose of documenting traditions and conducting surveys in Malheur, Harney, Lake, and Klamath counties.
Manger’s presentation encompassed both images and audio recordings. He traveled the county, taking photos and recording interviews with area musicians, craftspeople, artists, and others.
A few of Manger’s interviewees were in attendance at the presentation. Julie Johnson presented her Paiute bead-work, and discussed the various styles and how they have changed throughout the years. She also addressed the question of the importance of preserving cultural traditions. Working in the field of substance abuse prevention, Johnson recognized that these traditions play an integral part in deterring the use of drugs and alcohol.
“We always say, culture is prevention,” Johnson explained.
Another presenter, Randi Johnson, demonstrated the cowboy poetry tradition with the recitation of one of her poems.
According to Riki Saltzman, executive director of OFN, Manger’s report will be archived at the University of Oregon, and an edited version will be published on OFN’s website. The information will be used to make recommendations for, and to offer technical assistance to, local cultural organizations, communities, and individual folk artists.
Although Manger’s time in Harney County is complete, OFN welcomes anyone to offer recommendations for cultural traditions that they believe should be documented. Feel free to contact OFN at 541-346-3820, or through their website at ofn.uoregon.edu.