Folklife

Artist Harold Akyeampong honored with Nevada Arts Council Folk Arts Fellowship

The 2022 recipient of the Nevada Arts Council’s Folk Arts Fellowship is Harold Akyeampong of North Las Vegas. Born and raised in Ghana, West Africa, he moved to Las Vegas from New York City. His passion for Ghanaian ceremonial music, dance, folktales, and rituals has been shared with students and audiences at the Brooklyn Arts Council, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, City Lore, the Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theater, and many other prominent arts and cultural organizations. 

 

Akyeampong’s work in Nevada as a Ghanaian African dance teacher and performer, drum master, choreographer, ethnomusicologist, producer and citizen folklorist has been focused in “hands-on” school and community-based workshops that explore the profound impact of African music on world music styles. He presents the creative, rhythmic, and musical aspects of Ghanaian music-making as a vital, integral, and essential element of community life. 

 

“Growing up in rural Ghana, it was common to see young people following, helping and learning from master performers in a community,” Akyeampong said. “This was how the knowledge and love of local folklore and folklife and folk arts was passed down to me.” He pursued those interests with study at the Institute of African Studies’ School of Performing Arts at the University of Ghana in Legon-Accra and later at the State University of New York.  

“I continue to participate in this art form because it shows and validates my identity, my sense of pride, and provides the opportunity for a career as a cultural ambassador—teaching and performing for both Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian audiences and students as a way of encouraging global multicultural understanding and appreciation,” he said. 

 

The Folk Arts Fellowship celebrates the vitality of Nevada’s Folk and Traditional Arts. It recognizes artists living in Nevada who demonstrate excellence in their work. Folk arts are maintained within communities defined by cultural connections such as a common ethnic heritage, language, religion, occupation, or geographic area. They include traditional hand-crafted objects, ceremonial costumes, music, dance, rituals/celebrations, and verbal arts. 

 

For more about Nevada Arts Council grants visit the agency’s web page on grant offerings. 

 

Photo exhibit showcasing Nevadans, cultural identity opens at state museum in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — “Find Your Folklife: We Are ‘the Folk,’ All of Us,” is on display at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas; an online version of the innovative photo exhibit also is available on the museum’s website. The exhibit originally debuted in July at the Winchester-Dondero Cultural Center.

“We’re proud to offer this photo exhibit, which provides a nuanced look at cultural identity and how that is expressed by Nevadans,” Sarah Hulme, who manages the museum’s photos and outreach, said.

The exhibit, curated by the Nevada Arts Council Folklife Program, features photographs of Nevadans dressed to represent different cultural identities, each paired with a photograph of the same person in “everyday” dress as he or she might appear at home, work, or enjoying recreational activities. These photo pairs have been combined on “lenticular two-flip” panels so that as the viewer approaches, he or she sees just one of the photos. As the viewer passes by the panel, it “flips” to the other image as though by magic. The effect is created by interleaving the images on narrow strips that are refracted through an overlying lens to create the startling “two-flip” effect. Each image pair is accompanied by a statement in the model’s own words that speaks to some aspect of cultural community or identity.

Folklife, folk arts, and folklore all spring from cultural identity, which comes from belonging to a social group, according to Nevada Arts Council Folklife Specialist Rebecca Snetselaar. Family heritage — national or ethnic — often informs a person’s sense of self. Cultural identity also may derive from language, gender, religion, age, occupation, and sense of place. Culture is something we share with others in a social group. It’s our folklife: our common values and beliefs, the creative ways we express identity in a group, the knowledge we share, the objects that hold significance and meaning, the activities we engage in as a community.

“Find Your Folklife: We Are ‘the Folk,’ All of Us,” can be seen at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, 309 S. Valley View Blvd. in Las Vegas (on the Springs Preserve campus). The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Monday. For museum info and ticket information, visit LasVegasNVMuseum.org.

EDITORS: For an image from the exhibit, click here.

The Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, is one of seven state museums, and is part of the Nevada Division of Museums and History. The Nevada Division of Museums and History preserves, shares and promotes the understanding and celebration of Nevada’s natural and cultural heritage for the enrichment of all generations. Details: NVMuseums.org.

The Nevada Arts Council is part of the Nevada Division of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. Its mission is to enrich the cultural life of the state through leadership that preserves, supports, strengthens, and makes excellence in the arts accessible to all Nevadans.

Media contacts: Sarah Hulme, Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas
shulme@nevadaculture.org, 702 822 8738
Rebecca Snetselaar, Nevada Arts Council
rsnetselaar@nevadaculture.org, 702-486-3739

Rawhide Braiding with Doug Groves

by Rebecca Snetselaar, Folklife Specialist, Nevada Arts Council, 2020

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering draws people to Elko, Nevada in late January, when the chances of a blizzard—or black ice on the roads, or frigid temperatures—are significant. Most drive in from somewhere, braving the wintry mix and making it over some pass by the skin of their teeth, with bragging rights. A few of us, less intrepid or coming from a longer distance away, rely upon the airplane that comes from Salt Lake City to get to the Gathering on time.

Doug Groves’ Rawhide Braiding workshop at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2020. Click to open a new tab and view the photo album in the online Nevada Folklife Archives.

Many of the folks in Doug Groves’ rawhide braiding workshop appear to be the over-the-road variety, accustomed to surmounting whatever weather is thrown at them. They are Westerners, at home in desolate landscapes of mountains, deserts, and distant horizons. They appear to be quite serious about learning how to work with rawhide to create horse gear—reins, hackamores, romals, bosals, reatas, quirts and the like. They have committed to a four-day learning experience where Doug introduces the entire process, from harvesting the hide to completion of a set of button-studded leather bridle reins with a 12-strand rawhide romal.

Doug is a regular workshop presenter at the annual gathering, passing on the traditional art of turning rawhide into fine horse gear. His son Grant and daughter Kat are there to help, along with master braider Charlie Liesen and workshop “alumni” from past years. It’s great to see the experienced braiders lending a hand to show the novices how it’s done.

Doug and Grant Groves, Folklife Apprenticeship project, c. 2000. Photo by Andrea Graham. Click to open a new tab and view the photo album in the online Nevada Folklife Archives.

Doug Groves was recognized last year with the Nevada Arts Council’s first-ever Folk Arts Fellowship, a $5,000 grant that recognizes outstanding accomplishments in the folk arts by Nevadans. He is a past recipient of the Nevada Heritage Award and the Governor’s Arts Award. He has also completed folklife apprenticeship projects to teach his son Grant techniques for braiding and working with rawhide.

“Many of the old Rawhiders were very guarded in revealing their secrets,” he explained in his fellowship grant application. “If you were lucky enough to find an old Rawhider to teach you, you would learn not only the art, but also the history and folklore that went along with it. In learning to tie a button, you would ask, ‘Who taught you… where did you work with him?’ Soon you would hear cowboy stories and ranch histories. You would discover a rawhide genealogy of who taught who and what ranches they had worked on together: a verbal history known only to those who were blessed to work with the old time Rawhiders.

“I’ve been braiding rawhide for 40 years,” he explained. “In 1979 Frank Hansen from Lakeview, Oregon helped me get started. Frank and I worked on the MC ranch at Adel, Oregon. Rawhide braiding is an occupational art practiced on ranches throughout the Great Basin and Nevada. While working on many of these large ranches, I sought out other Rawhiders and learned from many: Stewart Elsner, Roger Fisher, Charlie Liesen, Randy Stowell, all exceptional Rawhiders.

“The Great Basin Buckaroo has a rich cultural heritage, unique to the American west,” he concluded. “We have been blessed with the opportunity to teach this art form and preserve a great part of our Nevada History.”

Doug’s daughter Kat Cavasin is also an accomplished rawhide braider and helps out with the workshops.

Doug Groves’ Rawhide Braiding workshop at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2020.

#NVFolkFAN #cowboypoetrygathering #rawhidebraiding

We Are the Folk!

By Rebecca Snetselaar, Folklife Specialist, Nevada Arts Council

Before there was folklore, there was lore, something that was taught.

The English word “folklore” appeared in 1846, describing “traditional beliefs and customs of the common people” that were shared by word of mouth. As a field of academic study, it focused at first on oral traditions and was associated with the study of language and literature.

By the middle of the 20th Century people in America had come to understand folk music, folk dance, folk tales, folk art, and folk medicine as old-fashioned or primitive art forms to be preserved intact as unchanging artifacts of cultural heritage.

Meanwhile American folklorists – scholars who study and document folklore – were coming to new understandings about what they were studying. Their interests had begun to shift from the “folklore” itself to the way it was passed on, and to the cultural communities in which it was shared.

The word “folklife” came into common usage in the 1960s to describe the living traditions, activities, skills, and products (such as handicrafts) of any particular people or group that are continually passed on in everyday life through word of mouth, observation, and practice.

So, every person, and every group of people, has folklife; and we are all “the folk.”

That idea took hold in 1976 at the Bicentennial Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of folklorists and thousands of participants came together on the National Mall to celebrate and share the dazzling array of “everyday arts” that folklife encompasses.

The next year the National Endowment for the Arts hired folklorist Bess Lomax Hawes to direct its Folk Arts program. With her support, folklorists were recruited to develop programs in almost every state. These Folklife or Folk Arts Programs—many operating under the umbrella of a statewide arts council—expanded the reach of their agencies to include folk artists and “culture bearers” in cultural communities outside the mainstream.

Today the Nevada Arts Council’s Folklife Program still offers grants for people and community organizations that work to sustain living artistic traditions—dancing, making music, storytelling, handcrafts, celebrations and rituals—that are preserved within their own cultural communities in Nevada.

To get a Nevada Arts Council folklife grant, applicants have to establish a few things:

  • Identify and describe the particular art form or art forms that are being shared.
  • Identify and describe the“folk group” or “cultural community” that is represented by the artist or art form. Folklife and folk art only exist within a cultural community.
  • Explain the significance or meaning of the art form that’s being presented to people who belong to that cultural community, and how it is typically shared or passed on.
  • Describe the qualifications of the “folk arts master” or “culture bearer” to perform, teach, and share the art form within their cultural community.

The NAC folklorists are always available to advise and help with this process, and eager to find out more about the folklore, folklife, and folk arts that are resident in Nevada.

Sauce, Not Gravy!

by Rebecca Snetselaar, Folklife Specialist, Nevada Arts Council, 2019

Click to open a new tab and view the photo album in the online Nevada Folklife Archives.

Foodways are one of the easiest kinds of folklife to find. Recipes that families brought with them when they came to the United States are treasured and passed down through generations. They may have secret ingredients (not to be shared outside the family). Some evolve over time, adapted to changing tastes, the availability of ingredients, and the creative impulses of a new generation of cooks.

The Eldorado’s annual Great Italian Festival in Reno includes a friendly competition that invites families in Nevada and neighboring California to share a family recipe for Italian sauce. This year (the 38th annual) there were about two dozen families, each manning a booth emblazoned with the family name and the region of Italy they were representing. Some families have been participating for decades.


Contestants provide their shopping lists in advance, and the Eldorado delivers the requested ingredients to the family booths on Fourth Street. Then the cooking begins: chopping, sautéing, stirring, seasoning, tasting. It’s a family affair, with all ages taking hand in the work. Family and friends continue to arrive from near and far, greeting each other warmly, catching up on each other’s lives.

“We tried to get grandma’s recipe but we could never get her to write it down,” one contestant told me. “And she never measured anything: a handful of this, a pinch of that, a little less, like this.” So, the family weighed all the ingredients before she started cooking, and then weighed them again after her sauce was done, in hopes of being able to replicate the mouth-watering results she invariably achieved.


By noon the sauces are cooked and the servers are poised behind their pots, with ladles at the ready. The Eldorado provides the pasta. A $5 bill buys four generous scoops in a foil muffin tin. Then the tasting begins. E’ favoloso, e’ fantastico! Molto Italiano! Lines snake through the crowd as people queue up for their favorite, or to try something new.


Meanwhile, behind the booths, families and friends gather to feast privately on special treats prepared just for them: I saw antipasto and caprese, zeppole and cornettos, prosciutto and soppressata, tiramisù and panna cotta… How many Italian words do Americans use to describe food? Quite a few! And wine, to wash the food down and toast the cooks.Salute!


Grazie mille to the Eldorado Resorts’ Carano family for supporting this community event in downtown Reno for nearly 40 years (first held in 1980), and to the families who participate. To see more photos from my foray to the 2019 Eldorado Great Italian Festival Sauce Cook-Off, visit the Nevada Folklife Archives on Flickr.Salute!

#NVFolkFAN #saucenotgravy #renoitalianfestival