East Central and Southeastern Illinois Folk Arts Surveys Collection, 1976-2003



Staff for the first two folk arts surveys included folklorist Jens Lund and traditional music fieldworkers Garry Harrison, Dave Miller, and Lynn Smith. Folklorists Judith McCulloh, Roger Welsch, and Sandy Ives served as consultants, while Vaughn Jaenike, then Dean of the School of Fine Arts at EIU, was principal investigator.

For the third survey, folklorist Jan Laude investigated folk artists and the human landscape, while folklorist Paul Tyler, assisted by John Holliday, focused on musical traditions. The principal investigator was Phillip M. Settle, then Assistant Dean of the School of Fine Arts at EIU.

Project History

The first broad reconnaissance survey of folk artists and musicians covered the southeastern quadrant of Illinois. From September 1976 through March 1977, folklorist Jens Lund canvassed Clark, Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Effingham, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lawrence, Marion, Massac, Richland, Saline, Wabash, and Washington counties, and crept over into Clinton, Jackson, and Union counties to the southwest. He interviewed nearly 100 people, filing reports on roughly half of them (c. 58), and documenting them through color slides and black and white photography. They included a preponderance of quilters and rug makers (braided, hooked, and woven); a range of needleworkers, woodcarvers, woodworkers, and furniture makers; basket- and broom-makers; chair caners and doll makers; blacksmiths, harnessmakers, and wagon builders; commercial fishermen, builders of johnboats, reelfoot boats, hoop nets, and slat traps; decoy carvers and rifle builders; and a number of miniaturists, mixed media sculptors, and yard ornament fashioners. The field documentation and artifacts gathered during this first, broad survey supported a 1977 exhibit in EIU's Sargent Gallery, which also featured artist demonstrations. Many of the artists who performed at the exhibit were also invited to demonstrate at the Festival of the Arts Celebration '77.

The second survey that began in 1978 sought greater documentary depth and focused on fewer traditional artists, most within a 50-mile radius of Charleston, including a hooked rug maker, a landscape painter, furniture makers, woodcarvers, rifle makers, broom makers, commercial fishing johnboat and gear builders, and foragers. Jens Lund interviewed ten artists, revisiting some from the prior survey, in Cumberland, Edgar, Lawrence, and Montgomery counties; he canvassed a range of Amish woodworking, weaving, and machine shops in Douglas and Moultrie counties, and inspected three major quilt collections in Edgar County. Some of these artists performed at EIU's Festival of the Arts Celebration '79. A traveling exhibit and catalog, Folk Artists and Folk Arts in East Central and Southeastern Illinois: A Profile, drew on the field research from 1976 to 1983 and featured more than 90 artists, “painters, carvers, poets, musicians, builders [johnboats, cupolas, models, toys], makers [baskets, carvings, lace, paintings, weaving, dolls, leather work, blacksmithed ironwork, constructions], stitchers [quilts, cushions, pillows, embroidery], knitters, and weavers.” A slide-tape program of the same name, “Folk Artists in East Central and Southeastern Illinois: A Profile,” was also produced in 1984.

The third survey, conducted from 1983 through 1985, focused on folk artists and traditional musicians primarily in the cities of Decatur and Danville, with some documentation in the rural areas of the surrounding counties. From June through September 1983, folklorist Jan Laude interviewed and photographed 29 folk artists and documented 5 “vision painters,” a Macon County Historical Society women's folk art group, the Kickapoo Karvers woodcarving group, Decatur's Yesteryear Fair, Danville's Little Vermilion Fair, and a range of public murals, business displays, and yard art. Her documentation includes tape recordings, notes, color slides, and black and white photography, and features quilting and a variety of needlework skills, rug braiding and hooking, a range of woodworking and woodcarving skills, toy, doll, marionette, and duck decoy making, blacksmithing, painting and china painting, folk medicine, narrative and singing traditions, and more.

Meanwhile, folklorist Paul Tyler and field assistant John Holliday surveyed the musical traditions in the two urban areas, the surrounding Macon and Vermilion counties, and small towns in nearby counties including Christian, Coles, Douglas, Fayette, Piatt, and McLean. They interviewed 45 individuals and 5 musical groups, and recorded musical events at bluegrass and country music jam sessions, a square dance, three church congregations, and a church camp meeting. They recorded most of these interviews and sessions, resulting in c. 85 tapes altogether. Tyler and Holliday found chiefly Anglo and Afro secular and sacred traditions common to the Upland South and lower Midwest, including traditional, “old-time,” “popular,” and “contemporary” idioms in blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, disco, bluegrass, country, gospel, spirituals, and hymns.

“Folk Artists of East Central Illinois,” a 30-minute video documentary, produced by EIU's Radio and Television Center, c. 1984, profiled artists documented during the surveys: Jennie Cell, a painter from Charleston; Harvey “Pappy” Taylor, a 91-year-old fiddler and woodworker from Effingham; and Susan Leyearle, a basket-maker from Kell. Under the direction of Philip M. Settle, the documentary project resulted in both an audiocassette and publication.

Several NEA Folk Arts grants, combined with funding from other public and private sources including the Charles E. Merrill Trust, supported the surveys, festivals, exhibitions, purchase of artifacts, and a variety of programs, between 1976 and 1992.