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WheatonArts :: Down Jersey Folklife Program :: About the Folklife Center

Down Jersey Folklife Program


About the Folklife Program

The Folklife Center, a division of WheatonArts, was established as the first regional folklife center in New Jersey in September 1994.

The Folklife Center is focused on expressive traditions - those things, that groups of people know, do and pass on to their families, friends, neighbors and other members of their community. The arts and communities featured at the Center reflect the cultural diversity of South Jersey. Originally colonized by the English, the area now is occupied by more than 35 ethnic, religious, occupational and regional communities. The Italian communities around Vineland and Hammonton are well known, as are the Jewish communities (both German and Russian) such as Woodbine and Rosenhayn. But there are others: West European including Irish, German, Scottish, Swedish and Estonian; East European, including Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Romanian and Turkish; Far Eastern, including Indian, Philippino, and Japanese; Latin American, including Mexican and Puerto Rican; Asian-American; African-American. There is also a significant Native-American (Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape) community in the Bridgeton area. Once predominantly agricultural, occupations now include glass making, maritime trades, quilting and others.

The research area of the DJFC includes the eight southernmost counties in New Jersey: Gloucester, Camden, Burlington, Ocean, Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem. This area stretches from the Pine Barrens in the north to the Delaware Bay in the south. In between are hundreds of fruit and vegetable farms, as well as towns with colonial roots such as Greenwich, Swedesboro, and Cape May. Cities include Bridgeton, once a ship-building center on the Cohansey River; Camden, a historic shipping and radio manufacturing center on the Delaware River (and the home of Campbell Soup); Millville, a center for the glass industry; Vineland, a diverse community with historic roots in vegetable farming; and the resorts and newer ethnic communities in Atlantic City.

The DJFC opened to the public on June 24, 1995, and since that date has shared the results of continuing fieldwork with various audiences at Wheaton Village, in area schools, and at other sites.

Everyone has traditions that they share with others, usually through word of mouth or by example. We are all members of such groups: examples include family holiday celebrations, neighborhood block parties, and co-workers showing a new member the proper way to do a job. In South Jersey, some examples are African American oyster-shucking songs and quilt making, Barnegat Bay sneakboxes, split-oak basketry, tales of the Jersey Devil, Ware-style wooden chairs, Pinelands fox-chasing, Japanese hoh-daiko drumming and minyo dances, bunka embroidery and doll-making; Puerto Rican jibaro music; Greek and Bulgarian circle dances, Native American bead work and pine needle baskets; Ukrainian nyzynka embroidery; Cambodian wedding dances, and Albanian harvest songs.

Programs at the Folklife Center and WheatonArts include research projects, ongoing displays and exhibits, music, dance and craft demonstrations and workshops, concerts and other performances that present traditional artists and area folklife. The Center is also involved in sponsoring and coordinating folk-artists-in-education residencies. The artists come from all eight southern New Jersey counties in our research area, with a preponderance of Cumberland County residents. The DJFC also welcome artists from out of the area, in an effort to give breadth to the programming presented to audiences that include the ethnic groups and communities with whom we partner.

The archive of the Folklife Center has hundreds of audio and videotapes documenting New Jersey traditions, from the schooners on the Delaware Bay to singers such as Merce Ridgeway, Jr., who has been called "the Woody Guthrie of the Pine Barrens." Our documented research, including slides, photos, field notes, and printed books and articles, are all available to interested visitors.

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