Honoring a Folklife Hero: Celebrating the work of folklorist Riki Saltzman 

by Kristin Strommer, Director of Communications at the Museum of Natural and Cultural Heritage

Please join us in extending our warmest wishes to Riki Saltzman, whose position as executive director of Oregon Folklife Network comes to a close at the end of June. A folklorist, anthropologist, and tireless advocate for traditional arts and artists, Riki has directed OFN since 2012, overseeing a multifaceted operation devoted to increasing public awareness about Oregon’s living cultural heritages. From Native American basket weavers to Hip Hop emcees, from fisher poets to buckaroo gear makers, there is a world of culture in Oregon, and Riki has dedicated much of her career to helping it thrive.

OFN, which was adopted by the museum in 2018, will continue on as the State of Oregon’s folk and traditional arts program under the leadership of Associate Director Emily Hartlerode. Riki looks forward to continuing to teach in UO’s Folklore and Public Culture program and to work with OFN to conduct fieldwork and mentor public folklore interns; she’ll also serve as staff folklorist at Oregon’s High Desert Museum.

We are sad to see Riki leave her leadership position but are grateful to have worked with her for part of her distinguished 40-year career. We wish her the very best and congratulate her on the publication of her new book, Pussy Hats, Politics, and Public Protest (forthcoming Fall 2020, University Press of Mississippi), which analyzes the 2017 Women’s March through a folkloric lens.

Riki Saltzman stands with public folklore students before a fireplace and paintings.

Riki Saltzman at the 2019 FisherPoets Gathering with public folklore students (l to r) Sarah Geddry, Riki Saltzman, Elizabeth Kallenbach, Prince Lamba, Matthew Schroder.

Traditional Arts in a Virtual Era

Guinean African master drummer, Alseny Yansane, in traditional clothes, stands smiling over his djembe at the front of a stage. One hand reaches to the drum lying on its side beneath him, the other is outstretched to the crowd.

Alseny Yansane performs

In a previous article, I shared how Persian santoor player, Hossein Salehi, transitioned his individual lessons from in-person classes, to a virtual platform using Zoom and Skype technologies. In this second part of my series on how traditional artists are adapting to virtual transmission during the pandemic, I’ll share some of the challenges of translating a master teacher’s lessons, from the nuances of communication, to some of the less tangible, but no less essential values of awe and wonder. I thank West African Cultural Arts Institute‘s Andrea DiPalma Yansane for sharing her observations of shifting students of her husband and artistic partner, master drummer/dancer Alseny Yansane, to Zoom lessons. She wrote:

“One factor that has made the transition from in-person classes to a online version a little smoother is that everyone who registered is either a returning student who has experienced our classes vis-à-vis before or people we know from the community, so students can approximate or draw from our previous face-to-face contact as they study online. This is something that brand new students just simply cannot do which makes engaging new students a little challenging because of the limited version that this virtual experience brings.
There are many ambient factors that occur in the in-person format that are very difficult, if not impossible to replicate in the online version. Take energy and spirit, for example. There is something powerful and palatable about being in the presence of traditional, source artists when they are teaching and working that doesn’t always come through when one is looking at a screen, experiencing delays due to poor internet connection, and sub-par sound due to the limitations of audio options on laptops and other devices. An online platform can also make it much harder for non-native English speaking artists to be as clearly understood as when being instructed in the flesh.
Another factor that has helped make the transition to a digital platform smoother is having organizational support. Being able to learn a new digital platform, create publicity and marketing that highlights benefits of this platform, and teach, train, and do test runs with students of all different ages who have never used these platforms before really takes a lot of organizational capacity, technical savoir-faire, English language skills, and time.
It is now more important than ever that traditional, source artists receive the support they need to not only feed their families here in the US and in their home countries, but to help them keep their art forms alive on virtual platforms so that they can continue to uplift and be uplifted.”
Thank you to WACAI’s Andrea DiPalma Yansane, for her practical advice and thoughtful perspective on matters that impact traditional master artists during the pandemic. While it is hard for all of us to continue operating “business as usual” these days, Andrea reminds us that, for many artists and the extended families they support, it is vitally important that we do. I can personally attest to the joy and therapeutic benefits of West African drumming and dancing, which WACAI makes available now more than ever, from the ease of your own home. Visit their website or Facebook page for more information about attending WACAI’s classes and catching an energizing, infectious beat while you #StayHome and Save Lives.
Do you have a personal story about giving or receiving traditional knowledge over virtual platforms, or have you any professional insights to the issues facing master artists during the pandemic? Please comment here so OFN can follow-up with ways to share them and help us all thrive in these unusual times.

Mastering Technology in order to Share Tradition

Hossein Salehi sitting at the santoor

Hossein Salehi at ArtMax Academy Studio, Portland

 

Emily Hartlerode

Watching Hossein Salehi teach his apprentice, Alireza, over Zoom last weekend was inspiring and uplifting. In addition to the technology, they brought their instruments, a music book, and their passion for progress. Alireza performed three well rehearsed pieces for Hossein who, after each one, gave feedback about what he had done correctly, then offered advanced training for improvement. After addressing these pieces, Hossein requested Alireza try the next piece in the book. Displaying impressive sight reading skills, Alireza performed the piece once in “simple form” and again, after Hossein gave brief comments, with ornamentation. Hossein ended with a theory lesson on the math of triplet notes and a demonstration of how to perform them. Alireza performed the technique back for Hossein, who gave final feedback before the lesson concluded.

I’ve known Hossein Salehi to be an incredible master artist, but this was the first I watched him conduct a lesson. I complimented Hossein on his teaching method, which is both motivating and instructive. Hossein referenced his experiences learning as a youngster under very different learning conditions that may be familiar to many of us. In that model, teachers are authorities, assumed to be brilliant and capable, so students who fail to understand the knowledge they try to share are assumed to have something wrong with them. Such students frequently leave with false belief about themselves: like they are not bright, bad at math, or have no creativity. Hossein recognized in highschool that he was able to break down concepts in math and chemistry that his friends could understand easier than his teachers’ lessons. His friends made repeat requests for him at breaks and after class to teach them what their own teacher had been unable to communicate. Hossein learned early in life the value of being able to break down complex ideas into small, manageable pieces. About his encouraging, affirmative style of focusing on his students’ success, Hossein referenced a lesson from his aviation training in a class on Methods of Instruction: students are far better motivated by a positive response than a negative one.

What struck me most was watching the grace and skill of a master teacher, a testimony to Hossein’s technology skills to make the interface invisible, and to Alireza’s hunger to learn, which forgave any inconvenience he felt by the social-distancing approach. Attending Hossein’s virtual lesson and seeing Alireza progress was a pleasure that affirmed OFN’s selection of this Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program team. Thanks to all our master artists and apprentices who continue working hard, despite coronavirus and so many challenges to keeping culture vibrant. We applaud you!

OFN at 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

This year’s 35th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering once again found poets, musicians, gearmakers, and folklorists in Elko, Nevada celebrating and raising awareness about cowboy culture and the rural experience. OFN Associate Director, Emily West Hartlerode, worked managing and hosting stages as contract staff of the Western Folklife Center, reuniting with colleagues from across the west. Among them are a growing number of UO and OFN alum: Bradford McMullen and Jennie Flinspach (OFN graduate employees), Debbie Fant (OFN contract fieldworker), and Amy Mills (UO Folklore graduate), to name a few. On-stage talent from Oregon included first-time participant, singer-songwriter Forrest Van Tuyl of Enterprise, and long-time participant Ross Knox who now hails from Arizona, but grew up ranching in Central Oregon. Personal highlights were stage managing for Colter Wall, Trinity Seely, and Dave Stamey (backstage photos below), and catching up with community scholar, Andy Hedges, whose interviews with cowboy poets and singer-songwriters you can enjoy on his blog.

There is a feeling of homecoming at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering among artists and staff folklorists alike. Thanks to Doug Blandy, director of UO Folklore and Public Culture Program, for sharing this blog post about the event.

Dave Stamey and Emily West Hartlerode, backstage at NCPG 2019

Colter Wall and Emily West Hartlerode, backstage at NCPG 2019

Trinity Seely and Emily West Hartlerode

 

Treaty of 1855 Conference, Museum at Warm Springs, Oct 25-27, 2018

Returning to work after attending the Middle Oregon Treaty of 1855 Conference, I am newly aware that I am returning to America after visiting the Warm Springs Nation. This sovereign nation that pre-existed the establishment of the United States, holds inherent rights to their lands – including access to millions of acres ceded to the US through the Treaty for usual and customary practices like hunting and gathering. These rights are not only acknowledged, but protected by the Treaty, a nation-to-nation agreement with the same legally and ethically binding strength and significance as other international treaties.

 

The original document resides in a climate-controlled vault in the National Archives in Washington DC, however it was temporarily on display at the Museum at Warm Springs through Nov 3, 2018. This unique access to the Treaty paralleled the Museum’s celebration of its 25th Anniversary, and spurred tribal leadership to coordinate the Treaty Conference. Many Native and non-native allies came together to better understand the historical context that established the Treaty; to reflect on the growth and development of tribal governance despite the overwhelming loss of language, cultural practices, lands and people; and to imagine and plan for a future beyond surviving, but one of thriving.

 

Warm Springs Tribal Council member, Valerie Switzler, invited Oregon Folklife Network to interview participants and document their reflections and reactions. Of high importance to her was engaging tribal youth in the process. OFN was honored by the invitation and donated our time in sponsorship of the event. With the help of superintendent Ken Parshall, we reached out to Fieldschool alumni, and Warm Springs sophomores Dylan Heath, Taya Holiday, and Kathryce Danzuka attended on Friday and took leadership roles in running the video camera, asking thoughtful questions, and ensuring that release forms were properly filled and returned. They showed great respect and professionalism, though I was delighted to see them relax into some light-hearted teenager fun after their work was through.

 

Interviews spanned a variety of perspectives, from Native American Rights Fund lawyer (and former UO Duck) Charles Wilkinson, to elder and language teacher Arlita Rhoan. Incoming Executive Director of the Museum at Warm Springs (and former Poet Laureate) Elizabeth Woody, who expertly coordinated this important event, also provided her reflections for this record, all of which is going back to the Tribal Archives. Their thoughts co-mingle with my own reflections as the days between me and the event grow. I yearn for more time to steep in my feelings and better understand and act on my sense of urgency to respond. But I am back in America now. The prayer songs fade in my ears, but for the people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and the 500+ sovereign nations who permit US activities on the land that has been theirs since time immemorial, those songs resound often and strong.

OFN at 2018 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Every year, folklorists from across the western states reunite at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.  OFN Associate Director, Emily Hartlerode, joined colleagues to staff the festival as stage manager and host to cowboy musicians and poets Feb 1-3. This year’s 34th annual festival theme, “Basques & Buckaroos: Herding Cultures of Basin, Range and Beyond,” made the beret, or Basque txapela, as common as the ten-gallon hat. A rich assortment of Basque music, dance, language, and rhymes came gathering from near as Elko and far as Spain’s Basque Country. Oregonians performing at the Gathering included photographer Mary Williams Hyde (Klamath Falls), poet Annie Mackenzie (Jordan Valley), and musicians Caleb Klauder Country Band (Portland) who played the famous Saturday Night Dance.

Mary Williams Hyde, whose family has been ranching in Klamath Falls since 1911, shared an hour of her photo slides in a collection called “Images of the Buckaroo: On the Ranch and in the Arena.” Her documentation of this culture specializes in the rare million+ acre ranch of the Great Basin, like Oregon’s ZX Ranch in Paisley.

Annie Mackenzie was a fresh new voice in Elko, attending her first Gathering as a recipient of the Rod McQueary & Sue Wallis Scholarship. This fund, established by an anonymous donor in memory of two of the Gathering’s earliest poets, brings emerging poets, writers and reciters to the Gathering. OFN looks forward to adding to our artist roster Ms. Mackenzie, who writes thoughtful and humorist poetry of her experiences on her family’s fourth-generation ranch in southeast Oregon.

Interested in performing or exhibiting at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering?  Get in touch with OFN, or watch the NCPG website where applications for 2019 will be posted soon!