Posts Tagged ‘folklore’


The Pull-Toy Series No. 11 – White River Willy – Sea Serpent

19″l x 9″w x 8 1/4″t
White Pine, Found Wood, Steel, Leather, Pewter, Found Wood, Brass


Available Here 


The Hamilton County (Indiana) historian recently approached me and shared a story that he discovered about a giant serpent discovered a few blocks from my home in 1892. The entire story may be found by visiting my website at 50littlebirds.com.

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Noblesville (Indiana) Democrat for July 15, 1892

A Big Snake Story

Last Friday morning Samuel Applegate and George Farris, two young men of this city whose reputation for truth and veracity cannot be questioned, saw a strange sight which they converse very freely about.  They were driving north on the Cicero Pike between the Lake Erie car bridge and the wagon bridge when their attention was attracted towards White River when they noticed what they at first supposed to be a large dog splashing in the water.  Closer observation changed their opinion as to the character of the animal.  A few moments later they saw the entire body of the monster, which had the form of a huge serpent twelve feet in length and perhaps three feet in circumference with a forked tail.  On catching a glimpse of a man, the animal immediately disappeared and has not been seen since.  It is supposed that it came down White River from some larger body of water during the recent floods.


In the 1820s this monster, painted by Indiana artist George Winters, was said to inhabit Lake Manitou in Fulton County.

When Hamilton County Historian, David Heighway, shared this story with me the wheels started turning. Why wouldn’t I carve the Noblesville Sea Monster?


We will see where this leads over the next few weeks.

For more information about the Noblesville Sea Monster read David Heighway’s article here.


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Proud Papa

My daughter, Hannah Davis, is a folklore student at IU and an intern with Traditional Arts Indiana (an organization near and dear to my heart). This summer she is serving as an intern for the Hungarian Heritage Project, a part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

I’ve been following the festival’s website and found and interesting article. It wasn’t until the second read that I noticed that Hannah was one of the writers! I’m kind of beaming with folky pride this morning.

Read her article here.


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I wrote last about an emerging art project involving the urban birds of Indianapolis.

It’s important to have parameters in an ongoing project.  When I began carving 50 Little Birds, nearly three years ago, I sat down and developed a set of rules.  For the most part ‘ve stood by these.  In doing so I’ve maintained a focus and a style.  Most importantnly — I know my limitations — it’s kept me from being distracted by other projects, ideas and paths.

I’ve been mulling over this project for three days and want to move forward. I’ve a deadline (First Friday of September) and I want to get going.

Of course this is not set in stone.  The gallery will have some ideas about this and I’ve put out feelers to 2-3 folks that will have some valuable input.

The Project

Every Bird Has a Story – Urban Birds in Indianapolis

The Concept

I will be digging up the stories, folklore and adventures of Indianapolis folks within urban Indianapolis.  Though I don’t want to completely ignore the wonderful greenspace in our city, I want to see and hear about birds in yards, parking lots, loading docks, monuments and skyscrapers.

The Confines

For the purposes of this project urban Indianapolis will be defined as 38th Street on the North Sherman Avenue on the East, Raymond Street on the South and Holt Road on the West. Both sides of these boundary streets will be considered.  I will consider stories outside these confines, but you’d better have a great story or a great location.

The Process

I dig out folks and encourage them to share their bird experiences.  These folks will be photographed and their stories will be recorded.  From these stories I will carve thier birds.  At the planned September show these photographs, selections from transcripts and the birds that they inspired.

Purpose and Expected Outcomes

My bird carvings have always been about my own stories.  There has been a tremendous amount of power in this.  Many people are painfully unaware of their natural environment.  This seems to be most true within urban environments.  We are so busy.  There is so much to see and hear and do that we screen what is unimportant.  Unfortunately the natural parts of our environments are often the first to be screened.  In this project the folks that still hear and see will be identified.  In sharing their stories and experiences I hope to make more folks aware and interested. (Note to self – Write about experiences in urban classroom that reflect this.)

There we have it.  My only obstacle it to find the first story and to get to work,  (I’m calling you this week Hazel!)

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I’ve been director of Blue Stone Folk School since it’s founding 4 years ago. As the founder, I’ve been thinking about folk schools long before that. The most difficult part of my job isn’t teaching, programing, research or dealing with the money (I HATE that part and leave it to others).

The most difficult part of my job is answering two simple questions:

  • What is a folk school?
  • What do you teach at a folk school?

I can answer these questions, better than most can, but the problem is that the concept is so far outside most folks circle of knowledge that they loose interest before they’re hooked. The trick comes with the second question. If you can guess what discipline excites them and use that as an example they are hooked.

I thought after 4 years that this would become simpler. It has not.

The good folks at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress have provided some insight. They evidently have the same problem — now I feel a bit better — and have published a webpage to explain the term folklife.

It’s not a big jump from understanding folklife to understanding what we do. We teach folklife and about folklife. It’s that simple.

(BTW- My spell checker is rejecting the word folklife. I guess the Library of Congress is making up words again!)

Read the page. It’s thorough. It’s clear. It’s a little bit fun. In fact it would make a great t-shirt.

(BTW[again]) In the photo, way up top, I’m not explaining anything. I’m talking to Thomas Richardson a folklore and ethnomusicology graduate student at I.U. and good friend. (evidently ethnomusicology isn’t a word either. Sorry Thomas (and Hannah).

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