Tag Archives: folk art

Masks As Folk Art

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student/Journalist
Residence: Las Vegas, NV
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/12/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as CC.

Me: How have you been covering your face in public places due to the coronavirus?

CC: I just made a mask out of a bandana and two hair ties because I couldn’t get any other pre-made masks in time. 

Me: How did you do that and how effective is it?

CC: Well, it’s super easy and stays in place nicely so I don’t have to touch my face when I’m out and about. So, yeah, I’d say it’s effective.

Me: And how do you make it?

CC: Oh yeah, ok so basically you just lay the bandana out and then fold it a few times so it’s a long rectangle. Then you like put the hair ties around either end and move them towards the middle until as big as you want the mask to be. And then you just fold over the edges, I try to like fold one edge into the other so it doesn’t come loose but it’s kinda hard to get that part right. And then you just put it on with the hair ties around your ears and adjust if you want it bigger or smaller. I can send a step-by-step pics if you need help.

Me: Yeah that’d be great, thanks! And where did you get this idea?

CC: Not gonna lie, I saw some facebook post about it and copied it but honestly it’s kinda become a viral life-hack! 

Me: Cool, thanks.


Interviewee is a long-time friend of mine who attends a school on the East Coast. She is an American who grew up in Las Vegas, NV. 


This piece of folklore was collected during a video call between me and interviewee during the Coronavirus Pandemic. I have known the interviewee for many years, so the conversation was casual. 


I have seen many youtube videos and facebook posts about this method of making a mask quickly and without sewing for those who don’t know how to sew or don’t want to. I’ve tried it and I think it works pretty well, too. Going around to the grocery store and such, I see quite a few people using this method of making a mask, and because there are so many kinds of fabrics you can make it with, people get really creative and you can show more of your personal style than with a classic paper mask. 

To see how she makes this mask and with what kind of cloth, see this: https://www.allure.com/gallery/bandana-face-masks-covid-19-coronavirus

Friendship Bracelets as Folk Art

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 23
Occupation: financial analyst
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (AT). 

AT: When I think friendship bracelets, I think of taking strands of embroidery floss, and you knot or braid them in these different patterns, and then when they’re like fully woven, you give them to your friends. The whole idea is you and your friends either make matching ones and swap them, or you can make different ones for each other. Part of the fun in that is picking the colors or patterns you think they’d like. 

LT: But either way you have to make them, and they have to be for the other person, right? 

AT: Yeah, you’re not supposed to make them for yourself… I mean maybe you can? Everyone I know always made them for other people… and honestly I’m sure you can buy them off Etsy or something, but the whole fun in it is the actual process of making them. 


AT is a 23-year-old female from Los Angeles. She first learned how to make friendship bracelets at a summer camp when she was six years old. Her favorite thing about making friendship bracelets growing up was exchanging them: “I loved how excited my friends would get when I gave them theirs, and I’d always feel really special when they’d give me mine… it was a way we could physically prove to each other that we liked each other I guess.” 


AT is one of my relatives with whom I’m quarantining. This piece was collected in our living room as we were sitting on the couch. 


American female friendships are often depicted in the media as being “catty” or fake, but I think that friendship bracelets show how pure they can be in real life. Having gone to an all girls high school, some of my strongest, most loyal relationships are the ones I have with my female friends. In the context of friendship bracelets, girls take it upon themselves at such a young age to learn special patterns and spend time making them for their friends. I still cherish having that experience with mine. When we all wore the same friendship bracelets, it felt like we were all wearing the same jersey, and we were on the same team. These bracelets are generally made by little girls who might not be eloquent enough to express their emotions accurately, and friendship bracelets are a beautiful way to nonverbally show your friends how much you care, knowing that they’ll understand and likely reciprocate. 

Yearbooks as Folk Art

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: student
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/23/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (MS). 

MS: So, a yearbook is traditionally issued at the end of the school year when you’re in elementary school through high school… and they have pictures of everyone in the school taken throughout the year… and you’ll usually write messages in your friends’ books.

LT: But not all messages are equal (laughs). 

MS: Yeah, like in elementary school, everyone just wrote their names because we didn’t know how to write many things, but generally, in high school, it’s bad to just write “HAGS,” which means have a good summer… you want to write something more heartfelt because people often keep yearbooks and will want to be able to reminisce on memories and stuff in the future, so you need good messages. If someone writes “HAGS,” they probably don’t know you that well. 


MS is one of my best friends, and she grew up in Los Angeles. She got her first yearbook when she was six years old, at the end of Kindergarten. She often jokes that she’s a “hoarder” because she keeps a lot of things for their sentimental value, including yearbooks. She actually just read through all of her old yearbooks the night before our interview since she “wasn’t doing anything better during quarantine.” Her favorite thing about yearbooks is reading the messages. She likes to think about who she’s still friends with and who she doesn’t stay in touch with. She also likes the messages that remind her of memories she wouldn’t have thought of on her own. 


MS and I normally see each other most days at USC, and we’ve been continuing to FaceTime often during this quarantine period. This piece was collected during a “Zoom Happy Hour” with our friend group. 


In American culture, we often stress the importance of being “cool in high school.” Media often promotes the idea that an American teen’s self worth can be measured in how many friends they have. Yearbooks are a physical way we can quanitize that. I remember reading through my mom’s old yearbooks as a child, and I was so impressed by how many people had signed it. When I was in high school, I would actually get stressed and feel pressured to make sure every blank page in my book was covered with signatures. Now, as a college student, I don’t even know where most of my yearbooks are. In MS’s case, it’s nice to reminisce about the memories with dear, old friends. However, she doesn’t particularly care about the messages written by people she wasn’t close to. Yearbooks symbolize the things that felt so important as a teenager that don’t particularly matter later in life. Inherently, yearbooks are a really sweet tradition that should be treated more authentically. 

Rock Painting in San Clemente, CA

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Residence: San Clemente, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 30 March 2018
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

Subject: San Clemente, CA- Rock Painting



San Clemente Rock Close-Up of backside. This maker fully embraced the pun- 30 March 2018


San Clemente Rock Close- Up of frontside.


San Clemente Rock on San Clemente Trail in found position- 30 March 2018


Close up photograph of San Clemente Rock in found position- 30 March 2018


San Clemente Rock in new position. Moved by S. Taylor. 30 March 2018



Background Info: San Clemente, CA is the southernmost city of Orange County and consists of such beaches as Trestles, North Beach, T-Street, and Old Man’s Beach. The town motto is the Spanish Village by the Sea. Most of the city’s life revolves around the beach as the town’s main street, Del Mar, runs from El Camino Real to the pier. I have lived in San Clemente up until I moved to Los Angeles for college and return during the summer and winter holidays.

In January of 2017 an official city-wide club was formed to paint rocks to commemorate the life of Saylor Vorris, a junior at San Clemente High School when she passed away from leukemia. This movement was largely isolated to the Vorris family’s immediate acquaintances and the student body at San Clemente High. Members of the larger San Clemente population began to take notice of the rocks appearing at significant location in the north end of town. Then, in early 2018, painted rocks began appearing on beaches and walk paths in the North end of San Clemente in incomprehensible numbers. People who were not part of the original club nor aware of the significance began painting rocks and hiding them around town. The premise is then simple: if you find a rock, you can take it or simply move it to a new location. For many participants, if you take a rock it is then your responsibility to paint a new rock a place it around town.

Context: I encountered the San Clemente Rocks when walking on the beach trail in San Clemente on 30 March 2018. My dad explained that the rocks were first placed by members of the San Clemente ROCKS organization but now more and more people from town are painting rocks and putting them around town to spread joy. I photographed and then moved the rock with “Love” written across it. I, however, kept the rock with “San Clemente Rocks” written on it as a reminder of home when I went back to school.

Analysis: The rocks movement being adopted by more and more members of the community shows the active formation and reinforcing of identity. First, every time an individual makes a rock or moves one of the stones as part of the game, they are demonstrating through their behavior that they belong to the city of San Clemente. More than that, they are proud to be from San Clemente and want to publicly contribute to a culture of love, acceptance, and joy. The rocks work to actively define how citizens want to depict San Clemente to outsiders and allow them to fulfill that vision for themselves. With each rock that is painted, the idea of San Clemente as a community that cares about its residents is better realized and this identity is then embodied.

Second, to the San Clemente resident who is not participating in the rocks movement, they are the recipients of the joy that the painters are attempting to foster. The rocks serve as a reminder of what it means to call San Clemente home. As rocks are anonymous, it fosters an understanding that all residents are tied to one another on virtue of being from the specific place and participating in the culture of a small, beach town.

Lastly, I ask myself: “why rocks”. I believe the answer more complicated than rocks are easy to paint and do not prove an obstruction to the natural environment. Most people who live in San Clemente are anti-development and anti-graffiti but pro-environment. Painting rocks is a seemingly benign way of making a mark on the community in an artistic way, with minimal destruction. Furthermore, San Clemente has seen a significant natural depletion of its beaches sand in the last decade, being replaced primarily by small rocks. By painting rocks, town members are taking control of our land and tying us to the natural environment. Painters and spectators alike are asserting a belonging to the land that transcends merely living and going to work in within town lines, we are thrusting ourselves into the composition of the environment.

Scrimshaw – The Whaler’s Art

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 50's
Occupation: Shopkeeper
Residence: Lahaina, HI
Date of Performance/Collection: March 18, 2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):


I was perusing the shops in downtown Lahaina, HI, when I wandered in to a Scrimshaw shop. Curious, I asked the shopkeeper, who had worked at the shop for more than 20 years, about the art.



Me: So what is scrimshaw, and where did it begin?

Informant: Scrimshaw is carved and dyed ivory – usually whale teeth and bone. It is New England whalers that scrimshaw is usually attributed to. It is a whaling art that the New England whalers started doing in the late 1700’s early 1800’s when they were out at sea. They were bored, they were uh, they wanted to make gifts for their family members back home, so the teeth and the bone were the leftovers from the whaling industry – the whales were hunted for their fat, their blubber mainly, which was used for, among other things, lamp oil. The bones and the teeth were leftovers, unneeded. And so, the whalers started carving them. The thing about ivories and bone, is that it is one of the oldest mediums that man has worked in general, you know, you get stuff that is carved out of woolly mammoth tusk. Though, so what they specifically attribute to scrimshaw is work such as what is done on sperm whales’ teeth. [See picture for an example of scrimshaw]. And it’s actually an engraving process, where the artwork is hand-engraved into the ivory, which is first polished. Then they take a sharp tool and engrave the design. And then they rub ink into it.

Me: Okay. And I noticed that most of the pieces here are nautical themed. Was that the norm for scrimshaw?

Informant: Yes. It was more often than not nautical themed, or, when you look at antique pieces it was often of things that reminded the whalers of home.

Me: Now, I know that Lahaina was once a whaler’s village, and by the fact that there is a scrimshaw store here, I would assume that when whalers had come here they brought the practice with them?

Informant: Yes. How Hawaii comes into play, is that when the whalers started whaling in the Pacific, Lahaina became the whaling capital of the Pacific because we are a natural three-sided port. So they had safe mooring out here by the road stead, the Lahaina road stead. And uh, they didn’t really whale in Hawaii, the whalers just wintered here. Where the actually whaled was around Alaska.

Me: Okay. That makes some sense. Follow the migration patterns.

Informant: Yes. And because of the ice floes, they would be up around Alaska for much of the year, as all the ships were wooden hulled. So they would sail back down to Lahaina, because back in that era, when they sailed into the Pacific they would have to sail all around the southern end of South America and back up. So it took them months to get into the Pacific and so they didn’t want to try and get back to New England every year.

Me: Makes sense.

Informant: Yes, thus Lahaina became the home base, if you will, for the Pacific whaling industry. So most of the whaling vessels around Hawaii were at sea for around 2-5 years. Some of them might have been inspired by the tattooing, the Hawaiian/Polynesian tattooing they saw. But, scrimshaw as an art was not inspired by the Polynesians, as they did not work bone and ivory in that way.

Me: Awesome. So who would the whalers give these carved and dyed ivory pieces to? And do any of the pieces tell stories or have stories about them?

Informant: The whalers would often give these to people back home. Sometimes, when you see the antiques, they will often be documents of the whaling voyage, of things they saw along the way, or sometimes, women were a popular subject matter.

Me: Yeah, I’ll bet.

Informant: Yes, and so there was a small genre of pornographic scrimshaw, but that was more rare. It was more often with those that they would take pictures from magazines or similar things and essentially copy such pictures onto the teeth/bones. As most, if not all, of them did not have any art training, you know, most of them were illiterate whalers just thinking about their family. So most of the scrimshaw pieces do tell of some kind of event or something similar. So I hope that is what you are looking for.

Me: Yeah, this is great. Thanks a lot.

Informant: You’re very welcome.



Carving ivory, as the informant said, is one of the oldest known practices of mankind. Carved mammoth tusks and bone have been found at prehistoric sites all over Europe. Ivory was most likely used because it is so malleable, and an easy medium to carve or engrave. Scrimshaw, in particular, is probably the best-known example of colonial American folk art. It was created and performed by people who were bored, had no training in art, in engraving or carving or even drawing. Whalers were often illiterate, or at the most slightly educated. They simply put to use the tools and the materials they had on the ship to commemorate a voyage or event on a voyage. Furthermore, with the demise of the whaling industry, the only material now used for making modern scrimshaw is fossilized bone and ivory, which is rather rarer and more expensive to acquire. So, though it began as a true folk art, it is now mostly made by professional artists who can afford the raw materials used as the medium.

The Martini

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican-American
Age: 22
Occupation: Film Student (Producer, Assistant Director)
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/16/12
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

In this image my informant holds up a slate for a video project titled “Two Portly Guys.” There are martini glasses drawn around the shot number “2” – this is meant to indicate that this shot will be the last shot captured on that shooting day.

It is a strange paradox of working on film sets that the experience on the set has little to do with the subject matter of the film itself. There is no way to extrapolate from a finished film the experience of the crew members working on the set.

In a set environment at a film school, students who have known each other and worked together for several years are often thrown onto crews together for a project. The familiarity of the students with each other creates a unity to the entire filmmaking process, from pre-production (planning of the film) through post (editing and sound designing the film) that does not exist in the film industry outside of school. For instance, on a USC project the on-set crew will likely know the students who will be editing the film. However, at the USC film school in particular, the way that some classes are organized require that the editors of a film not be present on the set. This results in some pranks played on the editors within the footage.

My informant (in the image above), who had held the slate for a USC undergraduate thesis film prior to the “Two Portly Guys” project, told me that drawing martinis on the slate is one way to bring the editors – friends of the set crew – into the set experience, albeit after the fact. “The martini” is the name given to the last shot of the day before everyone goes home. There are various stories about why the last shot has been named this, but it is an accepted and recognized term. It is common among film students at USC to indicate the “martini shot” on the slate by drawing martini glasses onto it. The slate, as the marker which tells the editors what shot and take of that shot is being captured after the slate has been shown, should be (if the shot was taken correctly) the only indication throughout a single shot that the film crew is there, thus it is the only time that the crew can communicate with the editors as fellow filmmakers.

I feel that the martinis on the slate can also be an indicator of set morale. On the “Two Portly Guys” set I noted that the crew was greatly enjoying their work because the scenes they were taping were humorous. My informant seemed excited when told that the last shot had arrived and quickly draw the martinis. However, my informant also told me that there were days on her undergraduate thesis set that she did not draw the martinis. Though she did not connect this to crew morale, she also told me that there was rarely a day on that set that she didn’t feel tired or stressed by the miscommunications among the crew, or the slow pace of the work. Thus I believe that a crew that is working together well and runs into few problems throughout the shooting day will be more likely to be in good spirits by the end of the day, and have the energy and inclination to take a moment to draw the merry little icons onto the slate. If the last shot of the day lacks martinis, it might be an indicator that by the end of the day the crew was too burnt out to have any fun with the slate.