Tag Archives: folk objects

Clamshells as Folk Objects – Long Island, NY


Informant KC was a current undergraduate student at the University of Southern California at the time of this collection and was raised in the east end of Long Island, NY.

When speaking with KC, they told me how clamming is a source of income and entertainment for many living along/near the coast along the east end of Long Island. They mentioned how people use large rake-like tools to sift through the sand while searching for clams. Once the clams had been cracked open, emptied, and cleaned, KC explained how the shells are often “repurposed” as folk objects. After cleaning, the shells can be decorated, painted, or kept looking “natural.”

In listing the many unique uses for old clamshells they mentioned how they have seen them repurposed as…


  • Spoon rests
  • Ashtrays
  • Plant pots
  • Jewelry holders


After speaking with KC, I considered how these examples of folk objects help illustrate/represent the identity and interest of east end Long Islanders. Whereas outsiders might not understand the repurposing of a clamshell or mistake it for a commercially bought object, insiders (east end Long Islanders) have a different connection to these objects as reflections of their identity and customs. This leads me to believe that east end long islanders might hold shared values of sustainability and/or craftiness which are able to be expressed through these repurposed clamshells.

Yearbooks as Folk Art

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. 

Folk Object: Estate Furniture

MH is a third-generation Irish-American from Battle Creek, MI. He now splits his time between San Francisco, CA and Pasadena, CA, where he lives with his wife and 18-year-old son.

MH talked about the origin of some of his furniture, which has been passed down a couple generations:

“My mom grew up in a poor Irish family during the Great Depression, and they were a big family and she would go on to have a big family herself, which was pretty typical of Irish Catholics at the time…so during the Depression, they were always breaking up these huge estates that had gotten too expensive for families to maintain, and they’d have these estate sales where they’d sell really nice and valuable pieces of furniture, like beautiful wooden tables and dressers, really nice armchairs and Oriental rugs…and so my mom’s family bought a lot of this furniture for dirt cheap at these estate sales. Eventually she grew up and married my dad and the moved to Chicago when they first started having kids, but now they needed to buy larger houses, and they could afford to after the war. But instead of needing to buy new things, they were given some of the old furniture by my mom’s family, so the really nice pieces that originally came from estates went back into really nice houses that my parents had to buy to hold all my brothers and sisters. And now I have some of this pieces in my own living room, and the tables and things are so much better quality than what’s being sold today, because they were build to last for generations like this. So I’ll probably end up passing them on to my own kids, when they buy their own big estates!”

IMG_1924 IMG_1925

My analysis:

Many families pass down meaningful objects with stories or important family history behind them. While furniture isn’t necessarily what you’d imagine when you picture those sentimental moments, they can still be considered folk objects when you think about the cultural implications – the biggest story for MH is about his Irish-American heritage, and what it meant for his family in America during the Great Depression.  “Being Irish from a big family went from being a negative to a positive,” he told me, and today he and his siblings are proud of their roots.

Building Model Airplanes

“We would spend the afternoon assembling these model airplanes, with glue, and then we would paint them and then hang them up on the ceiling in my room, and it was quite frequent. And so we did that a lot, and it was just a really good bonding exercise because I got to spend time with Grandpa, and I ended up with about twenty-five airplanes hung from my ceiling. And while we were working he would tell stories and talk about the airplanes, like what models they were, and it was just nice to spend time with him.”

Informant: The informant is twenty years old, and currently attends the University of Texas at Austin. He has always been interested in airplanes and military history, with a wealth of knowledge about these subjects.


In this instance, I asked the informant to describe how he learned to make the model airplanes that he used to keep hung from the ceiling in his room. He learned how to make them from his grandfather, and the temporal stickiness that seems to linger is connection between the airplanes and his grandfather, who passed away when he was eight years old. I believe that the significance of this practice is the time they were able to spend together. The practice of building the airplanes itself is not as significance without the context of a grandfather teaching his grandson to appreciate the airplanes and how to construct and paint certain models. Each airplane, the total of which is about twenty-five, is different and represents a different airplane model. In sharing this with his grandson, the grandfather was able to pass down his knowledge about and appreciation for airplanes and the military. The grandfather served in the Korean War, and therefore had extensive knowledge in this field from first-hand experience. The informant has since retained this interest in military history, weaponry, and aircrafts of all kinds, which I believe he received from his grandfather. This demonstrates the significance such a small teaching act can have upon a child, as he learns not only how to construct the model airplanes, but his appreciation for the airplanes as well.

Friendship Bracelets

The informant is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is twenty years old. She is also the Jr. Helenes chair for the USC Helenes, which means she works closely with the girls at 32nd Street School and other Helenes to create a mentoring system.

The informant let me interview her about a friendship bracelet making activity that took place between the Jr. Helenes and the USC Helenes:

“Some Helenes and Jr. Helenes were at our regular meeting place, at 32nd Street School. I taught them how to make the bracelets. It’s fun to teach other people to make the bracelets and it’s just a good way to bond. I don’t know why friendship bracelets are popular but they’re symbolic and meaningful. And simply making the bracelet together is a good bonding experience…For me, it’s my way of showing someone that they’re important to me—but it’s not like everyone who’s important to me has a bracelet; it just depends who I have that tradition with. I guess I also like the idea that other people can see them and ask who it’s from. With the Jr. Helenes, it’s nice to have a sort of bonding exercise so we can become really close. That way we’re more than mentors—we’re friends. I got started with friendship bracelets when I went on a month long trip to Hawaii during high school. We were making so many new friends, it was a good way to celebrate that, I guess. I ended the trip with like 7 bracelets. I also like giving them to people because they know I care about them. I like to let them choose the colors and have them hold on to the end while I make it so that it’s a process we’re doing together, and the finished product is something that will make them think of our friendship whenever they see it. I also am kind of superstitious, and I like to have them make a wish on the bracelet, because supposedly the wish comes true when the bracelet falls off.”

I agree with most of what the informant says about friendship bracelets. They are definitely symbolic of a friendship and a way to celebrate that relationship. She also made a good point about the process of making the bracelet serving as a time of bonding. What really struck me about my informant’s experience with friendship bracelets was the superstition tied to them. This was new to me, but it really adds another element to the bracelets, making them even more of a shared experience between two people.


Friendship bracelets can be found in the movie Napoleon Dynamite (2004). In this movie, one character goes door to door selling the bracelets and later, Napoleon and his friend Pedro hand them out when Pedro is running for class president. Instead of being made from thread, these bracelets are made from plastic.

Napoleon Dynamite. Dir. Jared Hess. Perf. Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, and Jon Gries. Fox Searchlight, 2004. Film.