FAIRMONT, Va. (WV News) – The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center on the Fairmont State University campus opened in 2011.
The mission statement of the center is simple: the center is dedicated to identifying, preserving and perpetuating the rich cultural heritage of our region through university studies, educational programs, festivals, performances. and publications.
It houses the Ruth Ann Musick Folklore Archives, the Phyllis W. Moore West Virginia Authors Archives, and the Patty Looman Collection, to name a few.
âWe have four paths to achieve our mission,â said Tiffany Martin, the centre’s projects coordinator. âOur publications in the form of our Traditions magazine and special subjects, our archives, our exhibitions and our outreach.
The second-floor gallery, which opened in 2012, houses the exhibitions and features the Great Hall of Cultures, which houses the permanent exhibition People Upon the Land. It features panels starting with local Native American cultures and traverses areas preceding immigrants and industries.
The other half of the gallery is the Ruth Ann Musick Folk Gallery, which has exhibits that typically change twice a year.
The current exhibition at the Ruth Ann Musick Folk Gallery is the Porter Stiles collection. Stiles is a Fairmont native, Civil War reenactor and collector. The exhibition has been around for a year and a half and only students have been able to see it.
During the pandemic, the center was closed to the public from March to August. In August, it opened to students before the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center was once again open to the public.
âThis has been a problem,â said Dr. Francene Kirk, interim director of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center. âA lot of the people who want to see this exhibit are our adults living in the community who haven’t had access to it. We didn’t advertise, so they don’t even know it exists.
The upcoming exhibit in the Ruth Ann Musick Folk Gallery will focus on sustainable living and hopefully showcase local businesses doing things that were once part of a sustainable lifestyle but are now popular.
One of the first things Kirk wanted to do when she became Acting Director was to make the permanent exhibit panels more self-explanatory. Using the West Virginia Encyclopedia – published by the West Virginia Humanities Council – they researched all of the work on each panel and created a notebook for each panel.
âDuring last year’s pandemic, we went back to the encyclopedia and created two-minute narratives for the panels,â Kirk said. âWe did most of the panels. “
The narrations are accessible via a QR reader on a smartphone, but for those who do not have access, the center has MP3 players and disposable headphones. They also have two speakers that will be installed so that groups can listen to the narrations.
The center has also installed a television to broadcast two-minute videos made by museology students doing their synthesis experience at the Folklife Center.
As part of the outreach portion of the mission statement, the center hosts the author series Phyllis W. Moore. The series will begin on Sunday, September 19 at 2 pm with author Davitt McAteer speaking about his book “Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster”.
Space is limited for this session, and those wishing to attend should contact the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center for availability.
The series will continue on Tuesday September 21 at 7pm with a virtual session with Denise Giardina and her book “Storming Heaven”.
The last author of the series is Charles B. Keeney and his book “The Road to Blair Mountain” on Monday September 27 at 7 pm.
âThe thing we are focusing on is coming back after being shut down,â Martin said. âWe had quite a few interesting authors and speakers. We were starting to have people. Now were back and people forgot that we are here. We are open.”
The center also hosts âSecond Saturdayâ events until 2021 from 10 am to 4 pm. The event will include special activities at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
âIf we get people, we’ll continue,â Kirk said.
The center was also fortunate to receive two grants, one from the Daywood Foundation and the other in the form of a Cares Act grant through the West Virginia Humanities Council.
Kirk and Martin used the Daywood Grant to create four trunks named The Ruth Ann Musick Trunk of Tales. The trunks are filled with 30 copies of “Telltale Lilac Bush”, 30 digital recorders and five lesson plans.
One trunk remained in Marion County and the other three went to Barbour County, Kanawha County and Greenbrier County. The trunks are loaned to schools, libraries and youth organizations for a period of 20 school days, or one month.
The hope with the trunks is to fundraise on Falcon Day of Giving to create more trunks so that more than one school or organization in a county can use it at a time.
Funding from the Cares Act grant will allow the center to focus more on its digital footprint.
âDuring the pandemic, we realized we didn’t have digital assets,â Kirk said. âThe Cares Act grant will pay us to video (record) people who know traditional music, violin, banjo, dulcimer, gospel and blues. We’re going to talk to them and hopefully get them to play and sing. So if we ever find ourselves in this situation, we have material. “
The Cares Act grant will also purchase 30 additional cardboard dulcimers and 30 copies of Mountains of Music.
âWe want to build a culture that there is something to do and see here,â Kirk said.
The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on their offers and availability, call the center at 304-367-4403.