Folk Art and Aging

Folk Art and Aging

Life-Story Objects and Their Makers
Jon Kay
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 08/08/2016
Format: Paperback 41 color illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02216-5
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Growing old doesn’t have to be seen as an eventual failure but rather as an important developmental stage of creativity. Offering an absorbing and fresh perspective on aging and crafts, Jon Kay explores how elders choose to tap into their creative and personal potential through making life-story objects. Carving, painting, and rug hooking not only help seniors to cope with the ailments of aging and loneliness but also to achieve greater satisfaction with their lives. Whether revived from childhood memories or inspired by their capacity to connect to others, meaningful memory projects serve as a lens for focusing on, remaking, and sharing the long-ago. These activities often help elders productively fill the hours after they have raised their children, retired from their jobs, and/or lost a loved one. These individuals forge new identities for themselves that do not erase their earlier lives but build on them and new lives that include sharing scenes and stories from their memories.

Author Bio

Jon Kay is Professor of Practice and Director of Traditional Arts Indiana in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University Bloomington.


“A very important contribution to scholarship in folklife, material culture studies, and gerontology studies. . . . an imminently readable book. . . . This is the first book I know of that so carefully first renders specific portraits of older artists, then sensitively and acutely analyzes how the construction and sharing of their work realizes this meaning making.”
 — Marsha MacDowell, Professor of Art History at Michigan State University and Curator of Folk Art at Michigan State Univ

“An approachable and valuable book . . . a masterful assessment of the relationship between folk art and the construction of personal narratives, in this case among a selection of elderly individuals from Indiana.”
 — Daniel C. Swan, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma and Curator of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Mu

“Highly recommended.”
 — Journal of the Royal Anthropology Institute

Folk Art and Aging is a highly approachable book suitable for a broad audience. With its colored photographs, narrative writing style, and focus on research participants, the book is an ideal text for university courses in ethnography, material culture, folklore across the lifespan, and gerontology. Beyond the academic sphere, the book would be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of gerontologists, folklorists, and those who provide care for an elderly family member or client.”
 — Western Folklore

“Kay offers a valuable contribution to folk art studies with the nicely composed profiles of four men and one woman who took up folk arts intensively later in life. ”
 — Journal of Folklore Research

Folk Art and Aging merits a wider audience beyond the field of folklore; it belongs in the libraries of all those who work with the aging population and are interested in the aging process, including gerontologists, narrative gerontologists, creative aging specialists, artists, caretakers, and health care practitioners.”
 — Journal of American Folklore

“Drawing on case studies of five well-chosen Indiana artisans—wood sculptor, rag-rug weaver, musical instrument maker, painter, and maker of wood canes—Kay offers a thoughtful, revealing meditation on the relationship between aging and art making. . . . Highly recommended.”
 — Choice Reviews

“All too often, aging is regarded merely as an end-of-life period, and therefore those within that age-defined category are often treated in a somewhat condescending manner, as if lumped into one clinical entity, with similar needs and aspirations. Kay presents case studies which clearly stand as counter to such narrow thinking and generalizations regarding seniors and their abilities to interact in, and contribute to, their communities and society. ”

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Folk Art and Aging
1. Bob Taylor: Stories in Wood and Words
2. Gustav Potthoff: Memory Paintings
3. Marian Sykes: Recalling Memories and Making Rugs
4. John Schoolman: Objects, Life Review, and Sociability
5. Milan Opacich: Life-Story Displays and Narratives
Conclusion: Life-Story Objects and Aging in Indiana

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