Folk Art and Aging

Folk Art and Aging

Life-Story Objects and Their Makers
Jon Kay
Distribution: World
Publication date: 7/28/2016
ISBN: 978-0-253-02220-2
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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.


"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

"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 Museum

"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 University Museum

"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