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SCHENECTADY COMMUNITY CULTURAL DOCUMENTATION PROGRAM
and the Camp Wood Reunion
From the Director’s column,
Voices 38-1-2, 2012.

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COMMUNITY PROGRAMMING

Documenting the Camp Woodland Reunion and
the Schenectady Community Cultural Documentation Program

From the Director’s Column, Voices, 38-1-2, 2012

schenectady.doc
Image Credit: “New ‘Camera’ ” taken by Sherman Tan

In July 2012, the New York Folklore Society was asked to help document the second reunion of Camp Woodland campers—a gathering of people from all over the US who shared the childhood experience of once attending a children’s camp which had existed in Phoenicia, New York, from 1939–1962. Run by progressive educators Norman and Hannah Studer, the camp focused on revealing issues of social justice and cultural equity, while at the same time exposing youth to the folklore and folk music of the Catskill Mountains and the knowledge of its elders and tradition bearers. The founding of Camp Woodland and the work of Norman and Hannah Studer have previously been described in Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore (Vol 28:1–2).

I attended the reunion’s 2012 gala concert, where more than 80 people joined their voices for a sing-along of folk music learned in their youth and remembered as many as 50 years later. They were joined by folksinger Pete Seeger who had visited and performed at the camp on an annual basis. Emcee Sue Rosenberg wove the traditional tunes together with a narrative which spoke of camp life and key camp staff, shared narratives and shared music, and the unique experiences provided by the camp’s focus on teaching folklore fieldwork methodology to its older campers. A regular feature of Camp Woodland life was the exposure of the camp to the local community through fieldwork and visitors to the camp. Tradition bearers such as George Edwards were remembered fondly as people spoke of the impact of the traditional knowledge brought by these important camp visitors.

Those of us in attendance at the Reunion Concert, whether or not we had attended Camp Woodland, felt a strong feeling of communion with the rest of the audience. While I had been asked to come to help video document the reunion, I felt truly honored to be part of this rare event. I left that Saturday’s performance with the phrase, “the power of folklore,” circling in my brain. In their focus on folklore, Camp Woodland founders Norman and Hannah Studer had recognized the elemental nature of folklore and folk music and its potential as a unifier. They had, no doubt, seen folklore’s utility as a bearer of a value system that stressed the importance of cultural diversity and heritage, and folklore’s pedagogical worth for the teaching of equal rights and equity. The power of folklore was palpable to those of us in attendance at the reunion concert, several of whom had traveled from all parts of the US to share this transcendent experience offered by the Camp Woodland reunion.

In an experiment not too dissimilar to the Camp Woodland experience, the New York Folklore Society has been working with Schenectady’s teens to teach them the ethnographic documentation skills, which are in the occupational arsenal of today’s folklorists. During six weeks in the summer of 2011, and again in 2012, the New York Folklore Society worked in collaboration with the Schoharie River Center, a nonprofit environmental organization, to guide students in discovering their community and their watershed. Working within a theme, the Summer Documentation and Environmental Science program focused on Schenectady’s parks and waterways. While the Schoharie River Center staff worked with the teens to document their environment through learning forestry skills and water quality monitoring, the New York Folklore Society staff helped them to document their cultural milieu through video, aural interviewing, and photography. This program shares similarities with Camp Woodland through its focus on experiential learning and the intergenerational connections made between youth and more senior tradition bearers. Whether it has been learning and playing cricket with the Schenectady Cricket team and bocce at the Italian American Club, or learning fly tying and fly casting with local fisherfolk, this documentation program has allowed for both cross-cultural and intergenerational conversations between youth, and between youth and adults.

It is too soon to say what the impact of this program will be on these young community scholars. I hope that, just as the campers of Camp Woodland did, they, too, will return for several seasons, documenting different aspects of their community each time they return to the program. I hope, also, that similar to the experiences of the Camp Woodland campers, these teens will look back upon this program as being a formative one in their lives, exposing them to cultural traditions and artists who previously were hidden to them. While the program stresses the attainment of STEM (Science, Technology, and Math) skills, increased literacy, and interpersonal skills, we at the New York Folklore Society venture to impart our excitement about the richness and diversity found in Schenectady’s neighborhoods and community gathering places. I hope that, through Schenectady’s Community Documentation Project, our teens, too, will experience the power of folklore
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Ellen McHale, PhD, Executive Director
New York Folklore Society





A collaborative project of the New York Folklore Society and the Schoharie River Center,
with support from the William Gundry Broughton Charitable Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.

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