Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WV Storytelling Institute

I'll say it again and again... I absolutely LOVE anything with storytelling - and this year's WV Storytelling Institute at Fairmont State University did not disappoint! The weather was a bit rainy the first day, but on Saturday the sun came out and so did the stories!

This year I was lucky enough to take along not only my fellow storyteller John Mullins, but also my good friend Arlie Chipps. John came on Friday and Arlie on Saturday. I was able to see some of my great storytelling friends, some of whom I had not seen for years. Here are some of the great photos!
This is myself and Judy Byers, founder of the Folklife Institute at Fairmont State University. You may have already read some of Judy's works, or heard her wonderful storytelling, which she learned from a long family tradition. You may also know of a woman named Dr. Ruth Ann Musick, who collected WV ghost stories from around the state, from citizens who had kept them through oral tradition for hundreds of years. Judy grew up knowing Dr. Musick, as her family was one of the many whose stories were collected. You can still read those ghost tales in Musick's still published books, such as Coffin Hollow, The Telltale Lilac Bush, and my personal favorite The Green Hills of Magic. As you may already know, Dr. Musick was my inspiration for my current WV Spectral Heritage Project, which is an ongoing research project I'm doing to collect all the WV ghost and monster stories that I can.

Here's where our adventure began on Friday. That's John leaning against the wall, and he's chatting with fellow Fayette countian (is that a word?) and storyteller Karen Vuranch. Karen does a lot of storytelling not only in WV, but around the world. Her talent has taken her from WV to China, and she even performed at the White House! For that momentous occasion, she has earned the nickname in
the guild as "The First Lady of WV Storytelling".
Others in the photo are JoAnn Dadisman and June Riffle, who are sitting down. June is the one reading the booklet. And in the far back, you can see that the Braxton County Monster has made an appearance!


Arlie always knows a good photo opportunity! Here he is posing with none other than the Braxton County Monster! If you don't know the story behind this fellow (or miss), then google it. The story is quite a mystery even today! Arlie Chipps is a fellow artist from Morgantown, and had a ball hanging out with "those fabulous people" - meaning the storytellers.

Here I am with JoAnn Dadisman, the lady who is single-handedly responsible for getting me back to the mountain state-of-mind I have now. After that unfortunate stint in a VA private college, I was a little down on WV. But thanks to her class at WVU, I found my way back. She's a mean storyteller too, and performs with June Riffle as The Mountain Echoes. Oh, and there's a certain monster looming in the background.

Here JoAnn and Karen are intensely discussing something. It may be guild matters, or a story they are researching, or how they really wish I would put down the camera. (If I had, I may know what they were talking about). Of course, everyone wants to speak with the "First Lady", and I'm not above taking the chance for a photo op. This was actually the first time I had seen Karen in two years, so it was a happy reunion.


I love Karen's style and her storytelling! Her History Alive! performances include characters like Mother Jones, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a female pirate I can't remember the name of. She also does Coal Camp Memories, in which she plays one woman with three different ages, and Pot Luck - which is a performance with two other storytellers. It is all about food, and it made me hungry!


Now some of you have probably never been to see a storyteller - and I suggest it highly. No movie, no tv show is going to compare. Pot Luck (above) is a rollercoaster of emotions- I laughed, I cried, and all over again. Pot Luck, like I said, is all about how food affects us. One of the songs in the stories (there are many), is titled, "Funeral Food" and is about how food is comforting. Another song is about Chocolate! My favorite part! It's about how chocolate is comforting for a person suffering heartache. I left the show craving macaroni and cheese, coffe, and chocolate muffins - so maybe if you are on a diet you should avoid seeing it. For everyone else, dive in! This performance is also available now on CD (maybe DVD too) - and it's something everyone can enjoy.

After some great performances, there's more chatter and comaraderie in the halls of the conference center. Here Judy Byers (smiling), Gail Herman (blonde hair), Connie Regan Blake (salmon blouse), and Katie Ross hang out between sessions.

Another amazing storyteller is Ilene Evans, from Thomas, WV. Her performances include not only storytelling, but singing, dancing, and History Alive! performances. She recreates characters like Harriet Tubman and Memphis Tennessee Garrison. Here she and Otto Ross discuss over some wonderful antique furniture that would look really nice in my house.

Did you actually think the next generation of storytellers was missing? Absolutely not! Here is some of Fairmont State University's Raconteurs (I hope I spelled that right) - which is essentially their student storytelling guild. They had set up tables advertising their guild and selling small items as fundraisers for their group. Here are a couple photos:


All the items you see here were handmade by the students to be sold as a fundraiser. They were all VERY impressive and somewhat innovative. I especially like the corner bookmarks they crafted from basic office envelopes, and of course the doll, which looked like something out of Fraggle Rock, or maybe more like a young Phyllis Diller:

Of course, what kind of friend and fellow blogger would I be if I did not mention the fantastic, wonderful, enlightening, and engaging session on blogging that was given by the incomparable Susanna "Granny Sue" Holstein?

Here you can see Arlie is hanging on her every word. It was really a great session, and I learned alot. If you've not seen GSue's blog, I suggest it highly. I've not gotten to the point of updating mine as often as she does hers, and I'm wondering what the secret is. Hmmmm... maybe I could turn off the tv?


Well, the crowd came and went, and the sun set on another wonderful storytelling institute at Fairmont State University. If you get the chance, come to next year's institute. I'm not sure of the dates yet, but it is usually around the first of April. If you can't come to the institute, then attend a local storyteller in your area. Storytellers can change your life! I know.
And if you want to challenge for yourself, then go find a story of your own. Investigate a lead, learn about a historical character you've only heard about or seen the Hollywood version of. Research your family tree. Talk to a grandparent and learn about their childhood. What did they do when they were bored? What did they like to eat? What was their favorite thing to do after school?
You never know what you will learn. And WRITE IT DOWN. So many things are lost to time because no one ever writes things down. For example, on my way back from the institute, I saw this sign:

It's about David Morgan, an early settler of WV who saved his family from a Native American attack because he had a "strange dream" about it happening. Precognition? ESP? whatever the case, it's weird enough for me to want to investigate it. Who knows how big or weird this story truly is. Whatever the case, I can't wait to start researching!

Until next post, I urge you all to seek out a story on your own! It is quite exciting!

4 comments:

Nance said...

My West Virginia family lore clutches on to the Morghan family. Mainly Morgan Morgan was talked about . . .(and a shot pouch) . . . but other Morgans too. Maybe David Morhan? I have always lived in Ioway.

Jason Burns said...

Hi Nance! David Morgan's story can be found online. I googled this story and found it was an early frontier attack that was highly analyzed and written about. There are several different versions of the tale, so David must have been like Davy Crockett, only less famous now than at the time.
On a sidenote, Iowa and WV have lots of connections, by the way. One of them has to do with WVU. WVU is a land-grant institution, which means the state was given land to sell to raise funds for it's university. In 1863, all of WV was settled or owned by someone, so the land WV was given by the US govt. was in Iowa. So WVU sold the land grant there and used the funds to build the university I now work at and attend. Neat huh?

Nance said...

we are connected; this is not just a coincidence, is it? Any Morgans or Wests in your family tree? Coopers or Barnetts? Stewarts?

Jason Burns said...

Nance, my sister-in-law is a Stewart, and I have some first-cousins who are Coopers. I'm not sure about West or Morgan, but Morgan is a "WV name" so there probably is at least one of those. Barnett sounds like "Bennett" and there are many of those in my family tree. Here are some others: Cunningham, Lawrence, DeLawder, Kile, Thompson, Cassell, and Wallace. Any of those sound familiar?