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Treasures from the AFC Archive Traveling Exhibit

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The first banner in the series, shown with silhouettes to indicate scale. This banner was designed by Stanley Bandong for the Library of Congress. It features photos by Stephen Winick, Michaela McNichol, and Carol Highsmith. Full credits will appear in the next post in this series.

The American Folklife Center is pleased to announce the arrival of our new traveling exhibit, Treasures from the American Folklife Center Archive. The exhibit is a series of lightweight, colorful vinyl banners containing information about the American Folklife Center, the Library of Congress, and (as the title suggests) some of the treasures found in our archive. Because it’s the centennial of the birth of Alan Lomax, arguably the most famous and influential person to head up the archive since its founding in 1928, we designed three banners around his iconic collections. Three more focus on the archive and the Center more generally. The exhibit is designed to be modular, so that more banners, highlighting more AFC collections and programs, can be added in the future.

The banners cover all eras of the Center’s holdings, from cylinder recordings made at the end of the nineteenth century to born-digital collections coming in today. They include scans of some great collection items, including a letter from Lead Belly to Alan Lomax, a telegram from Lomax to the Library, and one of Lomax’s field notebooks. They also include photos of a wide range of subjects: American folk musicians like Bessie Jones, Roscoe Holcomb, and Dom Flemons; fieldwork in Peru, Scotland, Italy, Spain, and Puerto Rico; and ethnographers such as Lomax, Henrietta Yurchenco, Francis La Flesche, and Hamish Henderson. Designed with bright jewel-toned backgrounds to draw in the eye, the banners give a fresh and modern look to both older and newer collections.

The Down Hill Strugglers. Eli Smith (center) helped conceptualize the banners and raise funds to make them a reality. The Photo is by M. Smith.

This exhibit was developed in conjunction with the Treasures from the Archive Roadshow, a musical tour featuring three acts: The Down Hill Strugglers, an old-time string band from Brooklyn; Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, a musician who performs blues, folk, and other music in the “songster” style; and John Cohen, a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers as well as an important photographer and filmmaker, whose collections are part of the AFC archive. During the tour, they’ll play great music learned from field recordings in the AFC archive and bring along the banners to display near the stage. When possible, the Roadshow will also feature Nathan Salsburg, a singer and guitarist who is also an archivist for Alan Lomax’s Association for Cultural Equity. (Salsburg will visit AFC on June 10 to give a lecture called Alan Lomax, Folk Producer/ Folk Promoter. The Roadshow itself will roll into the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium on September 24.) The Roadshow was organized by Eli Smith, one of the Down Hill Strugglers. AFC is grateful to Eli for having the idea, and also for finding donors who helped make the tour and the exhibit a reality.

As a treat to our online friends who can’t make it to the Roadshow, we’ll be posting the content of the banners online here at Folklife Today, beginning next week. That will also give us a chance to fully credit each photo and document we used on the banners. But for the full effect, we hope you’ll be able to see them in person someday…so when we have more details on the tour, we’ll post them! In the meantime, find out the latest on the Roadshow here.


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