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Florida Folklorists of Past and Present

Riki Saltzman at her computer at the main office of Florida Folklife Program in White Springs. April 27, 1988.

Riki Saltzman at her computer at the main office of Florida Folklife Program in White Springs. April 27, 1988.

Street singer Tom Walton with apprentice James Watson and folklorist Riki Saltzman : Saint Petersburg, Florida, 1989.

Street singer Tom Walton with apprentice James Watson and folklorist Riki Saltzman : Saint Petersburg, Florida, 1989.

Rachelle (Riki) Saltzman

Saltzman is the State Folklorist for Iowa, where she directs the Iowa Arts Council's Folklife Program and helps coordinate the Midwest Folk Festival. In addition to her public folklore duties, Saltzman also teaches on folklife for the Anthropology Department at the University of Iowa. She received her PhD from the University of Texas in Austin. In addition to editing the 1991 publication, Readings for the Introduction to Folklore, she contributed to the book Culinary Traditions (2003) and the PBS-Smithsonian Institute television documentary Mississippi: River of Song (1993).

While working for the FFP in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Saltzman worked on several projects, including the Florida Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program, the Rural Folklife Days, and the Forest Industries Project (with fellow folklorist Jan Rosenberg). She also conducted much of the field research for the Folklife Areas of the Florida Folk Festival.


Doris J. Dyen recording performers at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival.

Doris J. Dyen recording performers at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival.

Doris J. Dyen

Dyen, PhD, is currently the Director of Cultural Conservation for the River of Steel National Heritage Area in Pennsylvania. Often focusing on ethnomusicology, she worked on African American shape-note singing in Alabama for her dissertation. She also co-authored Resources of American Music History (1981), and co-produced an album of Alabama Sacred Harp singers in 1982, as well as extensive lecturing, giving public programs, and publishing several articles.

For the FFP, Dyen worked on the Folklife Library Project, the Lucreaty Clark Video Project, the Ida Goodson Recording Project, the Seminole Slide Tape Project, and the West Florida Survey.


Dr. Alton Morris at the 1958 Florida Folk Festival.

Dr. Alton Morris at the 1958 Florida Folk Festival.

Alton Morris

A longtime professor of English at the University of Florida (UF), Morris began his work in Florida folklife as a field worker for the Folklife section of the Federal Writers Project for the WPA in the 1930s, working alongside Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy. He then used his fieldwork for the FWP to complete his dissertation on Florida folk songs at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In 1950, it was published as Folksongs of Florida (1950; reprinted 1990), to date, the only such collection of Florida folk songs. While teaching at UF, he also served as the editor of the Southern Folklore Quarterly. In the early 1950s, Morris convinced the leadership of the Florida Women's Music Club to hold a Florida Folk Festival. Morris went on to play an influential role in the festival's first years. He was also the author of Places in the Sun: The History and Romance of Florida Place Names (1978). Morris passed away in 1979. In 1988, he was awarded a posthumous Florida Folk Heritage Award.


Sarah Gertrude Knott (with Aubrey Fowler; 1962 FFF).

Sarah Gertrude Knott (with Aubrey Fowler; 1962 FFF).

Sarah Gertrude Knott

Born in Princeton, Kentucky in 1895, Sarah G. Knott founded the National Folk Festival (NFS), and served as the president of National Folk Festival Association (NFFA) from the year of its inception in 1934 through 1970. (Today the NFFA is known as the National Council for Traditional Arts.) In 1952, the Stephen Foster Memorial Commission contacted Knott to organize a Florida Folk Festival. She agreed and helped form a Florida Folk Festival Association and directed the first two festivals, in 1953 and 1954. Although she would continue to assist the festival for several more years, she asked to be released from her directorial duties in order to focus solely on the NFS. Thelma Boltin replaced Knott as director in 1955. A lifelong folklife activist, Knott passed away in 1984. For those interested in her non-Florida related activities, Knott's papers are now housed in the Folklife Archives at the Kentucky State Archives.


Wooden tools made by Billy Bryan (photographed by Jan Rosenberg).

Wooden tools made by Billy Bryan (photographed by Jan Rosenberg).

Jan Rosenberg

Jan Rosenberg is the founder and director of the Tallahassee-based Heritage Education Resources, a not-for-profit organization that develops educational materials related to culture and folklife. After receiving her MA and PhD in folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, Rosenberg worked as a contract folklorist in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, and for the Smithsonian Institute. While with the FFP, she worked on the Forest Industries Project, the Palm Beach County Folk Arts in Education Project, and as a fieldworker for the Florida Folk Festival.


Debbie Fant, with fellow folklorist Rikki Saltzman, at the 1989 Fourth of July celebration: White Springs, Fla. (1989).

Debbie Fant, with fellow folklorist Rikki Saltzman, at the 1989 Fourth of July celebration: White Springs, Fla. (1989).

Debbie Fant

Debbie Fant worked for the FFP in the late 1980s. Among her projects were the Southwest Florida Folk Arts Survey and the Lakefront Legacy Festival Folklife Project. After a stint at the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada, Fant today works for the Northwest Folklife in Seattle, where she serves as director of public programs, which includes the Northwest Folklife Festival.


Blanton Owen photographing Agnes Cypress and Susie Billie collecting medicinal plants at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in 1985.

Blanton Owen photographing Agnes Cypress and Susie Billie collecting medicinal plants at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in 1985.

The crew of the Buck Island Ranch with folklorist Blanton Owen: Lake Placid, Florida.

The crew of the Buck Island Ranch with folklorist Blanton Owen: Lake Placid, Florida.

Blanton Owen

Blanton Owen was a well-respected old-time musician long before working for the FFP. A long-time member of the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, Owen recorded several albums before becoming an academic folklorist. After attending East Tennessee State University, Owen pursued graduate work at Indiana University. While there, he collected old-time fiddle tunes with Tom Carter in North Carolina and Virginia, portions of which were later released by Rounder Records in 1976 as Old Originals, an influential recording for many researchers and musicians throughout the years. (Today, the material from that fieldwork resides in the Library of Congress.) After serving as the Senior Folklorist for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Owen worked with the FFP on the St. Johns River Survey, the Suwannee River Jamboree, and the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program.

After he left Florida, Owen served as the Nevada Arts Council's first Folk Arts Coordinator, from 1985-1990. He later worked as a freelance folklorist and archaeologist for the Western Folklife Center and other organizations. A lifelong pilot, Owen died in a plane crash in June 1998 while flying over Washington State for a photographical shoot. The American Folk Center established the Blanton Owen Fund Award in his honor in 1999, which funds young scholars conducting ethnographic fieldwork.


Crossing the St. Johns River on a ferry while on a research field trip, Weleka, Florida (1985).

Crossing the St. Johns River on a ferry while on a research field trip, Weleka, Florida (1985).

Andrea Graham

Andrea Graham, an independent folklorist based out of Pocatello, Idaho, has worked as a public folklorist since 1980. Trained in folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, Graham has worked in Florida, Idaho, South Dakota and Utah. From 1990 through 2000, Graham was the Folk Arts Coordinator for the Nevada Arts Council. While in Florida in the mid-1980s, she worked with the Florida Folk Festival and the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program.


Botanica shop in Little Haiti, Miami, Florida 1985. Photo by Sommers.

Botanica shop in Little Haiti, Miami, Florida 1985. Photo by Sommers.

Laurie K. Sommers

Ethnomusicologist Dr. Laurie K. Sommers is research associate in folk arts at the Michigan State University Museum in East Lansing, Michigan. A public folklorist since 1982, Sommers holds a B.A. in folklife from the University of Michigan, and a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University. A former director of the South Georgia Folklife Project at Valdosta University, she has also worked for the Indiana Division of State Parks, Michigan State University, and the Smithsonian Institute. Sommers most recent work includes the Florida Music Train project, which won the 2003 Dorothy Howard Prize in folklife education from the American Folklore Society. While with the Florida Folklife Program, she worked on the Miami-Dade Folklife Survey with Tina Bucuvalas in 1985.