Tuesday, January 31, 2012

L.L. Bean and Maine Traditions

I have been thinking for sometime about creating a blog devoted to Maine traditions.  As the director of the Maine Folklife Center I get a lot of inquiries from students and the general public about folklore. What is it? What do we do here?  Well, in simple terms folklore tends to be about the knowledge that is passed down from one generation to another--generally through word of mouth or demonstration, rather than through formal schooling.  In more practical terms, here at the folklife center we have quite a collection of interviews with tradition bearers about Maine's traditional, resource-based occupations such as lumbering, fishing, farming, boat building and pulp and paper mill work.  We also have a very strong collection of folk song and stories and other narrative types such as proverbs, traditional medicine and so on.  The collection is very large and very deep and I am constantly finding new things there that surprise me.   More on that later.

One of the tasks that I have been responsible for for the last 11 years has been the folk and traditional arts at the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront.  Usually we pick a theme such as boat building or woods traditions and bring in folk artists (such as boat builders and wood carvers) to demonstrate their arts and also have discussion on the narrative stage about these traditions.

Recently another folkore friend of mine, Millie Rahn,  suggested that we conduct programming at the folk festival that reflect's this year's 100th anniversary of L.L.Bean.  I thought that was a fine idea and so we have begun thinking about the kinds of folk arts that are reflected in the L.L.Bean brand: decoys, duck calls, fly tying, snowshoe making, pack basket making and so on.  So I was very pleasantly surprised to receive an email from a colleague in the Parks, Recreation and Tourism department asking if I had any projects that her students could work on.  Yes, I said, and I told her I was looking for some help with this year's program at the folk festival.  A few days later she sent me Sarah Murray.  Sarah and I met this afternoon.

Sarah is not only a student at the University of Maine, she is also the daughter of two parents who work for L.L.Bean and the granddaughter of a grandfather who worked at L.L.Bean.  Sarah's grandfather was a friend of L.L. and used to hunt with him. The company CEO is a family member.  In our discussion, she told me that her father is a product developer and is creating a special addition gun, duck call and pocket knife for the anniversary.  She said her house if full of L.L.Bean products including old duck decoys and other items.  No better example of tradition could I provide than both the ownership of the company (passed down through family) and the family tradition of the Murrays who have worked for L.L. Bean for several generations. I am really looking forward to working with Sarah and her family on this project.