Table of Contents

Louisiana Folklife: An Introduction

Louisiana Folklife: An Introduction, Nicholas R. Spitzer

Ethnicity, Region, Occupation and Family

Living On and Off the Land in Louisiana

Folklife and Public Policy

Public Sector Attention to Folklife in the United States, Archie Green
Folklife and Public Policy In Louisiana
A Folklife Plan for the State of Louisiana, F. A. de Caro
Folklife and Education, C. Paige Gutierrez
Folklife and the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism
Office of Cultural Development: Division of the Arts, Louisiana Folklife Program, Division of Historic Preservation, Division of Archeology
Office of State Museum
Office of Tourism
Office of State Parks
Office of the State Library


1. Resources in Research, Preservation, and Presentation of Louisiana Folklife
2. Doctoral Dissertations/Masters Theses Relevant to Louisiana Folklife
3. Film and Video on Louisiana Folklife
4. Louisiana Folk Music on Sound Recordings
5. Louisiana Festivals -- Traditional and Otherwise
6. Louisiana State Documents Relevant to Folklife
7. Oral History and Folklife
8. Louisiana Folklife Legislation/Louisiana Folklife Commission
9. Louisiana Folklife Survey

Living On and Off the Land in Louisiana: Crafts, Foodways, Boats and Houses

By Nicholas R. Spitzer

This essay originally appeared in Folklife in Louisiana: A Guide to the State published by the Office of Cultural Development in 1985. This essay is provided online courtesy of the editor since the publication is out of print.


This section is about the "things" people have traditionally made and used for food, shelter, transportation, work, and play in Louisiana. These objects are often referred to as "material culture" by folklorists and anthropologists. That is, they are material representations of cultural creations. In a larger sense, they are the things that man as a cultural being has fashioned from the environment around him. It will be seen that some things are limited to particular groups, such as the traditional cotton blankets of the Acadians. Other items like boat forms are shared on a regional basis and made by Cajuns, Isleños, and Indians.

Oyster Shucker. Photo in 1938 Commerce and Industry publication, Louisiana the Finest.

Nearly all the items and processes discussed in this section are in some sort of transition. While new folk buildings are rare, traditional foods are quite strong, though often modified as to procurement and utensils for coking. Acadian palmetto and cotton weavers are quite few, but accordion makers are relatively plentiful. Quilters in north Louisiana are not only plentiful, but they are also apparently growing in numbers, though fewer persons make the quilts in traditional ways and forms.

The items discussed here have varying rates of survival, revival, and change in tradition. Thus, it is important to understand these differences in artifacts and processes that people use to make them, in order to best encourage their preservation. These sorts of considerations are discussed in the final essay on "Saving Your Own House."

The initial essay about crafts is the composite work of four persons, each of whom has carried out research for folk craft presentations of one kind or another. F.A. de Caro and Rosan Jordan, folklorists at Louisiana State University, researched and presented a show, accompanied by a booklet, called "Louisiana Traditional Crafts" at the L.S.U. Union in 1980. Susan Roach-Lankford, a folklorist from Ruston, is completing a dissertation on quilts. She also organized a show on north Louisiana quilts at the Alexandria Museum in 1980 entitled "Quilts: Deep South Traditions." Nicholas R. Spitzer carried out fieldwork on Louisiana crafts for the Smithsonian Institution's 1976 Festival of American Folklife and more recently began installing an exhibit of contemporary Louisiana folk arts in the Louisiana State Capitol building.

The authors were also able to build upon two recent and important folk craft shows in Louisiana. One at the Louisiana State Museum (1981) called "L'Amour de Mamam" featured Acadian textiles from an historical perspective. The other at the Alexandria Museum (1981) entitled "Doing It Right and Passing It On: North Louisiana Crafts" presented the work of living crafspersons from this previously unresearched area. Despite this groundwork, much more needs to be done to locate and encourage our traditional craftpersons. This overview article provides some definitions by example of traditional crafts, covers recent activity in the state, and points toward future work that will take many hands to accomplish.