FACETIME- Lohman's folk: Hot rods and Brunswick stew

Jon Lohman

Quilting, clogging, mandolin playing–- those seem pretty standard folk fare. But how about moonshine-making? Or building hot rods? According to Jon Lohman, they'll all examples of Virginia folk traditions, and he's gearing up a showcase of them next week.

"Folklife arts are not something that have to be old," explains Lohman, head of the Virginia Folklife Program. "They arise from the community and say, this is who we are."

Even hot rods?

"People have been tinkering with them pretty much since the first car rolled off the assembly line," says Lohman.

Growing up in New York's upscale and suburban Westchester County, Lohman may not have then seemed an obvious choice to become the expert on such Virginia arts as Brunswick stew making and Tidewater gospel quartet singing.

"I didn't know the field of folklore existed," he confesses.

But during a 1991 post-college move to teach in New Orleans, he was intrigued by the culture and traditions of the Big Easy, and 10 years later completed a PhD in folklore at Penn. Now 42, he finds endangered traditions like canning and tobacco auctioneering important.

"They add to the texture and beauty of life," he says.

Consider Kathak dance, something becoming more common as immigrants from Northern India settle in Northern Virginia.

"People who've come here recently bring things with them that become part of our folklife," says Lohman, disputing the notion of America as a melting pot. 

"When people come here," he explains, "the traditions that were unconscious to them become important to them, like food and dress."

To keep something like oyster shucking from dying out, Lohman pairs master artists with eager learners.

"An apprenticeship is not like a lesson," he clarifies. "It's like two people spending time together, not to learn how to carve a decoy, but to learn what it is to be a decoy carver."

"I've never met anyone who draws people like he does," says Lohman's boss, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities president Rob Vaughan. "He's built a Virginia folklife program that's a model."

And Lohman debunks fears that Walmart and McDonald's will homogenize local traditions.

"Go to Patrick County, and you'll see a different type of flatfoot dancing from that in Carroll or Floyd County–- and they've all got their Hardee's," he says.

 And even though he's from Irvington, New York, Lohman has his own folk traditions.

"I'm a real pizza snob," he says. And a real sub, he says, is called a "wedge," and they don't make 'em like that around here.


The Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase features bluegrass music, Brunswick stew, snake-cane carving, and hard cider making. Mmmm, mmmm. It's Sunday, September 12, from noon to 5pm at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities offices, 145 Ednam Drive in the Boar's Head complex. Phone 434 924-3296. Free.