By: Laurel Horton
The North Carolina Folklore Society, formed in 1913, took on an ambitious project – the compilation of North Carolina folklore in published form. Under the leadership of Dr. Frank C. Brown of Duke University, the collection involved hundreds of contributors statewide. By the time the first of the seven volumes appeared in the 1950’s, most of the contributors, including Brown himself, had died.
While understandably falling short of the planned “complete” state collection, the Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore nonetheless represents an extensive and highly useful comparative tool. Typical of the limits of technology and the bias of collectors, the Collection is one of verbal lore, notably ballads, songs and tales. The single nod to material culture is a list of names of quilts and coverlet patterns in Volume I.
An investigation into the manuscript sources from which the Collection sprung reveals layers of sorting and filing decisions reflecting Brown’s great difficulty in dealing with contributions of crayon drawings, pen and ink sketches, newspaper clippings, and actual cloth blocks. Analysis of Brown’s reduction of the quilt pattern submissions to an alphabetical, footnoted list reveals much about both Brown, folklore scholarship of his time, and especially the way folklorists saw quilts during the 1920’s.