Texas Heritage, Winter 1985

In a timely effort to promote a deeper
public appreciation and understanding
of our state's cultural wealth, Texas
Folklife Resources, a non-profit statewide
service organization, was created
in the summer of 1984. Although academic
programs and scholarly societies
exist in Texas to promote the
study of folklore, and some public institutions
attend to issues relevant to
Texas folklife, Texas Folklife Resources
(TFR) is currently the only organization
in the state whose sole purpose
is the development of programs
dedicated to the public presentation
and preservation of the folk arts and
folklife of Texas. The programming
goals of TFR are fourfold: to document
the folk arts and folklife of the
state; to encourage professional and
comprehensive approaches to the presentation
and preservation of Texas
folk culture that stresses the integrity
of traditional artists and communities;
to promote the study of folklore and
folklife in the education of all citizens;
and to advocate the development of
public policy that recognizes the importance
of maintaining Texas' rich
and diverse cultural heritage.
In order to accomplish such goals, the
activities of Texas Folklife Resources
professional staff are diverse and
many. Central to these objectives is the
identification of, and provision of services
to, Texas folk artists and tradition
bearers. Such a goal constitutes a
major commitment, since traditional
artists usually function within the context
of a small community and, as a
group, resist standardization. This is
because, unlike much of contemporary
culture, traditional artists and
craftspeople eschew specialization and
limitation. Seldom does a folk artist
identify him or herself primarily as an
artist. Folk artists and tradition bearers
will usually perceive the skills or talents
that define them in that role as
among the many that any resourceful
individual needs to live a full and satisfying
life. Indeed, at the very heart of
folk culture is the impulse to self-sufficiency
and adaptability, to the creative
and strategic application of skills and
16

Lydia Mendoza of Houston, Texas, is a noted Texas-Mexican cancionera (singer) who began her
career playing in her family's band. She is shown here in concert at the Dougherty Cultural Center in
a performance sponsored by Women and Their Work and the Austin Parks and Recreation Depart

ment, Austin. Photo courtesy of Danna Byrom.
past lessons. The folk arts are not separate
from everyday life, but entirely
central to it. It is this very accessibility
and authenticity of folk culture that
Texas Folklife Resources hopes to help
maintain through its programs.
In addition, it is important to remember
that the folk arts are not mere
relics of the past, that they are vital. As
one of Austin's blues musicians, Lavada
Durst, speaks of his mentor:
"Around 1926 or '27 I heard Robert
Shaw at a house rent party . . . Robert
was my model, but, you know, you
don't play other people's stuff without
getting something together yourself."
Lavada's works highlight an important
aspect of Texas folklife and folk artsthat
tradition can accommodate innovation
as well as perpetuation; that the
folk arts are not mindless repetitions
of past practices, but mindful remembrances
and recreations of shared
skills, social togetherness, artistic virtuosity
and ethnic pride.

Nowhere is the adaptability of folk artists
and the forms they create more apparent
than in the Coushatta tradition
of pine needle basketry. Initially a
craft that functioned as part of this
tribal group's food gathering and storage
practices, the making of baskets
has now become a significant economic
tactic for this community living
outside of Livingston, Texas. And
while many women members of the
community are fine practitioners of
this skill, a few have gained internal as
well as external recognition for their
exceptional designs, tight stitchery
and durable construction. Isabel Robinson
is one of the women whose work
has been collected extensively as this
burgeoning tourist art has come increasingly
to the attention of outsiders.
Even though Ms. Robinson's baskets
show the effects of this change in the
craft, they still quietly communicate
her ties to Coushatta tradition through
the use of animal imagery that carries
great cultural significance for the
tribe. The turkey basket is a reminder

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Winter 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45443/. Accessed October 2, 2014.