Driftless Gems

By Kelli Emerson

I first heard about Folklore Village at the start of my second year as a student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Over dinner my friend described how he had spent the summer building a log cabin with hand tools. As my friend talked about his experience, I imagined what this place might be like. I pictured Folklore Village as a community nestled in the hills of the Driftless where craft and tradition were celebrated.  

As chance would have it, five years later I found myself at Folklore Village for the very first time. It was a warm summer evening and the sun was setting over the main hall and collection of historic buildings that make up Folklore Village. The scene brought back the image I’d conjured in my head as my friend described his work at Folklore Village five years earlier: a community in the Driftless where the traditional arts reign. 

Founded by folk dance and recreation leader Jane Farwell, Folklore Village is a nonprofit folk art center near Dodgeville. It’s a place where people can come together to dance, sing, play music, eat and live folk traditions from the world over. 

Folklore Village offers an ongoing program of cultural and educational activities including concerts, barn dances, open mics, Saturday night socials, seasonal events, senior outreach programs and field trips for area school children. Weekend learning retreats provide an opportunity to spend three days learning Cajun, English and Scandinavian folk music and dance while enjoying delicious ethnic meals. Our newest program, the Folklore Village Folk School, offers workshops in instrument building, rosemaling, foraging, chair caning and much more.

Key to Folklore Village is the idea that people of all ages need places and opportunities for joy, camaraderie and celebration. Come to a German Christmas Tree Lighting and you’ll see children dancing alongside elders. Join us at the Ice Cream Social and you’ll find that a love of home-churned ice cream surpasses all boundaries of age.

Now that I’ve been Folklore Village’s program manager for just under a year, I think my first vision of Folklore Village as a place of community and craftsmanship wasn’t too far from the mark. At the heart of it, Folklore Village is a village of sorts. It’s a place where people of all backgrounds can come together to cherish and champion folk culture and traditions. It’s a community where the most experienced fiddler and the newest folk dancer are both welcome.

Folklore Village believes that traditions are part of what makes us human. Each person has folklife traditions, no matter their background. By participating in these traditions, we keep them alive, ensuring their vitality for future generations. Traditions make us who we are, and celebrating them allows us to foster an understanding and appreciation of traditions from the world over.

For more information about Folklore Village and our programs, visit https://folklorevillage.org or call (608) 924-4000. 

Kelli Emerson is the program manager at Folklore Village. Driftless Gems celebrates the nonprofit arts, culture, humanities and nature organizations that make our region unique. Driftless Gems celebrates the nonprofit arts, culture, humanities and nature organizations that make our region unique. To showcase other Driftless Gems, email info@voiceoftherivervalley.com.