New Hampshire
Learning Center

The folklife and traditional arts of New Hampshire have been shaped by centuries of human interaction with a rugged environment and by the contributions of a diverse and energetic population. Earliest settlement of the area goes back thousand years to the indigenous Native Americans--peoples of the Western Abenaki and Penacook tribes.

A row of houses appliqued on a quilt.

Portion of a quilt from the 2003 Soo Noo Pii Quilter's Guild exhibit held at the Library Arts Center in Newport.

Many of the folklife & traditional arts that we enjoy today are based upon the traditions first introduced from England. Settlers from England first journeyed to the northeast in the early 1600s. Immigrants from other countries began arriving in the early 1700s from Ireland, Scotland, and French-speaking Canada.

Over the years, the challenges of "making do" through long northern New England winters, combined with a frugal nature have shaped a distinctive Yankee outlook on life--one that is industrious, self-reliant, optimistic, independent, yet very community minded. The New England expression, "Use it up, wear in out, make it do, or do with out" is symbolic of this outlook.

Deeply rooted in the identity of New Hampshire is a love of history and land. Many people work hard to make sure open space, working forests, historical buildings, and traditional arts are protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Another important part of New Hampshire's character is the desire for self-determination. This extends to individuals as well as the over 200 townships. The state motto, "Live Free or Die", is an emblem of people's high regard for individual freedom. This passion for independent thinking is balanced by a willingness to volunteer and to work together to solve community problems.

Group of people working together on a stone wall.

The preservation of field stone walls is important to New Hampshire's cultural landscape. Here stone mason Kevin Fife leads a workshop at Canterbury Shaker Village.

Many of the traditional crafts, music, and occupational skills of New Hampshire reflect this heritage. Quilts, hooked and braided rugs, spinning, fly tying, fiddling, contra dancing, stone wall building, timber framing, and boat building are just a few examples.

Folklife & Traditional Arts Today:

Today, the folklife and traditional arts of newer immigrant groups from Latin countries, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa are joining the older more established traditions in New Hampshire. Each immigrant group brings their cultural outlook and values. By learning about them, we can broaden our understanding of what community heritage can mean.

Folklife and traditional arts are passed down from one generation to another within families, groups, and communities. Learn about communities in New Hampshire.

Folklife is shaped by what has happened before.Learn about New Hampshire history.

Preserving our traditional arts . . .

Grant opportunities for a master & apprentice that would like support in the passing on of music and craft traditions may seek support through a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant offered by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts Traditional Arts Program.

Photo credits
All: Photographer - Lynn Martin Graton