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About Folklife Traditions

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.

quilted houses

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

Essays on Folklife & Traditional Arts in New Hampshire

French Canadian, Irish, Scottish, Social Dance Music

Ash Basket Making, Traditional Textiles for the Home, Rug Hooking, Bhutanese Bamboo Carving & Weaving, Turkish Ebru Painting, Crafts of Worship & Celebration, Fly Tying, Dog Sled Making, Blacksmithing, Cooperage, Harness Making, Tinsmithing

Yankee Food Traditions

Agriculture, Family Farm, Forestry & Wood, Timber Framing, Covered Bridges, Historic Restoration, Industry & Business, Maritime & Waterways, Stone, Granite Quarrying

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.

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.

making a stonewall

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.
Photo by: Lynn Martin Graton

Folklife & Traditional Arts Today

Today, the folklife and traditional arts of newer immigrant and refugee groups from Latin countries, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa are joining the older more established traditions in New Hampshire. Each cultural group brings their own traditions, arts, music, crafts, and family values.

New Hampshire State Council on the Arts
19 Pillsbury Street - 1st Floor, Concord, NH 03301