Arts & Humanities

Exhibit Honors 50 Years of Folklore at USU

Austin Fife recoding Mrs. B. Walker singing and playing guitar, Los Angeles, California, 1949. From USU Photo Collection: John I. White Photograph Collection: P0037: Box 1: Folder 13: Item 005a.

There is one name that rings out to many folklorists — especially those at Utah State University but also throughout Utah and the entire western region, “Fife.”

Austin and Alta Fife can be described as the “parents” of the modern folklore movement in the West.

This year — 2016 — marks the 50th anniversary of the Fife’s donation of their extensive folklore fieldwork collection to Utah State University Libraries. To honor the important donation, USU Special Collections and Archives installed the exhibit “Fifty Years of Folk: The Austin and Alta Fife USU Folklore Legacy, 1966-2016.” The exhibit is on the lower level of the Merrill-Cazier Library on the USU Logan campus. The exhibit runs one month ­— Oct. 5 through Nov. 5 — and is free to the public.

“Austin and Alta Fife traveled intensively in Utah and the West,” said Randy Williams, exhibit curator. “They collected examples of the region’s folklife, including cowboy songs, vernacular architecture and Mormon folklore. In 1966, in an effort to preserve and present western folkways, the Fifes deposited their collection at Utah State University where Austin was on the faculty.”

That collection was the impetus for the Fife Folklore Archives, the important folklore division of USU’s Special Collections and Archives.

Along with the Fife’s impressive fieldwork, Austin Fife taught summer folklore classes and organized the American Folk Arts and Folk Life Conference in 1968. These conferences were the precursor to the Fife Folklore Conference that began in 1977. The Fife’s fieldwork tradition, Austin’s folklore teaching and folklore “lobbying” to USU administration, led to the creation of the renown USU Folklore Program in 1978.

USU’s Fife Folklore Archives and Folklore Program continue the fieldwork tradition started by the Fifes. Each year students and faculty conduct folklore fieldwork which they deposit at the Fife Folklore Archives. Past efforts include the Cache Valley Refugee Oral History Project in 2015, the Ranch Family Documentation Project, the 9-11 Collection, the Digital Folklore Project and the outstanding student folklore collection.

Additionally, this year marks the 35th anniversary of the Fife Honor Lecture, created in 1981 as part of the Fife Folklore Conference.

The “Fifty Years of Folk” exhibit opening is tied to this year’s Fife Honor Lecture to be offered by Jens Lund titled “‘I Done What I Could’: Occupational Folk Poetry in the Pacific Northwest.” The Fife Honor lecture is Wednesday, Oct.5, at 12:30 p.m. at the David B. Haight Alumni Center on the USU Logan campus. The lecture is free and all are welcome.

For more information about the exhibit or the lecture, contact Randy Williams, 435-797-3493.

Related links:

Source: USU Special Collections and Archives

Contact: Randy Williams, 435-797-3493,

Alta and Austin Fife setting off to conduct fieldwork with recording equipment and camping trailer, Moab, Utah, 1954. From USU Digital Collection: Utah Folklorists Image Collection: folklorist012.


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