Subtopic : The Oregon Coast: The Immigrant Legacy
Themes: Arts, Folklife
Euro-American settlement of the Oregon coast left myriad ethnic folk arts. Many Irish-American Oregonians descend from immigrants who fled Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century during the Great Famine, reminding us that migration is often forced by economics and politics. The ethnic identity of the Irish diaspora continues in music, including songs, instrument making and playing, dance, and other traditions. In Florence, Thomas McCreesh plays Irish fiddle tunes he learned in childhood, blending music, poetry, and storytelling. In Ireland, the “bard tradition” happened in the local pub, while McCreesh performs in community centers and schools; still, the music continues. “My roots in Ireland are very deep, very important to me,” states McCreesh.
Astoria, one of the oldest American settlements in the West, has been home to a mix of Asian and European immigrants for over a century. Scandinavian cultures, in particular, still thrive in the long-lived Finnish sauna downtown and in the annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. Danes, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, and Icelanders gather each year for lefsa, a Norwegian flat bread; lutefisk, fish soaked in lye; a “troll stroll,” a hex-burning bonfire; and displays of Norwegian hardanger—a form of embroidery worked in white yarn on white or colored cloth using drawn thread work. Visitors from contemporary Scandinavian countries might find folk art forms here that no longer live in their country; people who migrate out sometimes feel more attached to tradition than those who stay behind.
Further down the coast in Gold Beach, JoAnn Fedje practices another tradition revived in a new context—rosemaling. While art forms can be passed down in families, others are sought by adults to connect to an otherwise lost heritage. Fedje learned rosemaling while attending a family reunion in Norway. Itinerant painters in nineteenth-century Norway developed this form of painting, originally done on walls, ceilings, and furniture in rural homes. Today rosemaling appears on wooden spoons, bowls, chests, furniture, and even mailboxes.
© Joanne B. Mulcahy, 2005.
Regions: Oregon Coast
Author: Joanne B. Mulcahy
Astoria, one of the oldest American settlements in the West, has been home to a mix of Asian and European immigrants for over a century
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