Local craftsman Elvin Shields among Folklife Tradition Bearers

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Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser has announced that October 2021 marks Louisiana’s seventh annual Folklife Month, a celebration of the state’s living traditions and the individuals who sustain them. Selected by local folklorists and other culture workers, nine tradition bearers will be honored at six events. The recipients share a record of continuing and exceptional accomplishment in perpetuating the state’s traditional cultures.

Among the selected 2021 Folklife Month Tradition Bearers and Folklife Ambassadors is Elvin Shields, twisted wire sculptor, of Natchitoches, with Dr. Shane Rasmussen, Director of the Louisiana Folklife Center at NSU, as the Folklife Ambassador.

Shields is a twisted-wire toy maker from the Cane River region. As a child of sharecroppers, he started his craft at the age of five. He left the plantation in 1967, but upon retiring from a career in mechanical engineering returned to Natchitoches more than three decades later. Now a volunteer for the U.S. Park Service at Oakland Plantation, he teaches toy making to young people and speaks to visitors about his experience as a youth. In 2012, he restored the 1860 slave cabin in which he was raised, turning it into a sharecropper’s museum at Oakland Plantation. He has participated in the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival and the Melrose Arts and Crafts Festival since 2013.

Folklife Month showcases diverse persons and groups from across the state, and often from overlooked cultural communities. The month-long program also increases appreciation for the vital role folklorists play in sustaining Louisiana’s folkways.

“Folklife Month is a time for us to celebrate our traditions and honor our culture,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, emphasizing the importance of the initiative. “Each of our traditions trace back to our ancestors, and without that, we would not have the identity we have today. Those traditions continually serve as history lessons on the storied, and diverse, past of Louisiana. It’s important that we have tradition bearers who will carry the torch, and pass our state’s unique culture on to the next generation.”

A project of the Louisiana Folklife Commission in collaboration with the Louisiana Folklore Society and numerous community partners, Louisiana Folklife Month is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, plans for some Louisiana Folklife Month events remain uncertain. For more information about Louisiana Folklife Month, and the effects it may have on events, please visit LouisianaFolklife.org.