Mountain Heritage Center, WCU faculty honored by North Carolina Folklore Society

WCU anthropology professor Ted Coyle encourages students to immerse themselves in regional culture

WCU anthropology professor Ted Coyle encourages students to immerse themselves in regional culture

Western Carolina University faculty members and the Mountain Heritage Center received prestigious awards from the North Carolina Folklore Society, while local residents with ties to WCU also garnered recognition.

The Folklore Society held its 102nd annual conference Friday, Oct. 9, and Saturday, Oct. 10, at WCU and the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

“We were really delighted to be at Western this year, and so impressed with the hospitality, the beautiful facilities and level of work being done to preserve the traditional culture and folk life of the region,” said Elijah Gaddis, president of the Folklore Society. “There were 75 or so people attending an absolutely great event.”

The Mountain Heritage Center received a Community Traditions Award for community engagement and commitment to research, education and cultural celebration, especially its Mountain Heritage Day festival. The awards honor organizations and groups that support folk life and traditional culture in North Carolina.

Since 1975, the Mountain Heritage Center has curated a collection of 10,000 artifacts of history, natural history and regional culture. The center continues to produce and digitize audio and video recordings that document local culture.

WCU Cherokee language program coordinator Tom Belt at Judaculla Rock, an ancient petroglyph in Jackson County.

WCU Cherokee language program coordinator Tom Belt at Judaculla Rock, an ancient petroglyph in Jackson County.

WCU anthropology professor Ted Coyle and Cherokee language program coordinator Tom Belt received Brown-Hudson Folklore Awards ― Coyle for oral history interviews and ethnographic work and Belt for his dedication to revitalizing the Cherokee language through advocacy, teaching and grassroots organization. The Folklore Society has presented the Brown-Hudson Awards for 45 years to individuals who contribute to the appreciation, continuation or study of North Carolina folk traditions.

Coyle was cited for fieldwork involving the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and for encouraging his students to immerse themselves in regional culture and to contribute to ethnographic and folkloric efforts in the state.

Belt was cited for teaching the Cherokee language across the age spectrum and working to expand the vocabulary to include modern words, such as “computer.” There are fewer than 300 speakers living who grew up with Cherokee as their first language. He meets regularly with elders to learn nuances of the native tongue, believing that language is integral to group identity and carries essential cultural perspective.

Belt also was the conference keynote speaker, presenting “Language as a Window into Culture” on the value of maintaining and preserving historic languages in a modern age, and how it can strengthen identity and sense of community.

In addition to Coyle and Belt, a Brown-Hudson Award was presented to Bill Crawford, co-founder of the Jackson County Genealogical Society, for his work as a folklore researcher and genealogist, and for his documentation of cemetery decoration traditions in Southern Appalachia. Crawford said he believes cemetery traditions celebrate the character and contributions of local people. He served as the primary consultant for “Decoration Day in the Mountains,” a book published by UNC Press in 2010 on regional practices.

Madison County fiddler Roger Howell also received a Brown-Hudson Award for his work preserving regional music traditions, including a compilation of 532 fiddle tunes, folk stories and tributes to master musicians, now housed at Mars Hill University’s Southern Appalachian Archives. A former Mountain Heritage Day performer, he has played in numerous bands, including the Carroll

Best String Band. He was a founding member of the Carolina Old-Timers String Band and recently performed with the Bailey Mountain Ramblers.

Also receiving a Community Traditions Award were a Qualla couple, George “Butch” Goings and Louise Taylor Goings, for their dedication to traditional Cherokee crafts. Both have demonstrated their individual skills at the Mountain Heritage Day festival and are members of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual artisan guild.

Louise Goings is part of a prestigious family of basket makers and regularly demonstrates basket-making at WCU. She is the daughter of Emma Taylor and grew up making baskets. She also has demonstrated basket-making at the Festival of American Folklife at the Smithsonian Institute and the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian. Butch Goings has appeared at the North Carolina State Fair and on the PBS series “The Woodwright’s Shop.”

More information on the Folklore Society, its membership and awards programs can be found at