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50 Years / 50 Objects

Storied Objects from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
50 Festivals, 225 programs, 800+ objects, thousands of participants, millions of visitors
Explore the rich history of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival through our material culture collection. Each object holds a story of community, tradition, collaboration, and conversation, bringing to life the spirit of the Festival as a celebration of traditional cultural heritage.
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Festival objects shine a light on Festival history

From chainsaw carvers to Southern potters, religious scroll painters to silversmiths, participants in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival have created a remarkable array of storied objects as they’ve discussed their cultural traditions with the public. Sometimes, near the end of a Festival, they present these objects as gifts to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

The resulting material culture collection has grown to more than 800 objects. Unplanned and unexpected, it is beloved by staff. It is also essentially unknown—a hidden treasure within a research unit of the Smithsonian. Yet thanks to the memories of staff, the eloquence of the artists, and the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives—there is much to learn from these storied objects.

Matteo Valderrama, 2015 Perú: Pachamama program.
Photo by Brian Barger, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Melissa Darden, 1996 The American South program.
Photographer unknown, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Bamboo craftsmen, 1985 Mela: An Indian Fair program.
Photographer unknown, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
John Neilson, 2009 Wales Smithsonian Cymru program.
Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
A young family member works on María Teresa Gonzáles’ dance skirt, 1987 Cultural Conservation and Languages: America’s Many Voices program.
Photo by Ricardo Vargas, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

The fifty selected objects were made by traditional artists from around the world during more than thirty Festival programs. Instead of presenting one object from each year, we looked for objects that tell a good Festival story. What added something can we learn about a particular object and its maker because of its Festival origins? It turns out quite a bit!


Transatlantic Salmon Bhutanese Temple Railing Virgin of the Mall Demon King Ravana Rosemaled Plate Double Fan Tower Welsh Instruments Churn Ghost Mask Q’eswachaka Rope Bridge Onggi Pottery Peruvian Retablo Junkanoo Headdress Omani Coffee Pots Thangka Cini (Turkish ceramic plate) Bicentennial Site Embroidery Apex Stone Memorial Churn Pierre, the Old-Time Woodsman Freedom Sounds Festival Markers Chinelo Costume Chinese Gateway (Flower Plaque) Santa Clara Bowl 150th anniversary Plaque Matachine Dance Skirts Sweetgrass Baskets Orphan Tower Poi Pounding Board Rocking Horse Pants Quilt Rio Grande Blanket Chitlin' Time Virgin of Guadalupe Reed Raft Welsh Inscription Giraffe Family Fish Traps Program Books Festival Sketches Rhythm and Blues Poster Bocce Ball Trophy Smithsonian Inscription Mummer’s Mask Asymmetrical Bowl Grain, Mortar & Pestle Brick Mold Festival Recordings LaCrosse Stick, Iroquois Curling Stone