New Skills at Work

The past week has been filled with invaluable lessons from Jerry and Guha on the foundation of skills necessary to delve into the world of the folklorist. On everything from various ways to compose ethnographic field notes to properly labeling our contributions to the Digital Archives Initiative, it feels as though we have covered the equivalent of months of work. We are, after all, doing what Jerry often refers to as folklore boot camp. For anyone entering a new field of study, so much information in such a small amount of time can be overwhelming. There is no doubt in my mind that at some point this past week we have all asked ourselves exactly what we are getting ourselves into by choosing the career path of a folklorist. Of course, the stresses that consumed us for the first part of the week quickly faded away once we had the chance to venture out of the convent and experiment with some field work of our own.

Our first real hands-on project of the week came yesterday when we got to work with Brian Ricks, a professional photographer who’s enthusiasm towards the medium is contagious. We had three hours to photograph Sheila Ryan’s house and shed, as well as Joey Yard’s fishing sheds and stores, each interior distinctive in personality and charm. While crossing over the threshold from automatic digital photography to manual settings was new and intimidating territory for us all, Brian spent the afternoon explaining (often more than once) things like using exposure compensation and IOS, or how to balance our aperture settings with our shutter speed. The day concluded with a critique of our photos by Brian, and it was pretty amazing to us all just how far we had come within a few hours of taking our camera off automatic.

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Jerry and Joey Yard in Joey’s fishing shed.

Friday morning was spent in preparation for Sister Lois Green’s arrival, a Sister from the Presentation order of the Catholic Church who came to Witless Bay in 1963 to live and teach at Nagle House, the very convent we are living in now. Jerry and Guha staged an hour long interview with her for us to observe, and a few members from the Witless Bay community came to watch alongside us, which was a great surprise. Seeing an interview with such a vibrant woman as Sister Lois Green made me eager to start our own projects here in Witless Bay. What I found most interesting about the interview with her was her stress on education being the original purpose of Nagle House, rather than religion. Education was the deciding factor in her choice to join the Presentation order, and being part of the convent for her meant that she would be able to educate and help others in need, which continues to be her life passion. She also told us she was pleased that our field school is happening at Nagle House, as we are living out the original purpose of the space.

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Sister Lois Green during her interview with Guha and Jerry.

What I realize now is that it was being out in the field, seeing the interiors of Witless Bay houses, meeting their inhabitants, speaking with Sister Lois Green and being a part of a fascinating interview that made the information packed week feel completely worth it. These skills are necessary for going out into the field and working as a folklorist. As hectic as the week may have been, it allowed us to use these last two days to practice and reflect on how far we have come already. Because now that we have a strong basis of information on which to work, we are ready to embark on the next stage of becoming a folklorist.

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The Last Supper and a dart board in Joey Yard’s fishing shed.

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