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Sundogs and Sunflowers: Folkore and Folk Art of the Northern Plains

Compiled and edited by Timothy J. Kloberdanz and Troyd A. Geist

North Dakota Council on the Arts, Bismarck, North Dakota, 2010, 339 pages, hardcover.

2012 National Noteable Award from American Library Association


Sundogs and Sunflowers: Folklore and Folk Art of the Northern Great Plains is a groundbreaking compilation thirty years in the making celebrating the proud folk heritage of the Northern Great Plains. Published by the North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA), it is compiled and edited by North Dakota State University Professor Emeritus Dr. Timothy J. Kloberdanz and NDCA folklorist Troyd A. Geist.

Published collections of North American folkways seldom include folklore texts or representative traditions from the Great Plains region. Invariably, much attention is given to such areas of the country as New England, Appalachia, the Ozarks, and the Deep South. Duncan Emrich’s Folklore on the American Land, for example, runs more than 700 pages but other than for a few black-and-white photographs taken in the 1930s and 1940s, it is nearly impossible to find folklore examples from the northern plains.

Sundogs and Sunflowers is a large-size, fully-illustrated book devoted to the folklore and folk art of the Northern Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, western Minnesota, eastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and the prairie areas of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.) There are 10 chapters in the book and more than 1,000 examples of folklore and folk art are included. In addition, there are more than 300 images (many of them in color.)

The diverse traditions of many different ethnic and occupational groups are represented but the book is especially rich in examples drawn from German-Russian settlement areas of the Northern Great Plains. This is as it should be, since the Germans from Russia comprise one of the largest and most visible ethnic groups in the region. Here is but a small sampling of German-Russian folklore and folk art that can be found within the 350+ pages of Sundogs and Sunflowers:

--The ghost story that inspired the title of Chapter 1, "The boy who fell into a Grave," was told by an 82 year old German-Russian storyteller from western North Dakota.

--Chapter 3 is devoted entirely to "Blizzard Stories" and several of these narratives are from German-Russian communities: Ashley, ND; Harvey, ND; Lehr, ND; Mandan, ND; Rugby, ND; etc.

--In Chapter 4 ("Weatherlore"), there is a picture and three different stories about the German-Russian "onion ritual," a custom that is traditionally done on Christmas Eve to predict the following year's rain patterns. According to one German-Russian man, "It is God's tears that make it rain."

--Chapter 6 concerns customary folklore and many German-Russian folk beliefs are included. Six color pictures of German-Russian iron grave crosses appear on pages 138-139. Also, there are 5 color pictures of a German-Russian man doing "water witching" with L-shaped metal rods. There is also a picture of German-Russian Mennonite basketmaker LeRoy Graber (Freeman, South Dakota) on page 155.

--Chapter 7 includes more than 90 examples of folk medicine and traditional cures. The German-Russian tradition of "Brauche" is discussed and color pictures of the "egg and thread ritual" are included.

--Chapter 8 emphasizes holiday celebrations and other folk observances, ranging from January 1 to December 31. Color pictures of the German-Russian holiday characters "Belznickel" and "Christkindl" are included. Six color pictures of a modern (and hilarious) German-Russian mock wedding in Tuttle, ND, also are included.

--The last section of the book, Chapter 10, is filled with miscellaneous folklore. German-Russian examples include the nickname "Yellow Legs"; a discussion about "Russian peanuts" (sunflower seeds); a recipe for German-Russian "Kuchen"; etc.

The opening pages of each of the 10 chapters in the book include colorful examples of "Fraktur" artwork, done by German-Russian Hutterite folk artist Kathleen (Kleinsasser) Waldner.

The last page of the book includes the entire, hand-drawn "Fraktur" alphabet (from A to Z) in various bold and breathtaking colors.

So does this new collection of Northern Great Plains folklore, Sundogs and Sunflowers, include any examples of German-Russian folk traditions? "Yah shure, ya betcha!"

Related Articles:

Anthropology Professor Emeritus Donates Large Folklore Collection. 24 February 2011.

Herald Staff Report. "Folklore of N.D., Great Plains is focus of ‘Sundogs and Sunflowers’." Grand Forks Herald, 13 November 2010.

Lamb, John. "Dakota Folklore Book Explores Area Tales of Mystery, Culture." Forum, 13 February 2011, sec. B1 & B3.

Lamb, John. "Christmas Creepers: Costumes Were Part of Ethnic Traditions." Forum, 23 December 2010, sec. B1 & B2.

NDCouncilonArts. "Sundogs and Sunflowers Book." YouTube.com, n.d.

Review by Krista Thom


Sundogs and Sunflowers: Folklore and Folk Art of the Northern Plains

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Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
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PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
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