LARAMIE — For the past few years, folk life specialist Andrea Graham has been all over the state, compiling one of Wyoming’s most abundant resources: hunting folklore.
“Hunting is a part of human culture. It’s a part of the story, and it’s stuff that a lot of people take for granted,” Graham said. “And it’s the kind of thing that tends not to be documented in many ways.”
Started by the Wyoming Arts Council in 2009, “The Art of the Hunt” is a project that has folklore researchers like Graham — who’s part of the University of Wyoming American Studies Program — traveling the state to meet with falconers in Sheridan, gear makers in the Bighorn Basin, taxidermists in Hulett and more.
The Wyoming Arts Council “have a folk arts program, so they kind of were looking for a big statewide project, and they came up with this idea of the ‘Art of the Hunt,’” Graham said. “Hunting is just something that’s so ubiquitous, important to the heritage, the economy, and it’s a topic that people are going to be interested in.”
Researching hunting folklore in Wyoming encompasses much more than the practice of hunting, Graham said. It means examining every aspect of the culture, from the food hunters make in camp to the craftsmen who fashion canvas tents or bamboo fly rods.
“It’s a huge project, and we keep thinking of new things (to research),” Graham said. “There’s trapping, the stuff people do with taxidermy, butchering, camp cooking. All the stuff people make, and the stories they tell.”
But while the project is great in size, Wyoming’s close-knit nature means one interview often leads to more, making it easier to create a network of sources and knowledge, Graham said.
“I had a few leads ahead of time, but sometimes you stumble on to them as well,” Graham said. “And everyone you talk to, you always ask, ‘Is there anyone else who does this?’ Then you’re connecting that web of leads.”
While hunting is strongly linked to Wyoming past and present, it’s a topic that Graham said has often gone without being thoroughly documented. Once completed in 2014, it will be displayed in the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, where Graham said she hopes more people will recognize the diversity and artistry involved in hunting and fishing.
“Some of these guys — they’re mostly guys — who make the gear, they may not think of it as art, but it really is,” Graham said. “It’s enriching, and it allows people to express their ideas of creativity and beauty. Wouldn’t life be more boring without it?”
Through her research, Graham has come to an even better understanding of the unique ways hunting traditions are passed down to younger generations.
“Apparently there’s a high school art exhibition every year in Casper, and there’s a taxidermy category,” Graham said. “How Wyoming? Isn’t that great?”
Although the project has been going for more than two years, there’s still much more to be done before the final product is displayed in 2014, Graham said.
“We’ve just got tons of leads and need to focus on what the gaps are we need to fill in,” she said. “Then we have to start planning the outline of the exhibit and start planning for funding.”
Once completed, everything will be stored digitally in the American Heritage Center, offering future Wyomingites access to a wealth of hunting culture.
“The interviews and photos are all kept, and we have an archive so it will all be preserved,” Graham said. “Part of this is just documenting what the current state of hunting is, and that eventually goes to the American Heritage Center.”