M. Anna Fariello: Folklife Researcher and Museum Curator
by Marie T. Cochran
Anna Fariello grew up in a small New Jersey town where her first encounter with folklife was as a participant in Italian-American traditions that were part of everyday life. “For the first decade and a half, my life revolved within a small circle of activity even though I lived a stone’s throw from the bustle of Manhattan. The routine of endless days of family, school, and chores was punctuated by a weekly pilgrimage to Church.” There, she experienced pageantry (girls strewing rose petals in advance of a procession), ritual (the sign of the cross made with ashes), and foodways (nine-fish dinners on Christmas Eve). But it was the material culture that caught her attention. Color, majesty and mystery permeated Saint Vincent’s, a sumptuous neo-Gothic structure. While still a young child, she became fascinated with historic architecture through frequent visits to church and the town’s library.
As an undergraduate, Fariello studied Art History and Graphic Arts at Rutgers University. As an artist and teacher, she began to put together exhibits, which led her to earn a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. After working at two accredited museums in Richmond, she became the founding director of the Radford University Museum; as a member of the faculty, she developed a museum studies curriculum that included cataloguing, interpretation, exhibitions, and collections care. She completed an M.F.A. at James Madison University combining photography and ceramics. At Radford, Fariello organized a wide variety of exhibitions, from Andy Warhol and Christo, to folk and indigenous art. She curated a number of exhibitions that explored cultural identity and diversity—Visual Storytellers (1991), Defining Ourselves (1995), and African American Presence (1998)—as well as a number of traveling exhibitions that traced historic precedents of pottery traditions.
In 1998, Fariello left Radford to join the faculty at Virginia Tech as a member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. As part of Virginia Tech’s outreach efforts, she worked closely with the Christiansburg Institute to help revitalize the former African American school. Interviewing alumni and establishing a timeline of school history from extant documents, she contributed to a plan for the building’s renovation as the Christiansburg Institute Museum and Archive, a research center on segregation-era education. Serving as CI’s consulting curator for five years, she curated and organized Christiansburg Institute and Educational Change in Virginia, an exhibition that toured to a number of historically black colleges and to the National Civil Rights Museum, and directed the Virtual Christiansburg Institute (www.christiansburginstitute.org).
Fariello was named a Senior Research Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Archives of American Art where she began to look into the craft revival, a movement that brought national attention to the region’s traditions. In 2003 she worked with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife, leading a curatorial team to identify material traditions for the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In conjunction with the festival, she produced the exhibition and catalog, Movers & Makers: Doris Ulmann’s Portrait of the Craft Revival (2003). She was editor of the art section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (2006) and contributed a chapter to the Handbook of Appalachia (2006).
Before leaving Virginia for Western North Carolina, Fariello completed a number of projects, including a cultural inventory of a 22-county region in rural southwest Virginia. The information gathered was provided to local governments to assist with developing a plan for enhancing heritage tourism. Also as a result of this project, Fariello produced Blue Ridge Roadways: A Virginia Field Guide to Cultural Sites (2006):
“I tried to approach the built environment as a professional curator, looking at a particular site as a place of layered history. Each layer, peeled off decade-by-decade, revealed information about the past. The challenge lay in weaving these isolated bits of information together to form a coherent story that helps visitors appreciate a sense of place.”
That “sense of place” infused Fariello’s work. She completed a number of other photo-documentary projects including the Arcadia Series, an exhibition that traveled as part of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibition service. “Arcadia began as a silent protest in the face of a not-so-dignified end to an antebellum homestead that disappeared one day without a trace.” With the realization that the cultural landscape was changing rapidly, Fariello began to capture the fading presence of the rural roadside eclipsed by a facade of fast-food franchises and suburban tract houses. Working with photography, video, and projected imagery, she produced and presented a dozen collaborative performances, including Women, Word & Image (1997), Visions: Earth Requiem (1998), and the Last Words of Christ (2000). In 1997, Opera Roanoke hired her to create a scenic layer of visual imagery for their production of The Magic Flute.
In the late 1990s, Fariello had begun to look more closely at indigenous traditions. Working with the state Department of Historic Resources, she negotiated the long-term loan of Woodland-era archeological artifacts from storage in Richmond to site them on view in the New River Valley (1997). For the Virginia Museum Statewide Exhibitions program and Radford’s permanent collection, she organized Huichol Tablas (1998), work by native artisans of the Sierra Madre. In 2000, as a Fulbright Scholar, Fariello taught museology in Panama where she visited and photographed the Eberá and Kuna Indian tribes. Her interest in folk traditions includes contemporary folk art forms as well; she created a photo-essay on Panama City’s colorful painted buses, and cemetery monuments in Mexico and the American South. She continues to work with the Fulbright Commission as a Museology Specialist Peer Reviewer.
In 2005 Fariello came to Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library as Associate Research Professor and began building the Craft Revival Digital Collection. The online database holds over 4,000 digital items, accessible through the interpretive website, Craft Revival: Shaping Western North Carolina Past & Present (http://craftrevival.wcu.edu). The project aimed to tell the story of the revival while providing public access to the collections of seven regional partners: John C. Campbell Folk School, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Penland School of Crafts, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, and the Southern Highland Craft Guild. University partners included the Mountain Heritage Center and Hunter’s own Special Collections. Her article “The Folklorist’s Digital Toolkit,” published in the North Carolina Folklore Journal (2006) described the project’s use of digital tools applied to folklife fieldwork and heritage preservation.
In 2008 Fariello initiated From the Hands of our Elders, a new Hunter Library initiative. Working closely with Cherokee organizations, she documented 20th century Cherokee material culture and worked on long-term preservation strategies for local collections. Her book, Cherokee Basketry: From the Hands of our Elders (2009), describes the craft’s forms, functions, and methods, and records the tradition’s celebrated makers. Cherokee Pottery, second in the From the Hands of our Elders series, is due out in 2011.
Throughout her professional career, Fariello’s research interest has focused on 19th and 20th century material culture with an emphasis on the impulse to create and implications for America’s culture and work ethic. She is co-author of the textbook, Objects and Meaning, author of 50 articles and conference presentations, and curator of over 40 exhibitions.
Born and raised in Toccoa, GA, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, Marie Cochran received degrees from the University of Georgia (BFA, 1985) and the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, IL (MFA 1992). She is an artist and arts advocate who collaborates with diverse audiences. Currently she is at work on the Affrilachian Artist’s Project which celebrates the work of visual artists of African descent in the region.
Cochran, Marie T. “M. Anna Fariello: Folklife Researcher and Museum Curator.” North Carolina Folklore Journal 57.2 (2010): 8-12.