A series of events and activities on the theme of Folk

black and white photo of a large straw lion
made by Fred Mizen, aged 60, Bardfield, Braintree, Essex

This Autumn we are delving into The MERL collections, and looking beyond, to explore the theme of Folk. What do we mean by ‘folk’? What is ‘folklore’? Do our collections represent ‘folk customs’ and ‘folk culture’? We have put together a fascinating and varied programme of events and activities to explore folk collecting, collections, and folklore. Events range from a seminar series, Lecture and Late, to a contemporary art exhibition and activities for families.

For many The MERL is a ‘folk museum’, established to house ‘folk collections’ and ‘folk art’, and to represent the lives of ‘country folk.’ But it’s not that simple. The English word ‘folk’ has straightforward roots but a complex history. For a long time its use harboured negative connotations in Britain, where it came to refer to the uncultured aspects of everyday life and to the simplified rustic charm of folksy rural backwaters. Intended to provide a scientific backbone to the study of traditional beliefs and stories, the word ‘folklore’ became a byword for the weird and wacky. Folk culture was drawn into debates around nationalism and even national socialism. Add to this mix a complex blend of politics and popular culture and the history of folk suddenly seems much more than just a charming and amusing by-line of social history.

In this programme of events we explore, with the help of academics, contemporary artists, folklorists, and writers changing perceptions of folk and a whole range of aspects of folk culture. Curator Ollie Douglas introduces the series here and explains ‘why the folk’ you should be interested.

What’s On? The Full Programme of Events and Activities

Land and Folk: Seminar Series

Tuesdays 12-1pm, from 25th September

Sunday Craft Drop-in: Make a folk themed mask

14th October, 11am to 1pm

Steve Claydon – The Outside In

20th October to 13th January

Half term: family activities

20th to 28th October

Stepping out of Time: The MERL Annual Lecture

6th November, 7.15pm


20th November, 7-10pm

Folk and Customs: an online exhibition of photos from the MERL collections