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Collection Bess Lomax Hawes Collection

About this Collection

The Bess Lomax Hawes collection is comprised of papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials relating to the career and personal life of folk arts administrator, folklorist, ethnomusicologist, filmmaker, musician, and teacher Bess Lomax Hawes, most from 1960-2001. It includes work produced by Hawes when she was a professor at San Fernando Valley State College in Northridge, California, and as head of the National Endowment for the Arts Folk Arts Program in Washington, D.C. This presentation includes approximately 12,000 manuscripts including writings, correspondence, and business records.

Bess Lomax Hawes (1921-2009) was a folklorist, teacher, musician, writer, filmmaker, and folk arts administrator. Named for her mother, Bess Brown Lomax, she was exposed at a young age to folk music performance and fieldwork through her father, John A. Lomax, and brother, Alan Lomax. After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1941, she moved to New York City, where she performed with the Almanac Singers, including Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, artist Butch Hawes (who later became her husband), and others. In 1952, Hawes moved with her family to California, where she taught guitar and courses in folklore and anthropology at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge). As professor, she wrote a number of academic papers and was an active participant in the California Folklore Society, where she served as president from 1971-1973. While on the faculty at San Fernando Valley State, Hawes completed her M.A. in folklore from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1977, Hawes moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as head of the Folk Arts Program at the National Endowment for the Arts, and stayed on for a fifteen-year tenure. At the NEA she raised the public profile of the folk arts, establishing apprenticeship and other grant programs to support folk artists with skills as varied as music and dance, basketmaking, and pottery. A crowning achievement at the NEA was the establishment of the National Heritage Fellowship program to honor folk artists for lifetime achievement and contributions to traditional arts in the United States. Hawes traveled widely for her work at NEA, both nationally and internationally. She wrote several books: Step It Down (1972), co-authored with Bessie Jones; Brown Girl in the Ring (1997), co-authored with Alan Lomax and J.D. Elder; and Sing it Pretty (2008), a memoir. In 1993 Hawes received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton.