December 3, 2002 American Folklife Center Receives Rex Foundation Award for Preservation of Zuni Tales

Press Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Public Contact: American Folklife Center (202) 707-5510

The American Folklife Center (AFC) of the Library of Congress has received a $10,000 Ralph J. Gleason Award from the Rex Foundation for its work in preserving the oral tradition and history of the Zuni tribe in the American Southwest through "Save Our Sounds," a joint project with the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage to restore and preserve original sound recordings of audio treasures in both institutions.

The award was formally presented to AFC Director Peggy Bulger on Dec. 3 at an evening reception for "Save Our Sounds" at the Library of Congress by Rex Foundation board member Mickey Hart, former drummer of the Grateful Dead. The Rex Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization established in 1983 by friends and members of the Grateful Dead. The Ralph J. Gleason Award was established in 1986 to recognize outstanding contributions to culture in memory of the pioneering jazz and pop music journalist Ralph J. Gleason (1917-1975).

The Zuni Storytelling Collection consists of 222 audio recordings that document the oral tradition and history of the Zuni tribe in the American Southwest. The Zuni people laid the foundation for the Zuni Storytelling Collection in 1965 when they sought and received funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity to record their oral literature. Nineteen community elders were selected by the project to relate traditional Zuni folktales in the tribal language for the purpose of documentation. A generation now deceased, these respected tribal members contributed more than 800 stories, 400+ hours of recorded cultural/linguistic documentation, and approximately eight "telapna:we," the phonetic spelling of the Zuni word that refers to epic-length Zuni folktales, which take an hour or longer to relate.

The collection remained in the possession of the Zuni Pueblo until 1990, when the tribe realized that the original master reels, an irretrievable cultural resource, were old, brittle, and in danger of becoming unstable and unusable. Working with Andrew Wiget of the New Mexico Heritage Center, the Zuni Tribal Council determined that the recordings should be transferred to the American Folklife Center in order that these important cultural resources could be preserved. The transaction was given the blessing of the Zuni tribe in the form of a Council Resolution (M70-90-L094) and the American Folklife Center received the master tapes for the Zuni Collection in 1996. Through the Save Our Sounds program, the Folklife Center will process, document, and digitize the collection for research use. The AFC will then store the Zuni Collection master reels and their digital copies in a controlled environment to ensure their longevity.

The American Folklife Center was created in 1976 by Congress to "preserve and present" American folklife through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, publication, and training. The AFC includes the Archive of Folk Culture, established in the Library of Congress in 1928 and now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material in the world. For more information on the American Folklife Center and the "Save Our Sounds" project, visit the center's Web site, For more information about the Rex Foundation, see


PR 02-171
ISSN 0731-3527