John Henry Randolph
Folk Arts and Cultural Preservationist,
Educator, and Artist
June 5, 1937 – October 11, 2012
John Randolph lived on family land on Indian Run in Harrison County, West Virginia, where he was raised. Close family ties, traditional stories, and observation of local folkways brought him to understand and appreciate traditional cultural values, as well as desiring to educate others to those values.
His work in museum education was nationally recognized. While serving on the art faculty of Salem College, Salem, West Virginia, he realized the value of establishing a working center in which the folk arts could be identified, preserved, and perpetuated through education and practice. For this reason, he led the effort to create Fort New Salem, an outdoor history museum which housed both public exhibits and activities depicting life in the early settlement of the region, along with an undergraduate program in Museum Studies and a graduate program in Appalachian Folklife. Not only was he instrumental in the design of these programs, he also directed the instruction in various elements of cultural studies, storytelling, and folk arts. Professor Randolph’s leadership at Fort New Salem was featured in the 1975 National Geographic publication, The American Craftsman.
One of the graduate students he advised in earning a master’s degree was Kenneth G. Gilbert, who went on to create Mountain Trace at Parkersburg High School. This magazine/book program has been compared to the Foxfire concept. Ken Sullivan, former editor of Goldenseal, noted that he felt the Mountain Trace product was the more outstanding of the two.
John Randolph was involved regionally and nationally with many preservation, restoration, and education projects. While Director of Fort New Salem, he was selected as a fellow in the noted “Colonial Williamsburg Summer Institute.” He also received various regional honors, including the West Virginia Travel and Tourism Award, 4-H Alumnus of the Year, Altruisa Clubs of America Man of the Year Award, Federation of Women’s Clubs Recognition Award, and the Stonewall Jackson Civic Club of Harrison County Award. He was also the recipient of two recognitions sponsored by The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center on the campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community and Technical College: The Traditions Salute Award and The B.B. Maurer West Virginia Folklife Scholar Award.
As a close friend and colleague of Dr. B.B. Maurer, Mr. Randolph worked closely with Dr. Maurer’s educational and publishing projects. He authored the chapter, “Arts and Crafts,” in Mountain Heritage, edited by Dr. B.B. Maurer, an extension of Randolph’s master’s thesis. Mr. Randolph also authored various articles for Mountain Trace; published Hill People: Growing Up in the West Virginia Hills, a collection of personal experience stories; and co-authored, along with Judy P. Byers and Noel W. Tenney, In the Mountain State: A West Virginia Folklore and Cultural Studies Curriculum.
He was a member of the storytelling troupe, The Hill Lorists (Byers/Randolph/Tenney), which produced seven audio cassette recordings: Lore of the Hills and Selected Stories from the Green Hills of Magic. The Hill Lorists also received the Southeast Leadership Award from the National Storytelling Association in 1998 and helped to establish the West Virginia Storytelling Festival and Storytelling Guild.
Mr. Randolph received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Salem College, where he studied under folklorist and local historian, William B. Price. He received his Master of Arts degree from West Virginia University with a special emphasis in the folk arts, having worked extensively with the renowned West Virginia folk scholar, Dr. Patrick Gainer. Before returning to Salem College where he was Professor for twenty-five years, he taught briefly in Cabell and Harrison County Schools and for the United States Army Dependent Schools in Italy, He was also Dean of Students at the Columbus Boy Choir School in Princeton, New Jersey.
John Randolph served as a visiting cultural specialist with the Gabor WV Folklife Center, a founding member of its Advisory Council, and a contributing writer and artist for Traditions: WV Folklore Journal. He maintained an artist studio at his home on Indian Run and received numerous awards for his paintings which often reflected the magnificent yet peaceful rural settings of his beloved West Virginia hills.