Anne Grimes at home in Granville, Ohio, 1987.
Photographer: Julie Elman
Aug 4, 2010
By Monica Chapman
"If you ask anybody who plays the mountain dulcimer about how they first discovered it, you will get a story," reflects Assistant Professor of Visual Communication Julie Elman.
Elman's passion for the mountain dulcimer traces back nearly 20 years when an undergraduate design project landed her in the living room of Anne Grimes, a noted dulcimer performer, folksinger and scholar. Today, as the proud designer for Grimes' book, Elman's story has come full circle.
"Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music" was released in July by the Ohio University Press. The collection – begun by Grimes and completed by her four daughters upon Grimes' death in 2004 – represents more than 60 years of work by Grimes in collecting, researching, lecturing, performing and writing about traditional songs and dulcimers.
A traditional performer with strong Ohio roots, Grimes once told a reporter, "Everybody thinks you find folk music in the hills; you don't… it's in people's heads."
Brimming with energy and a love for music of all genres, Grimes' life was a testament to these words. She knew by heart thousands of songs as well as each song's history, according to her daughter, Sara Grimes.
"Sometimes she would get so excited about all this going on at once – wanting to sing the song, but also wanting to talk about the person she learned it from and its history, etc. — that sometimes she would get nearly tongue-tied," Sara recalled.
Though Elman only met Grimes once, her warmth, poise and musical zeal left an indelible mark on Elman's future.
"It was just a wonderful experience for me to talk to her, to hear her play, and it inspired me to continue playing the dulcimer," said Elman.
Since that sole encounter, Elman has displayed a photograph of Grimes in her home – a photo that, according to Sara, well captures her mother's spirit. Elman provided copies of the photo to Grimes' children upon her death in 2004.
Several years later, Sara connected with Elman again through Ohio University – where Sara was spearheading efforts to publish her mother's book with Ohio University Press.
Sara said she pursued the Ohio University Press with the hope that her mother's stories might serve the academic community by inspiring further research into areas covered in the songs, including labor history, Civil War and pre-Civil War issues, African-American history, as well as traditional American music.
"And, we appreciated that Ohio University happens to be near the center of some important discoveries by Anne Grimes, especially related to dulcimers and dulcimer lore," she added.
But the book was not an instant sell, according to Gillian Berchowitz, senior editor and assistant director at Ohio University Press, who acquired the original manuscript.
"I thought twice about doing this book because we do not necessarily focus on music," recalled Berchowitz. "But it just seemed that Ann Grimes' contributions to Ohio history and culture were so significant that it seemed like a very good book for our press."
"It's material that not only illuminates and gives us a depth of understanding of our own region, but in fact it gives us a depth of understanding of folklore in the United States, of traditional music, and of the fifties and sixties when Anne Grimes collected these stories," she added.
Though Elman couldn't offer much help in terms of publishing, she was eager to offer her expertise in design.
"Because of my interest in the dulcimer – I still play – and because of my experience with Anne, I just felt like I was the right person to design that book," she said.
Up to that point, Elman had only designed one other book for publication – "The Rise of Barack Obama" by Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza, formerly an assistant professor of photojournalism at Ohio University. But the Grimes book posed its own unique set of challenges.
"The challenge in the Obama book was picture-editing and sequencing. And the challenge in the Grimes book was making the typography function well so that the book was visually interesting and easy to navigate, despite the fact that it was text-heavy," she said.
The resulting product – a compilation of stories, photographs and songs on CD – pays homage to the people who sang, played and otherwise contributed to preserving America's musical heritage.
"I think (my mother) would be very happy," said Sara Grimes. "She wanted to write this book to honor her contributors and also to let people know about the rich history of folk music and dulcimers in Ohio, and I think the book does that."
Grimes lasting legacy is the Anne Grimes Collection of songs and other material at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Her collection of vintage dulcimers and other instruments is preserved at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.
To purchase "Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music," click here.