Nebraska by Heart is a multidisciplinary instructional unit designed to explore traditional arts and folklife as they exist in Nebraska, and to help students understand these ideas:

  1. Folklife and traditional arts in some form are common to all persons, no matter when or where they live.

  2. These cultural traditions are important in our lives, because they profoundly affect how we view our world and how we interact with others.

The unit is named Nebraska by Heart because most of the learning of folk traditions is based on observation, memory, and imitation. It doesn't come from books or other formal learning situations. Also folk traditions are mostly passed on to us by our friends, relatives and other loved ones. They are thus both learned and perpetuated "by heart."


log cabin doll quilt.

Log cabin (barn raising pattern) doll quilt. Machine pieced and hand-quilted from cotton scraps by Paula Epke Behmer, Norfolk, NE, 1997, 18 x 27 in. (G. Meister, personal collection)


In the unit, students will respond to both historic and contemporary examples of folk arts and folklife from many different Nebraska cultures and subcultures. They will examine and react to examples of folk arts and folklife from their own backgrounds and from the experiences of others in their communities. They also will learn how to create or participate in examples of folk arts from various Nebraska cultural groups.

The unit focuses specifically on traditional arts and folklife from cultural groups present in Nebraska today. However, when useful for illustrating a particular artistic tradition or its history, some information and examples may be drawn from communities representing the same cultures located elsewhere in the United States or the world.

Two of the greatest strengths of this unit are its experiential nature and the way it encourages students to think for themselves in investigating traditional arts, folklife and culture. Another strength is the inherent interdisciplinary nature of folklife and folk arts themselves. Folklore and folklife are grounded in both the arts and humanities. In addition, concepts from science, math and social studies are useful in studying the different genres of these traditional practices and the social contexts in which they occur.


stepping group

Omaha stepping group performing for Juneteenth Celebration at the Malone Center, Lincoln NE 1994 (Photo by G. Meister, Personal Collection)


Nebraska By Heart contains three lessons, plus a concluding integration and assessment component. Each lesson includes several activities and has suggestions for extensions. The assessment component is designed to integrate and evaluate the unit. Each activity has estimated time requirements, but the total number of class periods required to complete the unit will depend upon class scheduling, the number of folklife genres chosen for study, and the judgment of the teacher.

Nebraska folklore books

"That's the way life is in America's rural landscape. Here you'll find
that it is precisely the man or woman with the sharpest wit who is
the best source for serious advice. It is the best storyteller who
offers the most profound philosophical statements over morning coffee.
Often it is the funniest that is also the most inspirational, the silliest
experience that carries the most powerful lesson, the most trivial that
strips away pretense and bares the starkest framework of wisdom. I
came here to the heart of America's rural landscape for an education
and I found it."

Roger Welsch
It's Not the End of the Earth But You Can See It From Here:
Tales of the Great Plains
(1990, xv)


The Nebraska Folklife Network gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following funding sources:

National Endowment for the Arts      Nebraska Folklife Network      Nebraska Arts Council



Also greatly appreciated are the contributions made by the following individuals:

  • Jean Detlefsen
  • Kindra Foster
  • Donalyn Heise
  • Shari Hofshire
  • Justin Kohmetscher
  • Marty Skomal
  •   the traditional artists and tradition bearers featured in the unit
  •   the teachers who helped in unit development and testing.
  • the middle school students who participated in the classroom testing phase of the project.