Delmar D. Davis has been purveying souvenirs to Lake of the Ozarks tourists since 1947. His long, crowded gift shop features white oak baskets made locally. This is a dying craft according to Davis as labor costs make them non-competitive with imports. His store is filled with graniteware, cookbooks, wooden decoupage plaques of wolves and eagles, Frankoma pottery, and out-of-date hillbilly calendars. This combination of authentic folk baskets and tasteless novelties may seem incongruous, but we’ve encountered it before in our survey of American rusticity.
Although Davis’s current stock of locally made hickory baskets is extensive, he told us there were few makers left these days. His crafters can make more money at a job. His prices are reasonable, and don’t include a folk-craft premium though they are authentic old time type Ozark type baskets.
It is a bit disconcerting to find jokey hillbilly, made in Taiwan, novelties just across the aisle from classic pioneer crafts, and we have a high tolerance for such incongruities. It’s a central tenet of our HYPERCOMMON theory that as America’s popular culture evolved without the constraints of high culture it gleefully mixes kitsch and things with esthetic merit indiscriminately.
Originally souvenirs were artifacts made by exotic peoples brought back by explorers. In the early days of tourism most souvenirs were items made to sell, but had some resemblance to local craft traditions. Global trade opened the door to the importation of low cost trinkets made in developing countries. Purveyors of locally made souvenirs, like the Basket King, are rare these days. Art and demonstration crafts are still produced here and there in vacationland but they carry a prohibitive price for the souvenir trade, and do not always have a heritage tie-in.