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MSUM Ivan Walton Collection

Photo courtesy of
The Bentley Historical Library

MSUM Ivan Walton Collection

Ivan Walton
1988 posthumous awardee, Mt. Pleasant (Isabella County) and Beaver Island (Charlevoix County), folklorist and educator of Great Lakes maritime culture

The legacy left by Ivan Walton is beyond measure. For more than 30 years he researched and collected the songs of Great Lake sailors and documented their way of life and that of their families. "His great enthusiasm for sailor songs and related lore was the impelling force in his work and life," wrote George McEwen, a colleague at the University of Michigan where Ivan taught literature and folklore. (1) He was honored posthumously for his immeasurable contribution to our understanding of maritime folklore, especially that of the era of the schooner.

Ivan was born in Mt Pleasant in 1893; he died in Arizona in 1968. His interest in the Great Lakes began when he was in his teens, visiting boats in the Ludington Harbor and listening to Scandinavian sailors singing. "I have been fascinated with the lakes," he once said, "as far back as I can remember." Ivan's fascination began as a "hobby" but soon he was spending his summers traveling around the periphery of each of the Great Lakes searching for and interviewing sailors and their families, recording songs, and amassing an extensive collection of materials. He returned to Beaver Island year after year pursuing his passion.

His field collections (audiotapes and transcripts, interviews, photos, correspondence, field notes and logs, papers of the Michigan Folklore Society) are preserved in the archives of the Bentley Historical Library, The University of Michigan. Partial copies are also available at the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture and the archives of Michigan State University Museum. His collection measures 30+ linear feet, of which the audiotapes are central.

Ivan read papers based on his research at conferences and published some articles; unfortunately, he did not live to finish his manuscript. However, his collections have been made more accessible. In the late 1980s, the Bentley Historical Library produced an audiotape with samples of the music he collected. Using Ivan's materials on Beaver Island and supplementing them with her own research, Laurie K. Sommers published Beaver Island House Party (Michigan State University Press) in 1996. In 2002, Joe Grimm edited Ivan's collection of songs and published Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors (Wayne State University Press) and plans to edit and publish Ivan's journals.

(1) McEwen, George. "Ivan Walton, A Pioneer Folklorist." The Michigan Academician (1970):73-77

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