Food from Land & Sea: 2017 Lowell Folk Festival

Guest blog by Millie Rahn

Harvest is past and Thanksgiving is upon us, the perfect time to recall recipes and stories, and celebrate the traditions that make us who we are as individuals, families, and communities. We do this in kitchens, at tables, or in other formats where we remember and reflect on the foods we eat, the ways we acquire and prepare them, and the symbols and meanings they have for us, past and present.

As a folklorist, I’m still savoring the bounty of summer’s riches showcased and shared at regional festivals, particularly in Lowell in late July, where I curate and present the foodways demonstrations. The foodways stage at this year’s 31st event was a festive sampling of tastes, cultures, techniques, and stories featuring foods with ties to land or sea.

Foodways complemented the larger folklife area theme of coastal and inland traditions exemplified by tradition bearers who produced items such pottery and baskets used to gather and/or store foods, or the quahog and other shells that are turned into wampum by Wampanoag and Narragansett artists, or ship’s wheels, horse saddles, and blankets for gathering and transporting foods, or temple ornaments used in the blessing of the bounty.

On the makeshift kitchen stage, both home and professional cooks talked about their individual history and culture. Each assembled a recipe while sharing stories of their homelands and the foods they grew up with, and recipes they adapted and maintain here, and then let audiences sample the finished fare—from Lithuanian pickles to Caribbean and Asian poultry and seafood, rounded off with Southwest chili adapted to coastal New England.

 

Irena Malasauskas emigrated from Lithuania, where her mother always kept wooden barrels of pickles and of sauerkraut in their kitchen. Now Irena makes pickles regularly, keeping them in plastic and glass jars, and even assembled ready-to-eat ones in plastic bags. Pickles, we learned from Irena’s husband and from her granddaughter visiting from Germany, don’t last long in the Malasauskas household.

Geetha Raju, originally from Tamil-Nadu in southern India, made a South Indian shrimp curry, ably assisted by her daughters, Shuruthe and Laya, who are learning the family traditions of cooking and baking. While Geetha here uses tinned coconut milk, she noted that at home in India, which she visits as often as she can, they simply can go outside and pick a coconut off a tree. Laya wants to go into the culinary arts; I suspect we’ll be seeing more of her on the Lowell foodways stage.

Gaitskell Cleghorn, Jr., known as “Chef Gates,” teaches culinary arts in an after-school program for middle school students. He and his partner, Mika Brinson, have Jamaican roots. They talked about the variety of fresh ingredients in Jamaica, where chicken is widely available, either in shops or raised in backyards, and the ease of the cooking and eating on the beach or on rafts in the water in a mild climate. They, too, used coconut milk for their chicken dish, while giving tips on slicing vegetables safely and easily, and quizzing the audience on culinary knowledge and the science of cooking.

Han-Ting Lin is a physician from Taiwan where, she says, fish is a staple in markets and “is a must” at New Year’s Eve dinner. As an oncologist and enthusiastic home cook, she advises “everything in moderation” and talked of the benefits and ease of preparing simple, healthy, and inexpensive meals from scratch, especially in a wok.  She uses a square-bottomed wok that she brought from Taiwan, but noted similar ones are available in Boston’s Chinatown and can be used on either electric or gas stovetops without an adapter. She shared her favorite fish marinades, which she served on different days with squid and salmon–a commercial Korean barbecue sauce, and her own blend: 1 cup olive oil, a “big ginger root,” and 1 ½ tablespoons bottled curry powder.

Patricia Hazard and her sister Viola Solano, dubbed the “Chili Sisters” onstage, made two kinds of Southwestern chili from their mother’s recipe originally from New Mexico, whence they ordered the special chili pepper ingredients for the Southwest flavor they remember from childhood. One sister likes beans in her chili; the other does not, but the basics are the same and each has been making her chili recipe for decades in coastal New England.

Catch us next year at the 32nd Lowell Folk Festival, when our foodways theme will be FLATBREADS & WRAPPED FOODS. Flatbreads, often called pancakes, can be served “as is” or topped, or wrapped and filled with sweets or savories. Whether you call them ploys, hoe cakes, crepes, blintzes, chapattis, johnnycakes…they’re delicious. Come taste for yourself.

Here’s what happens when . . .

. . . you have the opportunity to hire a professional film crew and still photographer  to capture master musicians and dancers performing in a beautiful venue. Videos by Blake Road Productions and stills by Brendan Mercure.

Below are links to each segment of the concert – shot and edited by, Blake Road Productions.

Highlight Reel from Showcase Concert

We are excited to share this highlight reel from our “Hiding in Plain Sight” showcase concert, which took place on Mother’s Day. It captures the talent and energy of some of our state’s most vibrant traditional artists. Shot and edited by Blake Road Productions.

Coming soon will be concert footage of each of the four segments: a Dominican carnival procession by Asociacion Carnavalesca de Massachusetts, South Indian carnatic music and dance, Irish music and dance, and Malian music and dance.

Apply for an Artist Fellowship in the Traditional Arts

Mass Cultural Council is pleased to announce that guidelines and applications are currently available for the next round of  Artist Fellowships in the traditional arts.

Recent recipients include architectural woodcarver Dimitrios Klitsas, Cambodian ceramicist Yary Livan, Irish flute player Shannon Heaton, wooden boatbuilder Harold A. Burnham, and Malian balaphon player Balla Kouyaté. To see a complete list of past fellows in the Traditional Arts category, see here. All were recognized for their artistic excellence within art forms that are deeply rooted in traditional and ethnic culture.

The traditional arts include music, craft, dance, and verbal arts that are created and preserved within communities defined by cultural connections such as a common ethnic heritage, language, religion, occupation, or geography. Whether sung or told, handcrafted or performed, traditional art forms reflect a community’s shared sense of aesthetic heritage. The folk and traditional arts typically are learned during the course of daily living from someone steeped in the tradition, rather than through books, classes, or other means of institutional instruction. Artist Fellowships are for individuals not groups.

Fellowships in the traditional arts are awarded biennially. The postmark deadline to apply is October 2, 2017.

 

 

Angkor Dance Troupe’s impact

Take a listen to this podcast about how ancient Cambodian dance continues to embolden youths in Lowell, Massachusetts. Anita Walker, Executive Director of Mass Cultural Council, speaks with Linda Sopheap Sou. Linda’s parents moved to Lowell in 1981 as Cambodian Refugees. Her father, Tim Thou, is co-founder of Angkor Dance Troupe.

Linda danced with the troupe for 25 years and spent several years as the dance troupe’s executive director. She currently works at Lowell Community Health Center.

Of Native wampum, scrimshaw, & copper cuffs

Here are a few more craft artists you can look forward to meeting in the folklife area of the 2017 Lowell Folk Festival. Native craftspeople from Massachusetts and Rhode Island will be in Lucy Larcom Park, demonstrating and talking about their work with quahogs, deer antler bone, and copper.

And in one tent, it will be a family affair. Patricia James-Perry and her children James and Elizabeth are highly skilled artists whose work draws inspiration from the skills and craftsmanship of their Wampanoag ancestors.

Patricia James-Perry’s family roots are deeply planted in Wampanoag ancestral lands on Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard. One could say she was born into the tradition of scrimshanding, the once common art of hand-crafting decorative and functional items from salvaged whale ivory. She fondly recalls the abundance of scrimshaw in her 1940s-childhood home in New Bedford – her grandmother’s ivory sewing needles, pendants inscribed with tiny whaling scenes, niddy-noddies for yarn, rolling pins, and pie crimpers.

The Wampanoag people of Massachusetts/Eastern Rhode Island were inshore whale hunters and later heavily involved in New England’s global whaling industry. Gay Head whalers were prized for their hunting prowess and navigational skills. Patricia’s grandfather, Henry Gray James, was a career whale man, as was her uncle, Joseph Belain. Family stories tell of Belain twice leading captain and crew to safety, after their ship became ice-bound in the Arctic.

Patricia inherited her whaling ancestors’ tools and her families’ supply of whale teeth. In the 1970s, she carved scrimshaw at LaFrance’s Jewelers in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

With small children, making scrimshaw became difficult for Patricia, along with changing laws governing marine mammal items. Patricia is making scrimshaw again, but now using polished deer antler. Elizabeth and Jonathan James-Perry plan to apprentice with their mother, keeping scrimshanding in the family and maintaining the Native identity it rightly deserves.

Wampum artist Elizabeth James-Perry is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah. Her work is strongly influenced by finely crafted ancient wampum adornment and lore, as well as her late Wampanoag mentors and cousins Nanepashemut and Helen Attaquin.

Man's Wampum armband Montaup; Wampanoag wampum; 2013: N. Dartmouth, Massachusetts; Purple and white wampum shell beads, cotton warps; 2

Elizabeth harvests quahog and conch shells from local waters, sorting them by size and color. Using the rich layered purples of the quahog shell and softer conch shell, Elizabeth sculpts patterned whale and fish effigies and thick wampum beads.

Her earrings often contrast the purple and white of quahog shells with the white of deer antler or bone. The combination gives the earrings color and textural variety, while subtly expressing the link between land and ocean. Using shell appliqué, she makes star medallions and finely-woven wide purple gauntlet cuff bracelets, both emblems of traditional Native leadership.

Elizabeth’s art is a form of Native storytelling and genealogy relating to coastal North Atlantic life. She grew up watching her mother Patricia execute tiny whaling scenes on bone scrimshaw, and shared her Wampanoag families’ whaling history in Living with Whales, a book by Nancy Shoemaker. When the historic whaling vessel Charles W. Morgan was newly refurbished, Elizabeth sailed on-board its 38th voyage as a descendant of the Gay Head and Christiantown tribal crewmembers. In 2014, she was awarded a Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in the traditional arts.

Jonathan James-Perry grew up in a creative household surrounded by music, sculpting, beadwork, and scrimshaw, all coming out of rich Wampanoag traditions. He practices an impressive variety of indigenous art forms including making effigy pipes, copper jewelry, engraved slate pendants, burl bowls and platters, wooden hair combs incised with Native motifs, boat paddles, boats, and flint knapped stone tools. He works with locally sourced woods, stone, and metals.

His preferred metal to work in is copper as it holds a special meaning and significance for Eastern Native people. “Copper’s reflective surface is evocative of the warmth of the sun and is considered medicinal as well as being ideal for adornment.” Jonathan cold hammers and draws out the metal, forming long copper thunder bird breastplates, lunar gorget neck plates, and gauntlet cuffs. He then hand-presses designs into the metal’s smooth finish, embossing them with either abstract edge work or clan animal shapes. These embellishments are inspired by those found in ancient Wampanoag material culture — basketry, tattooing, stone carving, and pottery stamps. Concave discs represent the moon, a repeating double curve may represent growth or a whale’s spout out on the ocean.  As a 2017 Community Spirit Award recipient from the First Peoples Fund, Jonathan is committed to passing on his knowledge to the next generation.

In an adjacent festival tent, you will find Narragansett wampum artist Allen Hazard, who has been making wampum for the last 30 years.

Among Eastern Woodland Tribes, wampum has traditionally been used as adornment in the fashioning of beads for necklaces, earrings, and belts and as a medium of trade. Allen shares that the word “wampum” comes from the Narragansett word for ‘white shell.’ The quahog is a hard shell clam once found in abundance along coastal New England waters. The meat of the quahog has long been valued as a source of highly nutritious food. The white shell and deep purple inside of the shell continues to be highly prized as a material for fashioning beads.”

Allen acquired his skills from his mother Sarah (Fry) Hazard and other Narragansett elders as a child. Creating a single tubular bead from the hard shell of the quahog is a time-consuming task. Using replicas of old school wampum tools, Allen let’s people see how wampum beads were created before the availability of power tools. He has introduced modern tools into the process, including a wet saw to cut the clamshell, and a Dremel to smooth, bore, and polish the final product.

Allen’s wampum beads, necklaces, and belts are made in an old style so they can be worn with traditional Eastern Woodland regalia. He and his wife Patricia run the Purple Shell store in Charlestown, Rhode Island.

 

Of Saddles and Horse Fly Blankets

Festival season is upon us once again. We have a wonderful line-up of craft artists who will be demonstrating at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival. This year’s folklife area features individuals whose work has tangible ties to land or sea, for example, market baskets woven from homegrown willow, Native wampum forged from locally harvested quahog shells, and yarn spun from the fleece of grazing sheep. Craft traditions evolve from the human response to utilitarian needs and the quest for beauty. A hand-crafted wooden ship’s wheel with its polished brass hub looks beautiful and feels good in the hand.

In this post, we introduce you to three crafts people whose work is related in some way to horse fittings. Did you ever wonder how leather is formed into lasting saddles that benefit both rider and horse? Do you know how a western saddle differs from an English saddle? And what about keeping flies off of horses?

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Horseback riders in eastern Massachusetts predominantly ride English style, while those in the western part of the state favor western saddles. Lucky for them, they can rely on the craftsmanship of Keith LaRiviere of Orange, Massachusetts, who may be the only western saddle and tack maker in New England. LaRiviere is a parachute rigger by training with 37 years’ experience as a skydiving jump instructor, parachute rigger, and jump pilot. So why saddles? Blame his wife Jane’s need for repair of her horse tack, says Keith. His familiarity with repairing parachuting harnesses led to his slowly accumulating the tools and skills to work on leather horse tack. “I started out small, basically doing repairs and making headstalls and bridles, chaps and chinks.”

Inspired, Keith went on to study saddle making with Colorado saddler Jesse Smith and apprentice with New Hampshire harness maker Russ Bigelow. The apprenticeship was a chance to build a show harness for a draft horse and a replica of an 1859 saddle, the one used by US Cavalry during the Civil War. In addition to the two to three saddles he builds a year, Keith repairs old ones with tender loving care. Beyond saddles, Keith has made or fitted several pieces for Civil War reenactors, created harmonica cases, tool cases, and holsters for modern cowboy mounted shooters.

Tony Cooper of Royalston, Massachusetts has been making, fitting, and repairing saddles since 1984. A native of Dublin, Ireland, he received his training in leatherwork at Cordwainers College, London, where he focused on rural saddlery. Tony completed his saddlery training, was elected to the Guild of Master Craftsmen, and returned to New England and started knocking on barn doors.

A proper saddle gives support to the rider, while distributing the rider’s weight on the horse. If the horse is comfortable under the saddle, it moves more freely, enabling horse and rider to perform optimally as a single unit. “I contour the bottom of the English saddle to fit the horse’s shape.”

In addition to making a saddle from scratch, much of Tony’s time is spent refurbishing, replacing, or rebuilding all parts of a saddle. This can involve re-stuffing panels and converting felt and foam panels to wool; replacing worn seats, skirts, knee rolls, billets and flaps; enlarging panels by adding gussets; and adjusting and repairing trees, the wooden framework of the saddle. Tony likes that there are certain parts of saddle making that must be done by hand. Like sewing – using an awl to punch holes, he sews 12 stitches to the inch, just like a skilled quilter.

Barbara Merry of Wakefield, Rhode Island excels in the maritime tradition of knot tying, fashioning rope into nautical fenders, beckets (decorative rope handles), and other useful marine lines. She recently revived the art of making Victorian-style horse fly blankets, which were once used solely for the purpose of keeping biting flies off horses.

Today, some kind of blanket remains in demand, particularly among discriminating horse owners who choose not to use petroleum-based fly repellent on their animals. Called “swish” blankets and made of nylon, these blankets are woven in two sizes (draft horse and buggy horse). Back in the early 1800s, the material of choice was strips of leather stitched together. In time, the blankets “morphed” into ornate objects, beautifully knotted in natural fiber cordage.

Women excelled at this type of work. It was usually done by wives, sweethearts, and daughters after finishing or repairing nets for their fisherman. It was only natural that these women would turn this skill to the manufacture of horse fly blankets for customers in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston — big cities where there were a lot of flies!

All three craft artists will be demonstrating in the Folklife area of the Lowell Folk Festival this July 29 and 30, 2017.

Maggie Holtzberg manages the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at Mass Cultural Council.

“Hiding in Plain Sight” Concert Brings the World to Rockport

Despite gale force winds and rain on Mothers’ Day, the show went on. And what a show it was! We were delighted to have the opportunity to showcase a sampling of our state’s traditional artists to perform at one of the country’s most stunning concert halls — the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts. Performers were either past or current recipients of an Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship or Traditional Arts Apprenticeship. We’re happy to share some images shot by photographer Brendan Mercure.

No fewer that 20 members of Lawrence’s Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts opened the show by processioning from the back of the hall, down the aisles and up onto the stage.

Mass Cultural Council executive director Anita Walker gave a warm welcome to all in attendance, pointing out the richness of hidden treasures we have in the Commonwealth, many of whom have come here as immigrants.

 

I followed her by introducing our South Indian Carnatic musicians, which included two master artists, Tara Anand Bangalore and Gaurish Chandrashekhar, and three apprentices, Sudarshan Thirumalai, Pratik Bharadwadj, and Kaasinath Balagurunath. A purely musical segment was followed by Bharatanatyam dancer Sridevi Thirumalai.

The second half of the show opened with a beautiful set of Irish music by Joey Abarta, Matt and Shannon Heaton, and sean nos dancer Kieran Jordan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We closed the concert with West African music and dance led by virtuoso balafon player Balla Kouyaté and master drummer/dancer Sidi “Joh” Camara. Both are considered hereditary artists, meaning they were born into the tradition.

  

Joining them on the stage was the next generation — Tiemoko Camara and Jossira and Sekou Balla Kouyaté — all of whom show great promise in carrying the traditions forward.

 

Balla stood up to invite audience members to join them on stage to dance.

Jossira helped by stepping down off the stage and reaching out her hand, encouraging people to join her. It worked – even 18-month old Maiya Camara got into the act.

Then it was time for a final bow. One of the magical things that happens when you bring musicians together from different world traditions is that they soon find common ground. This often happens back stage, behind the scenes. As one of our stage managers Sara Glidden pointed out, “All of you in the audience missed one of the highlights – the Indian musicians in the green room, jamming along to the video/audio feed of the Irish musicians on stage.”

Postscript: This email from leader of the Dominican masqueraders Stelvyn Mirabal gets to the heart of what our work as folklorists is all about. “I was received like a hero at my work on Monday. My Human Resources boss was at the show on Sunday and she didn’t know I was involved in the event until she saw me there. She took some pictures and posted in the company website. Then everyone was congratulating me for the show. She loved it!! Thanks again for thinking of us for your show.”

Talk about “hiding in plain sight”!

Maggie Holtzberg manages the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the Mass Cultural Council.

 

 

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: Folk Masters of Massachusetts Showcase Concert

We are excited to announce a May 14  showcase concert featuring the excellence and diversity of music and dance traditions thriving in Massachusetts today. Performers are past or current recipients of an Artist Fellowship or Traditional Arts Apprenticeship, prestigious awards granted by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Come experience a Dominican carnival procession led by Stelvyn  Mirabal, then be enthralled by leading exponents of South Indian vocals, violin, and percussion, Irish flute, uilleann pipe and old style step dance, and West African balafon (xylophone), djembe drum, and ceremonial dance. The concert will take place at the stunningly beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on Sunday May 14 at 5:00 pm.

Carnatic music of South India is one of the oldest music systems in the world. Built upon talas (rhythmic cycles) and ragas (melodic scales), the basic transmission of this venerable South Indian tradition is done via face-to-face lessons in which the guru vocalizes first and then demonstrates the lesson.

  

   

Irish tradition has deep roots in Massachusetts. Tunes once played at crossroad dances traveled the ocean in the hearts, hands, and feet of Irish immigrants. Boston in known for its active scene of pub sessions, concerts, competitions, and classes.

  

  

In parts of Mali, West Africa, dance, music, and song are an integral part of everyday life. Birth, death, initiation rites, and marriage are all marked with specific dances and songs. Many musicians and dancers are hereditary artists, meaning they are born into the tradition.

 

The concert will take place at the stunningly beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on Sunday May 14 at 5:00 pm.  A perfect outing for Mother’s Day!

Maggie Holtzberg runs the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the  Massachusetts Cultural Council.

 

Apprenticeships Matter

Back in 2005, we funded an apprenticeship in icon writing that supported renowned Russian iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky to work with apprentice Sr. Faith Riccio. The centuries-old artistic tradition of iconography requires the application of very specific techniques and image representations that have been passed down from artist to artist through the ages.

Ksenia Pokrovsky is widely credited with reviving the writing of traditional Russian icons. She learned at a time when Russia nearly lost the old method of writing icons, due to Soviet restrictions on religious expression. Ksenia was encouraged to learn in 1967 by a priest, Reverend Aleksander Men, whom she considers her “spiritual father.” Students from all over the world come to study with Ksenia Pokrovsky.

To hear Ksenia’s distinctive voice, listen below to a radio feature we did with her on WUMB radio.

Sister Faith Riccio lives in an abbey on Cape Cod, where they are interested in keeping old art forms alive. She explains how she came to icon writing, “. . . My prioress asked if I would learn icons. I started out kind of on my own . . . I found [Ksenia] on the Internet. And she said, ‘Well, you really don ‘t know what you ‘re doing, ‘ in her just wonderful, diplomatic way. I said, ‘No, I don ‘t. And I ‘ll keep doing that if you don ‘t help me.'” A  Traditional Arts Apprenticeship awarded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Folk Arts & Heritage Program was added incentive. Sister Faith spent significant time in the Pokrovsky household working under Ksenia’s guidance. Ksenia considered Sister Faith one of her best students, “She has the time to devote to this; she works very hard. ”

The two women were in close touch until 2013 when Ksenia Pokrovsky passed away. The world lost a remarkable artist. Fortunately, her technique and artistry lives on in those she mentored. We were delighted to learn that Sr. Faith has just published a book,  Icons: The Essential Collection. A large collection of her icons are currently on display at the  Church of the Transfiguration, which includes installations of mosaics, true fresco, bronze and glass. Sr. Faith will be speaking at the Community of Jesus on Friday March 17 at 2:00 pm.

Maggie Holtzberg runs the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the  Massachusetts Cultural Council.