Pitch perfect color

April 2nd, 2014

Marbled paper by Regina St. John. Photo by Maggie HoltzbergGenie and Dan St. John run Chena River Marblers in the Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, a region known for book arts. Working out of a home studio, they produce stunning marbled patterns on paper and silk.  The marbled paper is used by book binders and paper artists, the silk in the making of scarves and ties. 

The process of marbling is almost magical.  (fitting then, that Regina goes by the nickname “Genie”). A bath of water and a thickening agent, such as carrageenan (dried seaweed) is prepared, onto which droplets of paint are applied. Genie explains that it is the thickened liquid that allows the paint to float on the surface.

Regina St. John. Photo by New England Guild of Book Workers Dan holding sheet of marbled paper

“You put all these colors on your bath and you manipulate them. Comb them this way and that, and the colors don’t get mixed up. The pink stays pink, the white stays white, and you end up with these beautiful patterns right on the surface of your bath.” Next, the image is carefully transferred to an absorbent surface, such as paper or silk.

Genie works mostly using acrylic paints for her silk and paper marbling. Dan points out one of Genie’s enviable talents, saying, “Genie has got a perfect pitch for colors.” Complimenting this is Dan’s background as a physics and chemistry teacher which gives him a grounding in the chemical makeup of materials and processes. Teachers at heart, they suggest that by using the marbling process, a whole curriculum could be created to explore basic chemical properties, such as viscosity, density, acidity, and surface tension. “Just take the different properties of fiber. Take the chemistry of ligans, which make one organic thing stick to another. That’s why colors stick to a fabric. . .” Genie adds, “Once they’ve learned all of that, they can use their papers to make books and write it all down.”

books for sale made with marbled paper

Dan builds much of the equipment, including the many different styles of combs, which when pulled through the bath, create unique patterns.

Two combs made by Dan

Because no paint company manufactures colors specifically for marbling, Chena River Marblers create their own paints (grinding up pigments, adding binders, mulling them together), which allows them more control in how the paint will spread on the liquid surface. Dan favors the old style marbling; using watercolors, he creates what are called “tiger eyes.”  Below are some examples which look like images from the natural world.

Dan's tiger eyes seen in asymetric pattern

Tiger eye with coral background

Another technique is called edge marbling, which was more commonly used in the production of 18th and 19th century books. With marbled edges and end sheets, a book would end up looking like a piece of marble.

Dan holding a edge marbled book. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg Dan St. John edge marbling. Photo courtesy of New England Guild of Book Workers

Together, Genie and Dan St. John convey a passion for the marbling craft, a facility for teaching, and a dedication to passing on the tradition. It’s our good fortune that they will be demonstrating marbling at the 2014 Lowell Folk Festival, where the theme of the craft area will be paper traditions.

Old style marbling with lace effect by Dan St. John. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

More tiger eyes by Dan. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

 

The Art of Folding Paper

February 24th, 2014

Alligator by Michael LaFosseAmerican Alligator, designed by Michael LaFosse; folded by LaFosse and Richard Alexander (50 hours total) from one, uncut, 6′ square of handmade paper by Alexander

It’s the time of year when we start thinking about selecting a theme for the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival. The idea of paper traditions seems full of potential; possibilities include origami, Polish wyncinanki, Chinese paper cutting, kite making, Italian marbled paper, decorative paste papers, wallpaper, piñatas, Turkish Ebru, and a variety of children’s folklore (cootie catchers, fortune tellers, gum wrapper chains, spitballs, and paper airplanes. . . )

I decided to start my search with origami — the art of folding paper from a single, uncut sheet — and soon discovered there are a world of paper folders out there, doing everything from paper cranes to extreme origami. How thrilled I was to learn about Origamido, a commercial design studio, hand papermaking facility, and fine art gallery founded by Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander in 1996, and located in Haverhill, Massachusetts, just a twenty mintue  drive away.

Michael LaFosse

Above: Michael LaFosse at Origamido

Below: Richard Alexander holding origami Afican Pangolin, designed and fronded by Eric Joisel from a single, uncut 2 m square of wrapping paper

Richard Alexander

Michael designs, diagrams, and folds. Richard Alexander designs,  specializes in making handmade paper, and shoots photography and video. They are probably the only origami artists in the world today who routinely make custom paper. In fact, other master origami artists prize their papers, which are made with permanent, finely ground pigments so pieces will last hundreds of years. They make a living by publishing books of their work and by teaching in-school residencies.

 Cormorant by Michael LaFosse Origami Cormorant Drying it’s Wings, designed and folded by LaFossse in handmade paper by Alexander

Both Michael and Richard have backgrounds in science, which explains the strong natural history focus to their work. Whereas a majority of origami is geometric, Michael is drawn to living subjects, rather than the intricate geometric forms. He was inspired by the work of  Master Akira Yoshizawa, a key figure in modern Japanese origami, who originated the wet folding technique. Wet folding allows shaping that will stay in place when the paper dries.

Origamido horse headAlexander holding Zodiac Horse designed and executed in “roundfolding” technique by Roy Iwiki, from distorting scored curves in card stock

Orchid by Michael LaFosse

Cattlyea Orchid designed and folded of crepe paper by LaFosse

Today, mathematicians and computer programmers have created a system that largely prescribes crease patterns. “You get greater complexity,” Michael concedes, “but you also get a lot of things that can look like they evolved from the same technology.”

One is said to “perform” a piece of origami. Michael elaborates, “The very best origami begins in the design stage, where the folding, from start to finish, is elegant.  Because it’s often the little touches – the paper you choose, how you place the folds, and the little details. It’s amazing how a millimeter off at one end magnifies out at the other end, and it will change the look. Even people who do not know anything about origami can tell if something is off.People even who do not know much about origami will look at something like that and they will know something is off. And that’s like singing out of tune or not having the right color in your voice. The subtleties that shade performance are also there in the folds.”

Wilbur by Michael LaFosse, 1991

Wilbur the Piglet, origami designed and folded by LaFosse from his own handmade paper

An elegant fold is one in which the geometry works naturally. The finished piece has to look alive. In preparation for making Wilbur the pig (1991), Michael spent many hours at the Topsfield Fair, observing piglets. Having the right paper was critical. Experimenting, he came up with the perfect handmade paper —  pale pink in color, fairly stiff, with a fuzziness to its finish.  The actual folding of the piece took approximately six  hours.

When I ask if he would ever make another Wilbur the pig, he responds, “If I did, I would be trying to copy the magic in the bottle that I captured when I made Wilbur. Or I would become a student, in a torturing sort of way. Sort of, like, how did I get that just right? And then, you know, it’s just brittle. It doesn’t work.”

 

MCC announces Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts

February 6th, 2014

MCC is delighted to announce the 2014 Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts. Two artists will receive  fellowships in the amount of $10,000 and four artists will receive $500 finalist awards. For more information on MCC Artist Fellowships, look here.

ARTIST FELLOWS:

Elizabeth James Perry, Wampanoag weaving and wampum

Hand woven sash by Elizabeth James Perry

Elizabeth James Perry, (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head) is a fiber artist whose work reflects time-honored Wampanoag materials, techniques, and aesthetics. A scholar of Northeastern wampum and indigenous fiber arts, her work focuses on early contact-period Northeastern Woodlands Algonquian material culture, which features woven regalia (twining, weft weaving), natural dyes, and wampum adornment. She has been the recipient of a New England for the Arts grant (NEFA) and served as a master artist in the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.

Selected exhibitions include the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT; National Seashores Salt Pond Visitor Center, Eastham, MA; The Boston Children’s Museum, Boston, MA; Aquinnah Cultural Center, Martha’s Vineyard, MA; and Roger Williams University, Bristol RI.

Jimmy Noonan, Irish flute and tin whistle playing

Jimmy Noonan at Boston College Jan 23 2014. Photo: Paul Wells

Jimmy Noonan is an Irish flute and tin whistle player who grew up steeped in the traditional music of County Clare, Ireland. He learned from traditional musicians who, as he says, were “the pillars of their society, playing for weddings, funerals and political events; their importance was immense.” Dedicated to passing on the tradition, Noonan has run his own music schools in Cleveland and Boston. National Heritage Fellow Seamus Connolly invited Noonan to teach at Boston College, where he has been an adjunct professor in the music department since 1996. In addition, he has taught at many of the premier Irish Music Summer Schools in the country including Gaelic Roots, Catskills Irish Arts Week, and Milwaukee Irish Fest.  Selected recordings include The Maple Leaf: Irish Traditional Music from Boston and The Clare Connection.

FINALISTS:

Thomas Matsuda, Japanese Buddhist woodcarving

Thomas Matsuda at Lowell Folk Festival 2014. Photo: Greg Cook

Japanese monks inspired Thomas Matsuda to study his art in Japan. He apprenticed under one of the leading classical Buddhist sculptors in Japan, Koukei Eri. Masuda went on to develop his own distinct style, while living in a remote Japanese mountain village, where he carved more than two hundred sculptures for temples, shrines, and patrons. A decade later, Matsuda returned to the Massachusetts, where he continues to carve Buddhist sculpture and to teach. Influenced by the rough-hewn rustic style of Enku, Matsuda’s works, rendered in stone and wood, can be found displayed among leading Buddhist centers and temples.  Selected commissions include a 7-ton marble Buddha for the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Grafton, NY and Budda’s Feet for the Leverett Peace Pagoda in Leverett, MA.  He has demonstrated woodcarving at several Lowell Folk Festivals.

Daphne Board, Custom shoemaking

Hand made shoes by Daphne Board

Cordwainer Daphne Board makes made-to-measure, custom built shoes and boots using wooden or plastic lasts.  She learned her cordwaining skills through an apprenticeship with a shoemaker in Nova Scotia, who himself had learned from an Italian shoemaker. Since then, she has set up own shop in Holyoke. Board is a member of the Honorable Cordwainers Company. She relies on a small community of shoe and bootmakers for advice, locating leather suppliers, and continuing to learn traditional techniques.  In addition to her stunning leather work and keen eye for color, Daphne Board is on her way to becoming a certified pedorthist, someone skilled in making orthotics and treating foot problems. “I’m interested in not only making beautiful shoes, but shoes for people who cannot wear factory made, stand-sized shoes.” Board served as a master artist in 2013 Southern New England Traditional Arts Program and was a craft artist at 2012 Lowell Folk Festival, Lowell, MA.

Vincent Crotty, European sign craft

Cumann na nGaeilge sign by Vincent Crotty

For the past 23 years, Vincent Crotty has been making hand-painted signs created using old-world techniques like wood-graining, marbleizing, freehand lettering, and pictorial designs. Traditional sign craft, a skill that has almost been obliterated by computer graphics, is an art form that has been handed down from father to son, master to apprentice, for centuries. Born in Ireland, Crotty learned his craft in his 20s, at a trade school called Fas, where his teachers had learned through the old-world guild system. Tools of the trade include sign quills and special sable hair brushes; materials include sign enamels, gold leaf, varnish, and shellac.

Crotty’s work can be found on neighborhood storefront signage throughout Boston, local churches, pubs, and on signage for Irish music festivals around the country. Selected commissions include The Irish Cultural Centre, Canton, MA; Irish Arts Week, East Durham, NY; Codman Academy, Dorchester, MA; St. Mark’s, St. Ambrose, St. Margaret’s, St. Peter’s, and St. Ann’s, Dorchester, MA; St. Ann’s, Quincy, MA.

Mal Barsamian, Armenian and Middle Eastern music

Malcolm Barsamian on saxophone

Multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Barsamian grew up in a household rich in Middle Eastern music. He comes from a family of oud players starting from his grandfather, his father, his great-uncle, and uncle. His father, Leo, had four-year-old Malcolm sitting in on dumbeg at Armenian picnics. As a youngster, Barsamian listened to old recordings of Armenian and Middle Eastern Masters, picking up the ability to improvise. Classical training enhanced his musical skills and his ability to perform Armenian and Middle Eastern music.

He has gone on to become a sought-after player of the oud and dumbeg, as well as instruments such as clarinet, guitar, and saxophone, performing in the Armenian and Greek communities for over thirty years. Barsamian is well schooled in the underlying theory of Turkish classical music, and related music of the Middle East, Armenia, and the Balkan countries. In addition to teaching, Barsamian plays regular for concerts, community events, weddings, and festivals concerts, reinvigorating and preserving the music of his Armenian heritage. Selected performances include the Armenian Festival, Watertown, MA; Armenian Festival, 2008; Birmingham, MI; Lowell Folk Festival, 2012, Lowell, MA; The St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church, Arlington, MA;Tufts University, 2010, Medford, MA; and The African Museum,2013, Detroit, MI. Barsamian recorded One Take: Armenian Dance Songs in 2005.

 

 

 

 

Learn from a Master Artist

December 31st, 2013

Qianshen Bai lifting seal

The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Folk Arts & Heritage Program offers a unique opportunity to learn first hand from a master traditional artist through its Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.  Apprenticeships are awarded every other year to a limited number of master artists. Priority is given to rare or endangered traditions. If you are interested in applying, please take a look at the program guidelines before contacting program manager, Maggie Holtzberg.

Pictured here are just a few of the apprenticeships that have been funded since the program was established in 2001.

David Hawthorne teaching bowmaking to Joel Pautz

Yary Livan and Samnang Khoen

Estefany Navarro and Sixto "Tito" Ayala on congas

Sekou and Balla Kouyate playing balafons

Chris Pereji and Nisha Purushotham

Kieran Jordan and Emerald Rae FormanSamnang Hor andSopaul Hem Cambodian dance

 

Italian American Strega Lori Bruno

December 26th, 2013

Lori Bruno portraitSign outside Magika store

Read the rest of this entry »

“The Beautiful Music All Around Us”

November 21st, 2013

Stephen Wade holding a copy of his book

Last week I had the good fortune of introducing Stephen Wade at the Cambridge Forum in Harvard Square. Like an archaeologist revisiting a dig site 75 years later, Wade went back to 13 Southern towns where folklorists working for the Library of Congress had recorded locally known singers and musicians.  These field recordings went on to become iconic of Southern old time banjo and fiddle music, blues, children’s lore, cowboy songs, and other forms of American folk music.

William Stepp on horseback

In addition to doing some serious library research, Wade was able to track down living relatives or acquaintances, finding himself in places where everyday people made music:  living rooms, front porches, church pews, prisons, and dance halls. During his November 13 presentation in Cambridge, he told stories from his travels in researching and writing The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. He also performed on a number of banjos, including one originally belonging to musician Hobart Smith. Take a look and listen –

YouTube Preview Image

 

History of Dance in Cambodia

November 14th, 2013

Buppha Devi

Journey from 1965 Cambodia to present-day Lowell and experience the transformation of an art form, once almost lost. Our next Lowell Folklife Series takes place on November 19, 2013 at the Visitor Center at Lowell National Historical Park. We begin by screening a 1965 documentary portraying the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. At the time of filming, the ballet performed exclusively for the elite and was patronized by the queen of Cambodia.

Photo of Reamker dance

Scenes show royal dancers being trained, masks and costumes being made, rehearsals, and the indoctrination of novices into the service of dance. Among several pieces portrayed in the film is the Apsara Dance, which features a special performance by Princess Bupphadevi.

Following the screening November 19th, audience members will be treated to a live performance by members of Angkor Dance Troupe. This screening is the first in the “Evolution of Cambodian Dance Film Series” presented by Angkor Dance Troupe.

6:00 p.m.   Welcome & introduction

6:15 p.m.    Film Screening

7:45 p.m.    Live dance performance

Come join us. The event is free and open to the public.  For information about Teacher Professional Development Points, contact the Tsongas Industrial History Center: TIHC@uml.edu

Today’s Native American Art in New England

November 6th, 2013

Guest blog by Dawn Spears,Program Manager, Native Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) 

The Native Arts program at NEFA has partnered with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center(MPMRC) on Native New England Now, an exhibit featuring many of New England’s Native American artists who have been supported through NEFA’s Native Arts program. The exhibit is up through January 4, 2014.

Cradleboard by Julia Marden, 2007.Photo by Doug Currie Spoon carved by Annawon Weeden, 1998. Photo by Doug Currie

This is a rare opportunity for an organization to be able to showcase the work it supports, and we are grateful for the partnership and expertise of MPMRC. It allows the visitor a quick immersion into our world, to showcase our artists and the work that is happening now. The work here and the work supported in our program represent our master artists, our elders, our youth, our emerging artists, and those in between.

The exhibit of NEFA-supported work, which has been a goal of mine for a while, was the result of a conversation with MPMRC. Fast forward through a lot of work by the museum and NEFA staff together: contacting grantees, other museums, working on image collection and object curation, and collecting the artist statements.  It’s been a true community effort that would not have happened without the support of our artists, the museum, and those who have loaned from their collections (the Abbe Museum, the Hood Museum), or their own private collection. It was an intense and exciting period, but with an amazing team and eyes focused on the opening, I could not be more proud of the result.

Decorative covered vase basket, 2007 by Jeremy Frey. Photo by Jeremy Frey

Personally, I can’t say enough about the art that is happening in New England. It’s our home, and what you see in this exhibit really represents the love of our land and its gifts. The work that is happening represents this connection to our land, our resources, our cultures and heritage, and, in reality, to our future.

It was such an honor that so many of the exhibited artists attended the opening reception, along with  program advisors, funders, museum officials, NEFA board members, and my own NEFA colleagues. I’m hopeful that we will have similar participation at the artist panel discussion on November 16 and the holiday artisan market on November 30!

Native artists posing on the stairs at museum. Photo by Ann Wicks

This exhibit shows the work of 28 of the over 80 artists and organizations – representing over 35 tribes – that have received grants from NEFA’s Native Arts program. You can learn more about the artists in the companion book we  published, but the best way for you to really understand the work that has come from this love – and really see the talent and creativity of our amazing artists – is to see it in person.

NEFA’s Native Arts program supports projects that nurture artistic exchange, community development, youth engagement, environmental resource research and preservation, cultural preservation, and artistic innovation. Special thanks to the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the six New England state arts agencies, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, and other Native Arts program funders.

What do you hold on to?

October 25th, 2013

Come join us for a film, a hands-on weaving experience, and a faciliated conversation about the complex meanings of cultural heritage for refugees.

Mone Saenphmmachak is a master weaver. She is also a Lao refugee, tormented by survivor guilt. Resettled in St. Louis during the 1980s, she finds factory seamstress work sewing gun holsters.  In her precious spare time, she weaves traditional Lao skirts and teaches the next generation of Laotian children. Winning a National Heritage Award in 1993, Mone ultimately chooses to give up her looms.

Weaving Bitter with the Sweet is a moving documentary film that explores the refugee experience and its impact of sustaining cultural heritage.  The film invites viewers to “unpack” assumptions about the meaning of cultural heritage for refugees — a topic with the potential to resonate with many re-settled communities here in Lowell.

7:00 p.m.         Welcome & introduction

7:15 p.m.         Hands-on weaving experience

7:45 p.m.         Film screening

8:15 p.m.         Facilitated conversation

This Lowell Folklife Series event is co-sponsored by Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell Film Collaborative, Tsongas Industrial History Center, & Massachusetts Cultural Council.

For more info, call 978-275-1719.

For information about Teacher Professional Development Points, contact the Tsongas Industrial History Center: TIHC@uml.edu

Watch Live webcast of National Heritage Fellows Concert

September 10th, 2013

We are coming up on the last week of September, which means it’s time for the annual feting of our country’s National Heritage Fellows. This year’s fellows include former Massachusett’s resident and Irish fiddler extraordinaire, Seamus Connolly.

The National Council for Traditional Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts produce a spectacular evening performance September 27th at Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus. Fortunately, for those unable to attend the concert, the event will be live streamed at arts.gov,  with an archive available following the event. Viewers can share comments and photos on
Twitter using the hashtag #NEAHeritage. You may also request copies of
the concert program by emailing heritage@arts.gov.