Six New Apprenticeships Funded by MCC

August 25th, 2014

We are delighted to announce this year’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants. The following six traditional art forms will be taught by master artists to their apprentices: Irish uilleann pipe playing, South Indian carnatic singing, sign painting and gold leaf, ornamental and architectural wood carving, North Indian Madhubani painting, and South Indian carnatic drumming.

Irish uilleann pipe playing: Joey Abarta, master artist and Caroline O’Shea, apprentice

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South Indian carnatic singing: Tara Anand Bangalore, master artist and Pratik Bharadwaj, apprentice

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Sign painting and gold leaf: Josh Luke of Best Dressed Signs, master artist and Corinna D’Schoto, apprentice

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Ornamental and architectural wood carving: Dimitrios Klitsas, master artist and Spiro Klitsas, apprentice

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North Indian Madhubani painting: Sunanda Sahay, master artist and Sanjana Krishna, apprentice

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South Indian carnatic drumming on mridangam: Gaurishankar Chandrashankar, master artist and Kaasinath Balagurunath, apprentice

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Apprenticeships are a long-standing method by which an individual learns skills, techniques, and artistry under the guidance of a recognized master. Applicants were reviewed by a panel of experts who evaluated the artistry of the master artist, skill level of the apprentice, rarity of art form, significance of the tradition,  appropriateness of the pairing, and work plan. Grantees are expected to offer a community presentation at the end of their 9-month long apprenticeship.

To see a list of all MCC-funded apprenticeships since 2002, click here.

Recycling festival T-shirts to make paper!

July 22nd, 2014

 Drew Matott with portable Hollander Beater  

Drew Matott had an “aha” moment when he first realized paper could be made from old clothes. He and Margaret Mahan have gone on to bring the transformative experience of hand paper making to people all over the world. In order to pulverize rag into pulp, they use a machine designed and built by papermaking engineer Lee McDonald of Boston. Not only is it portable, it is bicycle powered. Pulling sheets of paper is a fun and messy business. To form a piece of paper, a screen is dipped and submerged in a vat of pulp and pulled through the fibrous water. A thick wet sheet of paper forms as the water drains away. Sheets are stacked, pressed, and hung up to dry.  

In addition to hand paper making and bookbinding, Drew and Margaret founded the Peace Paper Project in 2011. Through paper making workshops, survivors of war and terrorism have been guided to pulp the clothing they associate with their traumatic experience, including military uniforms. The clothing is cut up, beat, and formed into sheets of paper. Working with certified art therapists, participants use the paper to begin the process of adjusting and recovering from their experiences.

At a recent Lowell Folk Festival planning meeting, Millie Rahn and I brought up Drew and Margaret’s request for textiles that could be recycled for making paper at the festival. We talked about approaching a local textile mill but Pat Bowe (of The Lowell Festival Foundation) had the brilliant idea to recycle surplus festival T-shirts from festivals past. Last week, Pat mailed them bundles of brightly colored cotton T-shirts.

Margie Mahan pulping T shirts

Drew wrote to us saying, “We received the t-shirts! We love all the colors! I think it is the perfect amount- Margie and I cut them all up and started processing them into pulp. Over the next three days we will make 12lbs of it into paper to hand out to participants. We will pulp the remainder for use with the bike operated beater and sheet forming during the festival.”

Drew Matott working with beater

Come by to meet paper makers Drew Matott and Margaret Mahan this weekend at the Lowell Folk Festival. You’ll never look at old clothing the same way again.

Architectural drawing and model making

July 18th, 2014

Russell Call working drawing

Continuing our paper tradition theme at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival craft area, we turn to architectural drawing and model making. Paper is still the most common way of transmitting architectural information and ideas. From initial sketches to the iterative design process, from presentation to white prints, it is the drawing on paper that is critiqued, approved, and followed. Architects need paper plans to get client approval or obtain a building permit.

architectural drawing with seal

Contractors, engineers, and builders need a paper plan from which to work. Architectural drawings (floor plans, sectionals, and elevations) might be perplexing to someone who doesn’t know how to “read” them, but with a 3-D representational scale model, no translation is necessary.

As a student at the Boston Architectural College, Russell Call is learning the essential skills of architectural drawing and model making.

Russell Call measuring

Paper is used to make massing models. These rough study models can be made quickly and are an efficient tool for understanding how a design will occupy real space.

architectural model made of paper and wood

Paper can also be easily modified to represent different types of building materials, e.g., flat paper for façade; stacked, compressed paper for cement; and folded paper for clapboard siding.

 

architectural model with paper siding

In today’s digital world, with access to computer-aided-design (CAD), why do you think architects still build models out of paper?

Building 3-D models out of light bass wood is a hands-on way of learning about construction methods –foundational support, structural integrity, joinery, framing, and finishing.

Russell Call working on 1/2" scale model

Come see this miniature bungalow-in-the-making, as well as other architectural paper drawings and models in the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival.

Russell Call working on 1/2" scale model2

 

Mexican Piñatas by Angelica Ortiz

July 9th, 2014

Pinata by Angelica Ortiz

Perhaps you’ve tried breaking open a piñata at a birthday party, but did you know that this paper mache object has roots in religion? The Spanish brought the tradition of piñatas to Mexico, to help transmit Catholicism.

Angelica Ortiz grew up in Mexico City.  She remembers watching her uncles make piñatas each December. During the nine evenings of Advent, people gathered in the street holding candles to walk and sing songs of Las Posadas. Each night, a different family hosted a party, ending with the breaking of a piñata. 

Breaking pinata in Mexico City Supplies for making clay pot pinata

Piñata is originally an Italian word meaning clay pot. Traditional piñatas in Mexico are still made with a clay pot interior, rather than a balloon. The piñata is covered in shiny paper and fitted with a seven-peaked star, symbolizing the seven deadly sins. “The idea,” Angelica explains, “was to break it. Or hit is as hard as possible so evil and the bad sins will be gone. In Mexico, they filled them with fruit and nuts, not candy.”

When it’s time to try to break the piñata at children’s parties, Angela sings the song traditionally sung in Mexico. “It’s very important,” she says, laughing. “The lyrics indicate 1-2-3 chances at striking the piñata; once the singing stops, your turn is over.”

Come see Angelica making piñatas in the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival on July 26 and 27, 2014

Owl pinata by Angelica Ortiz

The art of Polish paper cut design

July 2nd, 2014

wycinanki by Susan Urban

Susan Urban practices the Polish art of wycinanki (paper cut design). She also makes cut paper dolls wearing costumes from different regions of Poland. Generations of West Springfield school children have benefited from having her as their art teacher.

Wycinanki are believed to have originated with Polish peasants. Farm women hung sheep skins over the window openings of their farmhouses as a way of keeping out the elements. In order to let in light and air, they used sheep shears to snip small openings in the skins. Like many folk arts, the practice was both functional and decorative. At some point, Polish women transferred their designs to paper.

 Wycinanki of rooster by Susan Urban

In Poland, wycinanki vary by region. The women of Kurpie are famous for their paper cut-outs of animals, geometric designs, and flowers. These symmetrical designs are cut from a single piece of colored paper, folded once. Another style comes from the area of Lowicz and is distinguished by many layers of multi-colored paper. The native Polish rooster, which is black and noted for its strange-shaped tail feathers, is a popular subject for paper cutting. Some designs with repeated elements are made by folding the paper and cutting through as many as eight layers at a time.

 Wycinanki by Susan Urban

 Susan Urban will be demonstrating the art of Polish papercut design in the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival. 

black & white wycinanki by Susan Urban

“Wall paper hanging is like upholstering a room”

June 26th, 2014
Heidi L. Johnson. Photo by Tom Adams

Heidi L. Johnson. Photo by Tom Adams

There are 6 weeks left until the Lowell Folk Festival. Between now and then, we are posting examples of folk crafts that will be demonstrated in Lucy Larcom Park. Our theme is paper traditions, and that includes the occupational craft  of paper hanging.

Heidi L. Johnson is pretty sure her passion for paperhanging started in her grandmother’s guestroom where the walls were papered with a faux bois of white and beige with lavender roses.   As a five year old, she’d stare at the walls. “I was figuring out pattern repeat. I knew a machine had printed that and I could tell that it had to be engineered around the room.”

The tools of the paperhangers’ trade may be simple (straight edge razor blades, levels, electronic lasers, bristle sweeps, and pasting machines), but their use requires great skill. In fact, wallpaper hanging is considered a higher trade in the building trades. It demands planning, engineering skills, visualizing patterns, knowing materials, prepping walls, and applying the product swiftly and accurately.  “It looks easier than it is,” Heidi says, adding that wallpaper hanging is like upholstering a room. “The sign of a good craftsman is to hide the skill.”

Rolling out a sample of wallpaperHeidi’s background in textile design and her experience in designing and manufacturing wallpaper, make her especially well-suited to papering interiors. She has been a member of the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers since 1994, an occupational group she describes as “the paper geeks of the industry.”

Heidi will be demonstrating her craft at the 2014 Lowell Folk Festival in the Folk Craft area along Lucy Larcom Park.

Samples from the Norwood-Day Collection

Children’s paper Lore at the Lowell Folk Festival craft area

June 16th, 2014

Children have traditional ways of playing with each other: telling knock-knock jokes; playing store, tag, or make-believe; posing riddles; playing pranks; and creating playthings out of what is at hand. Some of the most commonly made folk toys are made of paper: fortune tellers (also known as cootie catchers), paper airplanes, spitballs shot through straws, and paper footballs scooted across the table just far enough to balance on the edge but not fall off.  But no one officially teaches this kind of thing in school. In fact, it’s what kids do when the teacher isn’t looking. Children have been learning this type of amusement from each other on school playgrounds for generations. What’s remarkable is that these pastimes show such continuity and stability of form through time. Yet, everyone seems to outgrow them. Eleanor and Mary may be young teenagers, but they fondly remember the paper lore of their pre-adolescence. Fitting our theme of paper, Eleanor and Mary are here to share their knowledge of making and playing with paper. Come watch them fold a fortune teller, candy wrapper chain, or tissue paper flower. Or try your hand at making one of your own. Share what paper lore games you remember playing as a child.

Children have traditional ways of playing with each other: telling knock-knock jokes; playing store, tag, or make-believe; posing riddles; playing pranks; and creating playthings out of what is at hand. Some of the most commonly made folk toys are made of paper: fortune tellers (also known as cootie catchers), paper airplanes, spitballs shot through straws, and paper footballs scooted across the table just far enough to balance on the edge but not fall off.

But no one officially teaches this kind of thing in school. In fact, it’s what kids do when the teacher isn’t looking. Children have been learning this type of amusement from each other on school playgrounds for generations. What’s remarkable is that these pastimes show such continuity and stability of form through time. Yet, everyone seems to outgrow them.

Eleanor and Mary may be young teenagers, but they fondly remember the paper lore of their pre-adolescence. Fitting the Lowell Folk Festival craft area’s theme of paper, Eleanor and Mary are here to share their knowledge of making and playing with paper. Come watch them fold a fortune teller, candy wrapper chain, or tissue paper flower. Or try your hand at making one of your own. Share what paper lore games you remember playing as a child.

 

What you might not know about paper money

May 7th, 2014

Paper Traditions

You may have noticed from our last two posts (origami and marbled paper) that we are somewhat preoccupied with paper. That’s because the theme of the folk craft area at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival is paper traditions. We’ve been seeking out craftspeople who fold, shape, cut, or use it as a medium for illumination or paint. Our travels have taken us to see origami artists Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander of Origamido in Haverhill, and Regina and Dan St. John of Chena River Marblers in Amherst,  professional paperhanger Heidi L. Johnson in Florence, Mexican piñata maker Angela Ortiz in Medford, and Polish wyncinanki (papercutting) Susan Urban in Springfield.

In addition to featuring  folk and occupational traditions that use paper as a medium, we hope to have people on hand demonstrating the art of hand papermaking. Back in February, we reached out to author Nicholas Basbane, author of On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History, who shared all sorts of good leads. One of them was paper historian Peter Hopkins, who works at the Crane Museum of Papermaking in Dalton, Massachusetts.  I drove to the Berkshires to meet with him at the museum, which is housed in Crane’s Old Stone Mill.

Crane Old Stone Mill  Sign on Crane's Old Stone Mill

This 1844 building originally served as the rag room for the paper mill, and is located conveniently by the Housatonic River. Here, employees spent their days cutting large pieces of cotton and linen rags into smaller pieces, preparing them to be transformed into pulp. The fast moving river water not only served to wash the rags, it also powered the industrial machinery used in beating fibers into pulp.

Sourcing cotton and linen rags remains a critical part of the manufacturing process. I had never thought about the derivation of the term “rag man,” until Peter explained the way things used to be, circa 1810. Mill owners were responsible for gathering and paying for rags from nearby towns. “Your shirt wore out, you’d use it as a rag. Rag wore out, you’d sell it to the rag man. Rag man sells it to the papermaker.”

Mill building at Crane Paper Co.

If you are of a certain age, you might associate the name Crane with elegant stationery (which the company still manufactures), but it is the making of paper used to print currency that is Crane’s bread and butter. Today, currency paper represents about half of Crane’s production. The family business, which dates back to 1770, is currently owned and run by the eighth generation of Cranes.  It has been the sole source of US currency paper since 1879.

Stop and think about that.

Every single bill of US currency circulating around the globe right now was printed on paper made in this small corner of northwest Massachusetts.

Exhibit cases at Crane Papermaking Museum

Today, Crane paper is made from waste fibers re-claimed from cotton ginning and linen making operations. No trees are involved and never were. The papermaking process involves taking a blend of cotton and linen and literally beating them into a pulp. This takes place in a number of large manufacturing mill buildings on the Crane property. For demonstration purposes, Peter has some pulp that’s being beaten in a small mechanical beater and he takes me to a nearby work room to see it operating. We look down into the cream-of-wheat-like liquid. “At this point, the pulp is about 85% water. For papermaking, you want to dilute it to where it’s  about 99% water. It randomizes fibers.”

Pulp after having been mechanically beaten for an hour.

Scooping up several cups full of the pulp, he walks it over to the other side of the room where he demonstrates the process of papermaking. After dumping the pulp into a rectangular vat, he picks up a screen and dips it into the liquid pulp and then lifts it up. “Whether you do this by machine or by hand, the next step is suction.” A small vacuum sucks the water away from the screen.”When the character of this changes, that’s the scientific moment when pulp turns to paper.”

Peter Hopkins lifting a screen with pulp on it

Since 1991, Crane’s currency paper is highly engineered. It is embedded with security threads, that are only visible in transmitted light.

United States paper money may not be pretty or colorful compared to other world currency, but it is extremely durable. In fact, specifications call for every bill to survive a minimum of 8,000 folds. “Well, Americans abuse their money, number one,” Peter points out. “Number two, it’s the world’s currency and so it has to circulate everywhere and in every kind of environment you can imagine.” He places a sample of handmade paper in a machine he calls the “fold tester” and flicks it on. The mechanism counts 2,700 folds before the paper tears. Next he places a piece of regular notebook paper in — and it only survives nine folds before coming apart. Point taken.

Paper folditesting machine

Before my visit is over, we go over to take a look at one of the museum’s treasures – a wonderful model of the papermaking process designed and built by papermaking authority, Dard Hunter.

Dard Hunter model of papermaking

I learn that, unfortunately, Peter Hopkins will not be available to demonstrate papermaking on the weekend of the Lowell Folk Festival, but he does have several suggestions about who I might contact next . . .

 

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.”