Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

Today’s Native American Art in New England

Wednesday, 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?

Friday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

Learning Chinese calligraphy from a master

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Qianshen Bai is a demanding teacher.  Leaning over his apprentice’s brush work, he points out tiny things, “This  is the problem. Her problem here is that here, so far so good, and she move this way, see the brush toward this part? The stroke should keep in the same direction. You see? You need to use finger and wrist. . . This kind of work is an illusion. The trick is, where this stroke came from, because calligraphy is art of movement.”

Although there are still quite a few people who practice calligraphy for leisure, very few take the time to study, in depth, the history and various aspects of the art of writing calligraphy. Mei Hung, Executive Director of Chinese Culture Connection, is one of those people.  In September 2013, Qianshen Bai and Mei Hung were awarded a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

In addition to learning the subtleties of the techniques in writing balanced and artistic calligraphy, Mei Hung learned to appreciate a piece of good work with a critical eye. During their 8-month apprenticeship, Mei was introduced to writing couplets, horizontal banners, and, in a smaller font, on fan shaped calligraphy. In addition to learning how to compose the writing in various styles, she completed the composition with date and signature, and the proper way to apply the seal.

For Mei Hung, having had such a direct experience with master calligrapher Qianshen Bai has been a privilige.  “Now I understand that the art of writing calligraphy can be related to playing music, practicing Tai Ji . . .To do it well is a total harmonious relationship among one’s intent, the brush, the ink and the paper. Professor Bai described it this way: the “brush dances and the ink sings.”

This apprenticeship enhanced my knowledge of the art and improved my writing skills, but most importantly, it made me feel humble. It is truly an art that requires a life long practice.” Perhaps, most importantly, Mei mastered a method of how to learn calligraphy by herself in the future.

The next deadline for Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants is April 2014.

 

Customized fruit carver comes to the Lowell Folk Festival

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Earlier this spring I was searching for someone who specializes in the tradition of carving fruits and vegetables to demonstrate at the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival.  This year the theme is carving traditions. After following up on a few leads, all within the Asian community, I eventually gave up on trying to find someone to demonstrate this culinary skill.

Then, just six weeks shy of the festival, I received an email from Craig Gates of the Lowell Festival Foundation. He’d been contacted by Ruben Arroco inquiring whether he could demonstrate fruit carving at the festival this summer. Serendipity? As it turns out, Ruben recently demonstrated fruit carving at the Rock ‘N Ribfest in Merrimac, New Hampshire. When someone came up to him to ask if he would be at the Lowell Folk Festival this July, he thought to himself, “Why not?” Hence, his inquiry. Craig passed him on to me, with the thought that it was probably too late and that I could “let him down gently.” Instead, I was thrilled to learn of this local chef who had trained in the Philippines, has been an executive chef for 30 years, and now specializes in customized fruit and vegetable carvings.

So last week, Phil Lupsiewicz and I drove over to the Highlands neighborhood of Lowell to interview Ruben Arroco. Ruben, his wife, and daughter live in a newly built enclave of condominiums tucked into some lush foliage just off a busy street. Ruben welcomed us in, offering us freshly brewed coffee and slices of tiramisu cake. Presentation was done with the utmost care; the cake was served on white porcelain plates decorated with mango carved to look like roses. Amazed at the trouble he had gone to and delighted in sitting down to this unexpected afternoon treat, Phil and I readied our recording equipment.

Ruben placed a round watermelon on a rotating board, securing its base with a rolled dishtowel. Then he picked up a very sharp tool and began to work. “I just start by looking for a nice surface and just make a little peel. I peel that until I see a little red color. Like so. . .  I’m going to make the center petals of the flower. Most of the time they use a knife to make a circle – but I just use a cookie cutter to make a round shape. This is how it’s started. See, I love that color right there, it’s coming out, the red color. Then you start making the petals. . . ”

 

Ruben makes most of his own carving tools out of specialized stainless steel. I ask if fruit carving is a relatively rare skill to have. “It is. This is actually a 700-hundred year old art that originated in Thailand.”

Ruben learned to carve fruit during his training as a hotel chef in the Philippines. “There is a place in the Philippines — Paete, Laguna — where people there make a living out of carving wood. Some of those guys, I was lucky enough to work with in the hotel. . . If you see a chef doing this, most of the time, if you ask, ‘Are you from [Laguna]‘ the answer is yes. If you can carve wood, you can carve this — so I kind of learned it from them.”

Ruben picks up a specialized tool he made which creates V-cuts in one movement. “Even just making simple V-cuts transforms it and gives it that nicer look. You go around making these V-cuts, like that. Separation of the petals from the part that you carved, that’s very important. The part that is removed, they call that the negative side in the carving world. If you don’t remove that, you won’t see what you just carved.”

I wonder aloud  if there is something hard about making art which is so ephemeral. It can take from seven to ten hours to create, yet it’s there to be consumed. Ruben says, “Even though it takes a long time to make, the best part of it is when we bring it to the party and everybody likes it. Even though it took me seven hours to make, it always feels like it only took me a half hour when everybody likes it.”

“Most of the time, we bring it to the party and then they call me back say, ‘We have a problem.’ ‘What? Why, what happened.?’  ‘Nobody wants to touch it!’  So I tell them to find a kid and tell him or her it’s for them. They won’t care; they’ll just start eating it.”

Come to the Lowell Folk Festival this July 27 and 28 to watch Ruben and 15 other traditional artists demonstrate their remarkable carving skills.

 

 

 

 

Carving Traditions on Display

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Come to this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival next weekend and seek out the Folk Craft & Foodways area, which is located in Lucy Larcom Park, not far from Boarding House Park. Under the shade of big tents, you will discover 16 traditional artists who spend their days carving in a variety of media (wood, stone, clay, plaster, & fruit). Like ornamental woodcarver David Calvo . . .

stonecarver Jesse Marsolais . . .

and Chinese seal script carver Wen-hao Tien.

The majority of the carvers demonstrating their skills on Saturday and Sunday (July 27 - 28)  work with hand tools — gouges, chisels, knives, and rasps. One carves with the help of an electric powered lathe. You will see whimsical carvings revealing dazzling skill, religious figures to aid worship, ornamental elements to enhance architectural trim (and hide joints) and figurative carving depicting wildlife, logging traditions, and more.

As you visit the craft area, see if you can discern the place of origin for each of these carving traditions whose techniques and styles originated in Italy, Greece, Japan, French Canada, Puerto Rico, England, Cambodia, and China. Ask questions. What role does design and drawing play in producing carved art? How are these individual artists able to sustain their craft in today’s globalized, mass-produced marketplace?

 

 

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs

Friday, April 5th, 2013

On Sunday afternoon, April 21st, the Lowell Folklife Series will present an intriguing program featuring three master craftsmen.  Joining us will be National Heritage Fellow and shipwright Harold A. Burnham, noted maritime historian and ship modeler Erik Ronnberg, Jr., and Greg Bover of CB Fisk, Inc.  With hand-crafted models up on stage, they will talk about the role of model-making in the building of world class pipe organs, 60-foot wooden schooners, and historic miniatures of seafaring vessels.

For Burnham, a half-hull ship model is a design tool. Bover’s company, CB Fisk, Inc., creates scale models to ensure that each pipe organ complements the architecture that surrounds it. For Ronnberg, the full-hull ship model is a historical representation, a form of visual storytelling. All three individuals are well-known to each other, and hold each other’s skills and knowledge in high regard. Their discussion will no doubt be full of fascinating details, tricks of the trade, and little-known facts about the importance of model-making.

This event is free and open to the public. It will take place in Lowell National Historical Park’s Visitor Center theater on Sunday April 21, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/lowe or call 978-275-1719.

Return of the Lowell Folklife Series

Friday, January 25th, 2013

We’re delighted to announce the 2013 Winter/Spring season of the Lowell Folklife Series. These free public events featuring craft, music, dance, & foodways traditions are presented by Lowell Lowell National Historical Park in partnership with the Massachusetts Cultural Council. See full schedule here.

Noodling: The Art of Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles with Chef Gene Wu (watch video)
Place: Event Center @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John Street, Lowell, MA
Monday January 28, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Latin Dance Night with Alexander Faria & el Quinteto: Dance lesson @ 7:00; live music @ 8:00
Counting House @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John St., Lowell, MA
Saturday February 23, 2013 @ 7:00 p.m.

 

 

 

Women’s Singing Traditions: Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Saturday March 23, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs with Harold A. Burnham, Erik Ronnberg, Jr., & Greg Bover

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Sunday April 21, 2013 @ 3:00 p.m.

 

 

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians with Balla and Sekou Kouyate on West African Balafons & Sixto “Tito” Ayala and Estefany Navarro on Puerto Rican Congas

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA 01852
Sunday, May 19, 2013 @ 2:30 p.m.

For more information click here
Questions? Call Maggie at 978-275-1719

Bowmaking Apprenticeship

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Bowmaker David Hawthorne has been making bows for stringed instruments for over 30 years.  This past September, he was awarded an MCC Traditional Arts Apprenticeship  to pass on some of the knowledge he has acquired to Joel Pautz. A woodworker, Joel has studied violin making at the North Bennett Street School. Just before Christmas, I scheduled a visit see how their apprenticeship was progressing.

The 3rd-floor bowmaking workshop is smack in the center of Harvard Square, [just across the hall from Dewey Cheetham & Howe, the Car Talk guys!]. An outer office greets customers; beyond are two workshop spaces full of all sorts of bows in various stages of completion and numerous hand-made tools specific to the trade.

The focus of the apprenticeship is on a French style of bowmaking in the tradition of Dominique Peccatte. “Bowmaking,” David shares, as he gets settled at the workbench, “is a French-influenced pursuit because the French bowmakers were kind of the best.”  David learned from a bowmaker who had studied in France, and then went to France himself to study bowmaking.

The bow Joel is currently working on is based on a model, the original of which is housed in the Powerhouse Museum in Austria. More simple than a modern bow, this baroque bow has a “clip-in” frog. Making a baroque style frog has the advantage of introducing the apprentice to many of the techniques of bowmaking, while modern bows demand skills and techniques beyond woodworking. For example, their screw-adjusted frogs require metalwork, jeweler’s techniques, and inlay.

Clip-in frog

Screw-adjusted frog

David picks up one of two similar sticks from off the workbench.  “We started with a stick. I saw this out at home on my bandsaw. You can see it’s kind of rough looking. And this one I’ve planed a certain amount . . . Joel has done that on a couple of his bows.”

What will follow are the many steps of planing the stick straight, carving the head, heating and bending the stick, and making and fitting the frog of the bow which holds one end of the horse hair.

David decides to demonstrate cutting a mortise, which is basically the hole where the horse hair will go. He speaks slowly, as he is working, “This is the drill we use, the French foret (click to view video) . . . So I’m going to make two holes and then I’m going to carve it out straight. And that’s just my depth stop, that piece of tape. That’s what we were discussing, how deep to make it. Obviously, you can’t make it too deep because it will make a hole through the bow. But you have to make it deep enough to accommodate the amount of hair you want to put in. So you kind of make it as deep as you dare.”

Making a bow demands superb woodworking skills and a keen eye, but how, I wonder, does one learn how to get the sound you want out of a stick of wood? Turns out the most obvious thing affecting the sound is the particular wood out of which each individual bow is made. David adds that the combination of violin and bow will always have to be matched. Being a violin player myself, I’ve noticed how the same instrument can sound so very different when played with a different bow. “Different bows will sound either brighter or darker or warmer or crisper, ” David says, which prompts me to ask, “Is that something you can set out to do?”

His answer is yes, but what he’s really after is great sound. “In general, a very flexible bow has a bigger, warmer sound. I’m interested in the best sound for a bow so I’m looking for a certain kind of flexibility, which can either be a function of the wood — is this wood strong? If it’s strong, did I maximize strength in the way I constructed it?  Which is both a function of the thickness and the taper of the stick, and how you’ve curved it in the end. The camber.

What’s a good tone quality? Well, you don’t want it to sound nasal. You don’t want it to sound strident. You don’t want it to sound tood piercing. But, on the onther hand, you want it to have a certain openess of sound and you want it to have a certain beauty of sound.”

Joel is listening and watching and taking it all in.

Christmas Tradition in Nonantum: La Befana flies in from Italy

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Several years ago, I noticed a hand-crafted sign above the door of a small public library. The building is located in heart of Nonantum, an Italian American neighborhood in Newton, Massachusetts.  

Curious, I found my way to  Lucia Diduca, who is a co-founder of the Ciociaro Social Club. Established in 2001, the the club unites the large Italian-American community in the Boston area through social, cultural and philanthropic activities.  Classes are offered in both spoken and written Italian. Folk dancing is taught by the local group Ricordi d’Italia, which has been active since the 1970s.

Lucia was born in Batima in the Valle de Camino, a place she and her husband return annually to visit. Last December, Lucia invited me to attend the club’s annual La Befana Celebration, held on the weekend of Ephiphany. The name of this Italian Christmas tradition. is derived from the word epifania – the Italian name for the religious festival of the Epiphany. At the center of the legend is an old woman with magical powers, who brings gifts to the children of Italy on the eve of Epiphany. As the story goes, La Befana has lost her own child and husband and is searching for the Christ child to bring him gifts.  Alas, she never finds him, but each year continues to search. Children in Italy write notes to La Befana, telling her what presents they long to receive. “They may end up with a lump of coal in their stockings if they haven’t been good.”

I arrived around 3:00 p.m. and Lucia was there to greet me at the door.  It was noisy in the room. Children were playing games, there was a D.J. playing loud music.  At the back was an opening through which I spotted a large nativity scene, known in Italian as a presepio

Lucia introduced me to its maker, Enrico Carrieri. He and his wife emigrated from Naples, Italy in 1967. Enrico has been making nativities since he was a youngster. He talked about the nativity scene in front of us, “Everyone is home. On Christmas Eve, at midnight, the youngest person in the house places baby Jesus in the crèche. The animals all keep the Christ child warm – on each day following, a gift is given to the magi.”

Leona Bartolomucci, who was born in this country, joins our conversation.  “In the old days, the nativity was a big deal. The story is that La Befana lived in a mountain village  of Abruzzi. The legend is of an elderly single woman who made dolls whittled in wood. She spun yarn and baked. She would go to the houses of the poor, giving them baked goods. She flies on a broom.  The mask here in the US is more scary, in Italy, less so.”

As all await the arrival of La Befana, the emcee asks the children to gather around as she introduces a young woman who read La Befana story from a picture book. This takes about 20 minutes. Then, the emcee engaged the children in a conversation about La Befana, who was apparently late. Suddenly, there was hushing, and then the announcement that La Befana has arrived! 

There she was, in ragged clothing, a burlap shawl, a broomstick, a kerchief on her head, and a pretty frightening mask, with a large nose that lit up red every few seconds. As she was greeted and made her way to the children, two really young ones were alarmed and started to cry. Parents came to comfort them. The rest of the children were fully engaged as La Befana sat down and spoke to them in Italian, with the emcee translating. Eventually, they instructed the children to line up to meet her and receive a treat.

 

 

Once everyone had received their stocking and had their photo taken,  everyone’s attention was directed to a presentation of folk dances by Ricordi d’Italia.