Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Cambodian Kiln Fires Up!

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

A few months ago, we told you about a blessing ceremony  held for the building of a Cambodian wood fire kiln in Lowell, Massachusetts. We are excited to announce that the kiln is completed and will be fired up for the very first time on Saturday September 22, 2012.

As one of only three master ceramicists to survive the Khmer Rouge genocide, Yary Livan is one of only two still actively creating pottery. The other is Kang Proeung, visiting artist from Cambodia. He and Yary grew up in the same village along thet Mekong Delta and have known each other since childhood.

 

Together they have built a Cambodian-style wood fire kiln in Lowell, on the grounds of the National Park Service maintenance facility. Their hope is that this kiln, and the ware that is fired inside of it, will help insure that Cambodian ceramics can continue and flourish. It is a tradition that dates back to the Angkor Kingdom, which was at its height during the 11th century.

 

Livan, Proeung, and others will be on hand to explain the kiln’s design, the firing process, and features of the Khmer ceramic pieces that will be burning inside. For more information, click here.

 36 hours left before the kiln is lit . . .   Stopped by this afternoon to see Proeung busy glazing ware and Yary inside the kiln making measurements.

Lowell Folk Festival Highlights

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

We had great fun at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival, where artisans demonstrated the folk art of head and foot gear. Who knew there were so many ways to adorn the head and protect the feet?

 

Luidgi Felix and Nicole Scott from the Trinidad and Tobago Social Club brought several Caribbean Carnival headdresses to show. These handmade costumes are worn by dancers in Boston’s annual Caribbean Carnival.

Here Nicole Scott shows off one of their creations. Months of work go into constructing these costumes made of wire, steel, feathers, sequins, and glitter.

Jonas Stundzia brought the tradition of Lithuanian Midsummer celebration to Lowell. Under a huge double-horsehead gate, to the sound of Lithuanian folk songs, he created head garlands out of oak leaves and wild flowers. Visitors joined in, making garlands for themselves. 

Angel Sánchez Ortiz  brought his Puerto Rican vejigante masks used for carnival celebrations.  His striking, fantastical masks of boldly painted papier mâché depict animals, legendary people, and sometimes spirits and monsters that are imbued with cultural meaning.

Qamaria Amatul-Wudud designs and sews fashionable clothing for Islamic women who choose to dress modestly. She brought some of her elegant dresses and showed visitors how to wrap headscarves.

 

Eniko Farkas brought her Hungarian beaded maiden crowns worn by unmarried girls after confirmation. Before marriage, they would ritually replace them with a married woman’s headdress. Eniko also talked with visitors about the traditional Hungarian art of embroidery.

Our own J. Arthur Poitras from Lowell seemed to have brought his entire cobbler’s shop with him. There were pliers, knives, creams, and even a hanging shoe last.

 

The infamous “Hat Ladies” of Gloucester, Amy and Robyn Clayton amazed people with their whimsical hats. Here, Amy hands out pamphlets about the Saint Peter’s Fiesta next to their handmade statue of Saint Peter. 

The “Hat Ladies” make a new hat every year for the Saint Peter’s Fiesta, featuring local sights in miniature. For the Lowell Folk Festival, they even brought a life-size cut out of Saint Peter for visitors to pose with.

Theodore Green entranced visitors as he constructed hand built shoes out of leather. If you looked down, you may have noticed his own glittering gold shoes!

Samuel Brown and his custom made hats were a big hit. It was all he could do to keep the ladies from walking off with his hats on their heads.

Faith Izevbijie demonstrated how to tie gele, Nigerian headwraps.

 

And, last but not least, there were tomatoes, lots of tomatoes. Eleni Zohdi was one of five cooks demonstrating recipes using tomatoes. Here she explains how to make a Greek dish called Kayiana, with Lowell NHP Chief of Cultural Resoruces David Blackburn looking on.

We all had a good time and hope you did too. If you missed it, there’s always next year!

Photos and blog by Lesley Ham

 

From Head to Toe: Adorn & Protect

Thursday, July 19th, 2012
 
These are just some of the craft artists and traditions you will find at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival in the Folk Craft area of Lucy Larcom Park. They craft a variety of gear to progect and adorn the head and the feet.  Using an array of materials, techniques, and styles, each craftsperson works within well-established traditions. Some  creations express religious devotion or ethnic identity, others sheer practicality. Many fulfill a cultre-based license to be “on display.”
 
 

 

 For more info on the 2012 Lowell Folk Festival click here.  Hope to see you on July 28 & 29th!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessing ceremony for kiln building

Friday, June 29th, 2012

A blessing ceremony for the new Cambodian wood fire kiln took place in Lowell on June 28. In order to ensure a successful project, the potters Yary Livan and Proeung Kang made offerings and prayed to the designer of Angkor Wat, King Suryavarman II, whom Yary calls “the hero of construction.” Proeung just arrived from Cambodia where he teaches at the Secondary School of Fine Arts. He and Yary both grew up in the same village along the Mekong Delta and have known each other since childhood. 

Two Buddhist monks in bright orange robes from the Wat Khmer Temple in Lowell came for the occasion. On the altar, Yary prepared offering of grapes, apples, cherries, and a whole roasted chicken (complete with dipping sauces!), next to a vase of freshly picked flowers. 

 

Marge Rack, professor of art at Middlesex Community College  (MCC), gave a welcoming address, translated by Tooch Van, International Student Advisor at MCC, to the approximately fifteen people attending. She said that this project was “a dream come true,” and it was her vision to build a ceramics community that not only included Lowell but Cambodia as well.

Celeste Bernardo, the new Superintendent of Lowell National Historical Park, said that “heritage is made strong by the many cultures in our community,” and that the Lowell community helps spread and continue traditions of the Cambodian people.

 

A clergyman, or achar, lit three tall white candles placed on an orange brick, and gave an introduction in both Sanskrit and Pali, the liturgical language of Buddhism. The two monks chanted the Dhamma in Sanskrit while dipping flowers into pottery bowls of water and sprinkling water over the kiln’s foundation.

 

 

At the altar, Yary lit a candle,while Proeung poured pinot grigio over the chicken. Holding a bundle of incense sticks, Yary prayed and chanted over the offerings, then placed one burning incense stick each into an apple, a grape, a cherry, and the chicken.

  

Cambodian customs are a mix of animism, Hinduism, Buddhism. The altar incorporated the symbolically important Hindu number of seven. Yary said traditionally the altar holds seven different kinds of food and seven kinds of fruit, what he called “seven times seven.”

 

The art department of MCC had generously presented Yary and Proeung with a hand truck so they wouldn’t hurt their backs! They will be helped by Samnang Khoeun, an architect and Yary’s former apprentice, and Vanny Hang, a sculptor from Lawrence who is a specialist in Khmer ornamentation. The artisans collaborate together in their studio in the Western Studios building in Lowell.  To follow progress on the kiln project, click here.

Photos by Maggie Holtzberg. Group shot by Samnang Khoeun.

Lithuanian Summer Solstice

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I’m delighted to be working with state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg in Lowell this summer.  On the summer solstice, Maggie and I went to visit Jonas Stundzia at his home in Lawrence to learn about Rasos Svente, the Dew Festival, and the ways Lithuanians celebrate the longest day of the year. He will be demonstrating how to make floral head garlands at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. Garlands, or wreaths, are an important part of this solstice festival, also known as the festival of Saint John.

Jonas is a wealth of folklore. When we got to his house, he welcomed us with a traditional Lithuanian greeting. From a decorative ceramic pitcher, he poured water over our hands, and held out a woven Lithuanian cloth to dry them. He then offered us cucumbers dipped in honey and small cups of samagonas (rye moonshine). He said that cucumbers dipped in honey are eaten as a summer treat only in the northeast area of Lithuania.

Jonas showed us his garden blooming with plants native to Lithuania, including wild sorrel, used in making soup; ruta (rue), the national flower; wild onions; and lavender. His garden also had winter rye, used for Christmas decorations; parsley; mint; wild straw; and wild dahlia. He showed us a large oak garland he had made. Oak is considered a male tree and oak garlands are usually reserved for men. We tried it on anyway, and it was heavy! In Lithuania, garlands made of wild flowers, healing herbs, and grasses are used in the solstice festival to adorn the head, decorate the homestead, float candles on the water, and burn in the bonfire.

Jonas had made another large circular garland with linden and yellow flowers which symbolize the sun. Lithuanians consider linden a female plant; this wreath could be worn by a woman, or decorated with lit candles to be floated on the water on the evening of the Rasos Svente festival. The points of light guide the sun back home to earth. Wreaths symbolize the circle of life. Circles and wheels are important in Lithuanian mythology. In one pre-Bronze age myth the sun travels across the sky pulled by a goat. Jonas told us that Lithuanian rituals and language go back to proto Indo-European times. They still survive today because Lithuania was geographically isolated far up north on swampy land that nobody else wanted. Lithuanian is an ancient language, but still living, unlike Sanskrit or Latin.

On the summer solstice, Lithuanians give kupole staffs to friends and neighbors to protect and bless their homes. Jonas showed us a kupole staff he had made with healing herbs: nettle (good for healing arthritis and a relaxation); wormwood (good for the nerves); southern wort (a nerve relaxant used to make absinthe liquor); mountain ash (considered a male plant, used in the celebration of St. John); and belladonna (a medicinal nightshade).

Next, he showed us decorative iron saule, which means “sun.” One had a circle, which represents the sun; branches which represent the tree of life; jagged thunderbolts; curved snakes; and roots representing the earth. In Lithuania, snakes are symbols of life. Gyvate means snake; gyvas means life. The first animals to appear from Mother Earth in the spring are the toad and the snake. Thunderbolts allude to the god of thunder who creates rain, and therefore gives life.

Other saule he showed us had Christian crosses. He said that Roman Catholics had adopted and reinterpreted the form of the saule and used them in cemeteries to decorate gravestones.  In the same way, the pre-Christian kupole staff transformed into a similar, but smaller and more compact staff used on Palm Sunday. The rituals of the Rasos Svente festival also were adopted into Saint John’s Day celebrations. We look forward to hearing more of his stories at his demonstration tent at the folk festival in July.

All photos by Maggie Holtzberg.

Massachusetts shipwright wins national honor

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

 Harold Burnham standing at home: 2006:

We first nominated Harold A. Burnham for a National Heritage Award back in 2001.  This year’s fellows have just been announced and we are delighted to see Harold among those receiving the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.  Having built a number of timber-framed schooners, Burnham holds true to traditional materials and techniques. Using hand tools familiar to a nineteenth-century shipwright, he works out-of-doors through New England winters, and launches vessels the old way using wedges, grease, and gravity. 

 Launch of Isabella; Apprenticeship - wooden boat building; 2006: Essex, Massachusetts

Burnham has essentially revived a once dormant shipbuilding technique and in doing so has reconnected the town of Essex to its own shipbuilding heritage. He credits place as much as family legacy for enabling him to do what he does, “. . . it’s hard to imagine a place on earth where shipbuilding is more deeply embroidered into the fabric of the community.”

For more info on this year’s National Heritage Fellows, click here.

 

 

 

 

Yary builds a wood-burning kiln

Monday, June 18th, 2012

 

We last wrote about Cambodian ceramicist Yary Livan when he received an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council this past Spring. Livan’s work draws on the rich heritage of Cambodian culture, including influences from ancient imperial Khmer kiln sites, such as Angkor Wat, and incorporates Khmer imagery, relief carving, and design. 

The big news in his life is that after having no decent place to work or fire his ware, Yary not only has studio space at Western Avenue Studios , he is in the process of building a wood-burning kiln on land owned by the National Park Service. Middlesex Community College, who is sponsoring the project, has created a blog : “On this blog one can follow events at Yary’s Kiln, 220 Aiken St. Lowell, MA, with photos and interviews; find out when the kiln will be fired; learn how to sign up for workshops, to visit, view exhibits or find sales of traditional Cambodian woodfire pottery.”

We’ll be stopping by from time to time as well, to see how things are progressing at the kiln site. Come September, the Lowell Folklife Series will host a firing of the newly finished kiln.