Keepers of Tradition garners press

Deborah Joseph, Trinidad & Tobago Social Club, Boston Caribbean Carnival 2003Detail of Hardanger cutwork table runnerAfter almost four years of work, Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage has opened at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington. The response has been heartening – especially from artists, who feel honored, as they should. Their work is often seen only by family members — like the cutwork embroidery of Aline Drivdahl or by the specific community in which it is displayed — like the costumes of local mas bands at Boston’s Caribbean Carnival.

The media coverage and reviews are starting to come in. WBUR’s Here and Now host Robin Young spoke with me recently about some of the artists featured in the exhibition. WGBH’s Greater Boston producer Jared Bowen paid a visit to the show.

Below are links to a sampling of reviews:

“. . . this exhibition is more than just an exhibition. It’s one part of a much bigger project, which includes Holtzberg’s excellent catalog essay (it explains the stories behind the various objects in some depth) and, beyond both the show an dthe catalog, a great deal of valuable documnetation which can only help in the attempt to keep these traditions alive . . .” Sebastian Smee, Boston Globe

Keepers of Tradition reflects the diversity of the state better than any art show you’re likely to see for a long time.” -Greg Cook, The Boston Phoenix

“An engaging, informative exhibit . . .Think of this fascinating show as a tour through the markets and bazaars of the world with no haggling.” – Chris Bergeron, Metrowest Daily News

“. . . head to the National Heritage Museum in Lexington for the enthralling exhibit “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts.” This is not your mom’s folk art show: check out the stone fence, the sheet-metal “tin men,” and the boat making, as well as the scrimshaw, quilts, and redware pottery. – Stephanie Schorow, Sidekick, Boston Globe

Visit www.massfolkarts.org for more on the exhibition.

Caribbean Kings and Queens in Dorchester

Shirley Shillingford wearing Fruit Cocktail, 2007. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

This Thursday, August 21, marks the opening of Boston’s Caribbean Carnival – a Trinidadian style extravaganza now in its 35th year. I attended this annual festival for the first time in 2003. Four years later I was offered a prime seat in the judges’ viewing station, where I shot this photo of Shirley Shillingford. She is a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Social Club, which is one of 9 area mas (masquerading) bands that compete each year.

A succession of bands march their way down a 21-block parade route, ending up at Franklin Park. The King and Queen costumes are spectacular and they are followed by sections of exuberant dancing masqueraders. Be prepared for loud calypso music, the smell of jerk chicken, and vendors selling trinkets from Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, and a number of other West Indies islands. Many in the Caribbean cultural community live for carnival. More than 600,00 people attend carnival, though most Bostonians have no idea this event takes place each year. Art critic Greg Cook previewed the event in the Boston Phoenix last week. It would be nice to have additional press coverage for a change.

Soca and Associates band members, 2007. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

Festival season

Poised to dance. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

Fall (and shorter days, cool weather, and school) may be just around the corner, but festival season is still going strong in Massachusetts. Two in particular are well worth attending.

On Sept 12-14, the Irish Culture Centre of New England hosts Icons: Irish Music and Arts Festival. Luminaries in the Irish music world will be there, including Solas, John Whelan, Chulrua, and many more. Plus Irish wolfhounds, soda bread, and stepdancing. It’s like the Washington area Irish festival has been reborn.

The last weekend in September, I suggest heading to New Bedford for the Working Waterfront Festival which is the flagship event celebrating the region’s commercial fishing industry. Fishermen’s contests, fresh seafood, boat tours, live music — and it’s free. The festival brings together a cross-section of the commercial fishing community — both those who are currently working in the industry as well as old-timers who haven’t been down in to the docks in years. Don’t miss it.

Tugboat Muster Shucking osyters

Photos courtesy of Working Waterfront Festival.

To find out more about great festivals taking place around Massachusetts, visit Worldfest.

“The old guys got it remarkably right.” John Kristensen, Firefly Press

The “black art” is alive and well, at least amongst a few dedicated souls who cast metal type, set it, and print with the aid of hand-cranked proof presses. I had the good fortune to be invited to a recent gathering of letterpress and book arts aficionados — this group of friends and practitioners have been meeting each summer for the past 19 years to share their love of letterpress printing and bookmaking. One of the speakers at this typographic congress was John Kristensen, proprietor of Firefly Press — a local printing shop just beckoning for a fieldwork visit. To get a sense of what John means when he says, “Letterpress printing; there’s nothing virtual about it” watch this video by Chuck Kraemer.

Video by Chuck Kraemer for WGBH, 2001

Where to buy ware?

Yary Livan is seen working his magic on a potter’s wheel. The Cambodian ceramicist had examples of his ware on display at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival. Many festival goers asked about purchasing his ware, but the crafts area was not set up for sales. Turns out, Yary has not found a place to sell his work locally. But that is about to change. He will soon have some of his work for sale at the Heritage Shop at the National Heritage Museum. Yary is one of over 70 artists represented in the museum’s exhibition, Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts.

Reviving a tradition

Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

Porcupine quills — a raw material, that is not so easy to come by. But Eastern woodlands and Great Plains Indians have long been used to decorate baskets, boxes and garments. The tradition has been beautifully revived by Dave Holland, who makes a form of regalia dating back to the early 18th century. Dave sews the quills to leather using a netting technique. Below you see an example of this quill work on a tobacco pouch. Holland’s regalia is used by pow wow dancers and reenactors, as well as in film work. When asked how he got started making regalia, Dave says, “I used to do some reenacting myself but I couldn’t afford to buy the regalia. But once I found a road kill, and the rest is history.”

Photo by Jason Dowdle

Our local gem, Club Passim, on NPR!

Folklorist Millie Rahn knows the history of folk music in Massachusetts – and serves as the archivist for Club Passim. Catch this recent story on NPR celebrating the legendary folk music venue.

Metalsmiths demonstrate their skills at Lowell Folk Festival

The art of metalsmithing was one of 15 craft traditions on display at the 2008 Lowell Folk Festival. Retired sheetmetal worker Dick Clarke of Local #17, assembled and disassembled a tin man, explaing how the human form was fabricated from flat sheet metal.

Weathervane maker Marian Ives worked in copper on a codfish vane. One of her vanes tops the Merrimack Mills, a textile mill building just a short distance from the festival site. Marian had never seen the finished weathervane mounted atop Merrimack Mills and was eager to find the building. The jury is still out on whether Hook Lobster will have Marian repair the six-foot lobster weathervane she made for the 3rd generation business, which was recently damaged in a major fire.

Strong showing of Massachusetts crafts artists at Lowell Folk Festival

 

Massachusetts was well represented in the crafts area at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival. Festival goers got to meet and ask questions of artists who demonstrated the making of weathervanes, duck decoys, Chinese calligraphy, hooked rugs, porcupine quill work, native twined baskets, Ukrainian decorated eggs, Cambodian ceramics, hand carved signs, Puerto Rican carved saints and carnival masks, wooden boatbuilding, ship’s wheels, tin men, and white ash baskets. The participating craftspeople are are just some of the artists featured in the exhibition, Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts, on view at the National Heritage Museum through February 8, 2009.

New England folk musicians celebrate Quebec 400

Crossroads Finale

Joyeuse Anniversaire, Québec!

Just back from accompanying a great group of musicians to perform for our neighbors to the north. “Crossroads: Music Traditions of New England” was New England’s contribution to Québec 400, a year-long celebration marking the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding. Crooked Still represented Massachusetts and Nightingale VermontRehearsing. Nightingale on deckRhode Island sent the Pegheads, Connecticutt it’s state troubador, Pierce Campbell. Maine was represented by Nipmuc flutemaker/player Hawk Henries and New Hampshire by dance fiddler Rodney Miller (a National Heritage Fellow), David Surrette, and accordion wiz Gary Sredzienski. Above you see everyone squeezed on stage for a finale. The event took place at Espace 400 on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. A full day of traditional tunes and songs, some with strong Franco-American influence, culminated with everyone on stage. Just minutes after closing, we were all treated to Robert LePage’s incredible sound and light installation projected on the grain silos across the river.

The Québecois know how to enjoy life!