“Old-school” visitor comments arrive in the mail

A big box of photocopied comment cards arrived in the mail today. Visitors to Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts took the time to scribble down their reactions on printed comment cards. From time to time, we will share them with you here.

A 38-year-old woman from Belmont, MA writes: “I was so impressed by the intricate design and pattern of the baskets. It also reminds me of how ‘green’ cultures were that used these beautiful baskets in farming — reusing natural materials (no ugly plastic bags!)”

One of the cards asked: If you could learn from one of these keepers of tradtition, who would it be? Why? A 64-year-old man from Woodstock, CT answered: “Rob Napier, Newburyport. The man is good and I like the choice of the working boat. It’s the working men laboring unhseen that make the trade great.” And a 12-year-old girl from Canton, MA answered: “The art of tap dancing because it is a way of dancing and making music.”

A 47-year old woman from Shrewsbury wrote: “We enjoyed the entire exhibit, but my son especially enjoyed seeing the Cambodian crafts and dance, as he was adopted in Cambodia and is proud of his cultural heritage.”

And an unidentified person answered the question, Has this exhibition changed your idea of what folk art is? “Yes. I always thought it was boring, but it isn’t.”

Making art for everyday life

After finding refuge in Lowell eight years ago, Yary Livan and his family finally own a home with a yard. Beside their light blue house on Franklin Street is a welcoming green space where Yary has created a peaceful sculpture garden. Just to the left of some blooming echinacea sits Livan’s 38-inch tall ceramic spirit house. He had patiently loaned it to us for the Keepers of Tradition exhibition, where it sat encased in a plexiglas vitrine for over a year, along with other sacred pieces of folk art.

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Now the spirit house has found its rightful home. Yary’s wife, Nary Tith, had explained to us that in Cambodia, where Buddhists pray on a daily basis, temples, and pagodas are often built far from villages. Therefore, many people construct their own spirit houses for their yards. Typically, spirit houses are highly ornamented wood or cement structures limited to a handful of standard designs. Yary chose to make his spirit house of clay because he wanted to combine his skills as a ceramist with his Khmer heritage.

Their home is filled with Yary’s ceramic work — elephant pots, vases, and cooking vessels.

Indeed, even the kitchen table is a work of mosaic art.

This tiny grandchild is certainly growing up in a home rich in Cambodian material culture. Perhaps she will one day carry on the tradition.