Archive for the ‘Apprenticeships’ Category

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

It’s that time of year when the MCC’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeships are wrapping up for the year. As part of the grant program, recipients are required to share what they have learned in a public presentation. This coming Sunday, May 19th, two master/apprentice teams will perform musical selections and share some of the joys and challenges of transmitting musical heritage. The free presentation takes place at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center theater, 246 Market Street and will begin at 2:30 p.m.

Two continents. Two ancient percussive traditions. And two young people with the good fortune to be born into musical familes headed by master musicians. Balla Kouyaté is a virtuoso player of the balafon, the ancient West African ancester of the xylophone and marimba. Above, you see him teaching his son Sekou the balafon.

Sixto “Tito” Ayala comes from a legendary music and dance institution in Puerto Rico – the Ayala family. He is pictured here teaching a conga rhythm to his daughter Estefany Navarro.

Come see and hear how West African djeli music and Puerto Rican bomba & plena are being passed on from one generation to the next.

 

 

 

 

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.

An apprentice strikes out on his own

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

 

Jesse Marsolais has spent the last six years working alongside master letterpress printer John Kristensen at Firefly Press. In 2009, the two were awarded an MCC-funded Traditional Arts Apprenticeship to work specifically on Jesse learning to use and maintain 19th-century Linotype and Monotype typecasting machines.

This past June, Jesse also had the rare opportunity to apprentice under master carver Nick Benson at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island.  The latter apprenticeship (letter carving in stone) was supported by a Southern New England Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship, a unique program administered by Lynne Williamson which funds master artists and apprentices to work together across state lines in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.  The latter grant culminated in an open house this past June at the John Stevens Shop (JSS), which Jesse writes about in his own blog post.

Jesse’s nascent skills in letter carving are valued at the JSS, and he continutes to do occasional jobs for them when needed.  If it weren’t for the fact that Jesse just opened his own printing and stone carving business in Millbury, MA, he might very well have been offered full time work in Newport.

Marsolais Press & Lettercarving, Inc.  is located in a free-standing brick building which once housed a textile mill.

Jesse shares the space with blacksmith Derek Heidemann, who began learning his craft at age 14 at Old Sturbridge Village. “When I found out about the space I was really intrigued by the presence of a traditional blacksmith,” Jesse said. “Derek works for Old Sturbridge Village by day but then comes here and does his own things at night.”

Derek happened to be at the shop on the day I visited. His work at the forge gave the space a wonderful smell of burning coal and red hot iron, and the occasional clinking sounds of metal on metal.

 

Jesse offered this: “To be able to work in a space that has another traditional craftsman  is really exciting and generative for me because it keeps the space alive with making. We’re vying for the same sensibility – for people that actually want the traditional process, the traditional level of quality.”

Jesse’s half of the work space is home to his newly acquired Chandler & Price Press, a 400-pound Miller saw, some type cases, a galley cabinet, his grandfather’s engineering drafting table, and a collection of typography and printing books. I ask him to talk about how the allied trades of letterpress printing and stone carving relate.

“For me, it seems like a really obvious bridge. [They are] two very related fields.” A self-proclaimed antiquarian, Jesse naturally has pursued learning more about the history and tradition of typography. “I think the more I researched and the farther back I went, the more I realized the debt modern typography owes to traditional Roman letterforms. Brush-driven letterforms.  Obviously, these are two totally different methods of typographic or lettering reproduction but there is a continuum that’s very much alive in the over-arching tradition.”

There, lying on the drafting table was proof. A slate slab beautifully carved with a Roman alphabet – the letters chiseled in V-cut against the buttery smooth dark slate.

Nearby, was a large beach stone, looking to weigh some 50 pounds. Jesse had begun to design lettering of my father’s name for a memorial stone I’d commissioned. I asked him to talk about finding this particular stone. “Because I was able to learn a little bit about your father, I had some personal information at hand. . .  Searching for a stone can be a fairly emotional and moving moment. . . I knew he was a man of science. It was important to me to find a stone that I thought I could carve.”

“This stone has a purplish hue and it has these beautiful bands of what looks like quartz and some darker stone. I look at this and I just think pressure and time. There’s a fluidity to it. There’s a flow inherent in the surface of the stone. So there’s this play of solid and liquid.”

 Jesse’s shop will be easier to find once Jesse finishes his sign for the exterior of the building.

Two days later, I went to meet Jesse at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island.  The shop has been in operation since 1705; walk inside and history speaks. Beautiful letterforms are everywhere you look.  Jesse greeted me and showed me the piece he wass working on – an impression of a cancelled stamp, carved in white marble. I met Paul Russo, who was chipping away on a slate memorial, carving daffodils in relief. Nearby was a huge piece in progress for Yale University, acknowledging benefactors for their contributions to art, and a number of gravestones in various stages of completion.

Jesse shares with me that he couldn’t imagine better guys to work with and learn from. “They’ve been incredibly generous, not at all guarded with the secrets of the trade.”

As a folklorist working in the public sector, it is gratifying to help support a young man with skills and passion seek out mentors willing to pass on their knowledge in hand-wrought craftsmanship and receive priceless, one-on-one guidance. It is also affirming to see that a small investment of public money in the arts can play a part in growing small business developtment, while preserving age-old New England crafts.

Learning to carve letters in stone

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

We first came to know Jesse Marsolais as an apprentice to letterpress printer John Kristensen. An old soul, Jesse has embraced the black art of printmaking and brings new life to the craft. So we were not surprised to learn that Jesse has the rare opportunity to apprentice under third generation stone carver, calligrapher, and designer  Nick Benson  at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island. Lucky for us, Jesse is  blogging about his experience, “Six Weeks in the John Stevens Shop.” We suggest you give it a read.

Jesse’s six-week apprenticeship is funded by the Southern New England Folk & Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.  This unique tri-state apprenticeship program allows apprentices to work with master artists across state lines in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The next deadline is October 4, 2012.

Apprenticeship Grants Available

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Are you interested in applying for a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council? Applications are now available.

Recent apprenticeships funded by MCC’s Folk Arts and Heritage Program include Puerto Rican musical instrument making, Irish fiddling, Cambodian kbach (basic element of design), Irish stepdancing, bladesmithing, and Puerto Rican dollmaking, to name a few. Check them out.

Promising young apprentice performs locally and abroad

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s nice to see a mentoring situation continue after the formal Traditional Arts Apprenticeship has ended. Irish fiddler Laurel Martin was awarded an apprenticeship in September 2010 to work with home-schooled teen, Natayla Kay Trudeau. Beyond the learning of new tunes, special emphasis was put on gaining an understanding of the older regional fiddle styles associated with County Clare — a style Martin herself was taught by acclaimed Clare-born fiddler Seamus Connolly, in an apprenticeship more than 20 years ago. Trudeau also learned about fiddlers who were also known for their compositions, including tunesmiths Junior Crehan, Paddy O’Brien, Sean Ryan, and Ed Reavey.

By June 2011, Trudeau’s progress was audible; not only had she gained respect for the authenticity of regional fiddle styles, but her technique, musicality, and presence on stage were surprising for one so young. The two took part in a Lowell Folklife Series concert back in June at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Their music enlivened the stepdancing of Kieran Jordan and Kevin Doyle, along with their respective apprentices, Emerald Rae and Nicole Leblanc.

And though the formal MCC-funded apprenticeship with Laurel ended in June, Trudeau’s education as a budding musician has just begun. She will perform on December 12 at the Westford Museum  and will join Martin on stage at Club Passim (also on December 12) and the Java Room Coffee House in Chelmsford (February 11). Soon after, Martin and Trudeau are headed to Ireland for a week of seisuns, performances, and ceilidhs — a veritable immersion in the world of Irish fiddling. Lucky girl.

Scenes from a folk festival

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

The Lowell Folk Festival is best known for its spectacular array of traditional music and ethnic food. Perhaps less well known is the Folk Craft & Foodways demonstrations that take place every year in the shade of Lucy Larcom Park. From watching fishing flys being tied and seeing how Abenaki baskets are woven, to handling newly constructed Puerto Rican musical instruments, it’s an area that encourages a special kind of hands-on interaction that kids especially enjoy.

Folks that stopped by the letterpress printing tent got the chance to set metal type in a composing stick and then pull an impression (i.e., print) their own name on a table top  press.

Samnang Khoeun explained the carving and casting ofan element of Cambodian ornamental design known as kbach.

Just across from the craft demonstrations was the large Foodways tent. Here, people had a chance to watch cooking demonstrations and sample noodle and pasta dishes from five different cultural cuisines.

The demonstrations started at noon with Jewish noodle kugel. Hannah Hammond Hagman and her mother Lynn Hammond, shared a recipe which has been handed down in their family for four generations.

Ronnie Mouth shared her mother’s recipe for cold Cambodian noodle salad.

Other dishes that were presented over the weekend included Italian pasta and peas by Regina Sibilia Sullivan, Polish pierogi by Dottie Flanagan and Carol Matyka, and Pennsylvania Dutch chicken corn noodle soup by Millie Rahn. In addition to the welcome shade of the tent, the crowd seemed to enjoy hearing stories about  family traditions, cooking tips, recipes. . .

. . . and those delicious samples!

All photos by Maggie Holtzberg

Life lessons through doll making

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

On July 12, 2011, Puerto Rican dollmaker, Ivelisse Pabon de Landron, and her apprentice Jamielette Figueroa will do a demonstration at 2:00 p.m. in the Ashland Public Library. They will be sharing skills passed on during their 9-month Traditional Arts Apprenticeship, which was funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Among the skills young Jamielette learned are hand sewing, joining seams for clothing construction, drawing, cutting fabric, paper pattern making, use of a thimble, color wheel, tape measure, and sewing machine, preparing fabric, stuffing techniques, shearing for skirts, making hair out of yarn, and hand embroidery. These are things that used to be taught in home economics classes, if not not something that most girls learned firsthand from their mother or grandmother. Nowadays, how many youngsters are adept at sewing?

Perhaps, more importanty, these sewing lessons were steeped in folk cultural context. In addition to working on the technical craft of doll making, Ivelisse made sure that Jamielette learned about the history of Puerto Rico and the folk culture of its people. She came to understand that many of the skills that were passed on from one generation to the next were honed during times of hardship, when many rural people could not afford to buy the necessary things to survive, let alone provide toys for their children. Years ago, mothers taught their daughters the craft of making dolls using socks, old garments, corn husks, and banana leaves. To bring this history to life, Ivelisse and Jamielette created characters from Puerto Rican folkore such as the nana (care taker of children) camadronas (midwives), jibaros (farmers) and African bomba y plena dancers.

Ivelisse was a demanding teacher in the way great teachers are. On occasion, Jamielette did not meet her expectations, turning in a half-hearted job. Ivelisse took the opportunity to teach Jamielette the importance of taking pride in what you do. Through hard work and attention, Jamielette grew to meet Ivelisse’s expecations. It helped that master artist and apprentice share the same heritage, Spanish language, and spiritual faith.

The July 21 public demonstration will serve as a dress rehearsal of sorts for a Ivelisse and Jamielette. They will be joining eight other master artist/apprentice pairs participating in the summer’s Lowell Folk Festival. Come by and see them in the Folk Craft & Foodways area along Lucy Larcom Park on July 29-31, 2011.

Under One Tent: Duck Decoys and Fishing Flys

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The Folk Craft area at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival focuses on the role apprenticeships have played in helping to sustain traditional art in New England. Below are two master artists and their apprentices that will be sharing a tent in Lucy Larcom Park. We are thankful to our friend and collegeague, Lynn Graton of New Hampshire Folklife  for connecting us with these talented craftsmen.

Making a beautiful decoy starts with being a keen observer of wildlife, in order to mimic the postures and grace of a variety of wildfowl and songbirds. Skills in carving must be matched by skills in painting. Layers of carefully applied paint help create the sheen and luster of feathers. Fred Dolan, of Strafford, New Hampshire,is a nationally recognized wood carver, specializing in waterfowl and songbirds. In addition to having studied under master carvers both in New England and in the Chesapeake region, Fred has studied ornithology and  worked with New Hampshire Fish and Game officials to band geese as a way of studying the birds at close range.

Fred works primarily with cedar, basswood or tupelo wood. He uses a variety of techniques such as combing to simulate wavy lines;  stippling to diffuse light and provide texture;  airbrush techniques to create iridescent highlights and shadows;  as well as hand painting of feather details. Gary Trotter is one of several apprentices Fred has mentored through a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant awarded by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.

Fly fishing has been around for centuries, but the greatest advancements to the tradition were made in19th-century England. Flys are a combination of feathers, fur, and wire to imitate the look, color, wiggle, and silhouette of a bug or bait for fish. As Lynn Graton writes, “Classic Atlantic salmon flys are considered by many to be the king of the ornamental flys and are collected and displayed for their jewel-like beauty.” With up to 30 or 40 steps and taking several hours to complete, they represent the pinnacle of fly tying art. The distinction between working flys and classic Atlantic salmon flys, with their exotic feathers, is akin to that between working decoys and decorative decoys.


As a child, Bob Wyatt watched his father tie Atlantic salmon flys on family fishing vacations in Nova Scotia. The fly is used to catch “the king of fish,” says Bob, who now preserves fly tying as part of New Hampshire’s outdoor heritage. In 2009, Bob  was awarded a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts to mentor Chris Clark, who runs an outdoor adventure guide business.

Free Traditional Irish Dance & Music Performance on June 4

Friday, May 13th, 2011

 

Traditional Irish dance and fiddle music will fill the Merrimack Repertory Theatre on June 4 in a program sponsored by Lowell National Historical Park.

Fiddle player Laurel Martin and step dancers Kieran Jordan and Kevin Doyle are all recipients of 2010 MCC Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants. These publically-funded grants allowed these artists to provide a year of one-on-one teaching to talented apprentices Natayla Kay Trudeau, Emerald Rae, and Nicole Leblanc.

This free concert presents a unique opportunity for collaboration, as teachers and students come together to present the results of their apprenticeships and insight into their teaching methods.

Come join us for an exciting evening of solo, duet, and group performances revealing the history and shared languages which these artists express, preserve, and pass on.

Place: Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack Street, downtown Lowell

Time: 8:00 p.m.

No tickets required. For more details:  click here

Event presented by Lowell National Historical Park and funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.


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