This short video tells the remarkable story of master Cambodian potter Yary Livan. He is a shining example of not only the promise America holds for refugee artisan immigrants, but also of how these individuals enrich our cultural landscape.
MCC is delighted to announce the 2014 Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts. Two artists will receive fellowships in the amount of $10,000 and four artists will receive $500 finalist awards. For more information on MCC Artist Fellowships, look here.
Elizabeth James Perry, Wampanoag weaving and wampum
Elizabeth James Perry, (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head) is a fiber artist whose work reflects time-honored Wampanoag materials, techniques, and aesthetics. A scholar of Northeastern wampum and indigenous fiber arts, her work focuses on early contact-period Northeastern Woodlands Algonquian material culture, which features woven regalia (twining, weft weaving), natural dyes, and wampum adornment. She has been the recipient of a New England for the Arts grant (NEFA) and served as a master artist in the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.
Selected exhibitions include the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT; National Seashores Salt Pond Visitor Center, Eastham, MA; The Boston Children’s Museum, Boston, MA; Aquinnah Cultural Center, Martha’s Vineyard, MA; and Roger Williams University, Bristol RI.
Jimmy Noonan, Irish flute and tin whistle playing
Jimmy Noonan is an Irish flute and tin whistle player who grew up steeped in the traditional music of County Clare, Ireland. He learned from traditional musicians who, as he says, were “the pillars of their society, playing for weddings, funerals and political events; their importance was immense.” Dedicated to passing on the tradition, Noonan has run his own music schools in Cleveland and Boston. National Heritage Fellow Seamus Connolly invited Noonan to teach at Boston College, where he has been an adjunct professor in the music department since 1996. In addition, he has taught at many of the premier Irish Music Summer Schools in the country including Gaelic Roots, Catskills Irish Arts Week, and Milwaukee Irish Fest. Selected recordings include The Maple Leaf: Irish Traditional Music from Boston and The Clare Connection.
Thomas Matsuda, Japanese Buddhist woodcarving
Japanese monks inspired Thomas Matsuda to study his art in Japan. He apprenticed under one of the leading classical Buddhist sculptors in Japan, Koukei Eri. Masuda went on to develop his own distinct style, while living in a remote Japanese mountain village, where he carved more than two hundred sculptures for temples, shrines, and patrons. A decade later, Matsuda returned to the Massachusetts, where he continues to carve Buddhist sculpture and to teach. Influenced by the rough-hewn rustic style of Enku, Matsuda’s works, rendered in stone and wood, can be found displayed among leading Buddhist centers and temples. Selected commissions include a 7-ton marble Buddha for the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Grafton, NY and Budda’s Feet for the Leverett Peace Pagoda in Leverett, MA. He has demonstrated woodcarving at several Lowell Folk Festivals.
Daphne Board, Custom shoemaking
Cordwainer Daphne Board makes made-to-measure, custom built shoes and boots using wooden or plastic lasts. She learned her cordwaining skills through an apprenticeship with a shoemaker in Nova Scotia, who himself had learned from an Italian shoemaker. Since then, she has set up own shop in Holyoke. Board is a member of the Honorable Cordwainers Company. She relies on a small community of shoe and bootmakers for advice, locating leather suppliers, and continuing to learn traditional techniques. In addition to her stunning leather work and keen eye for color, Daphne Board is on her way to becoming a certified pedorthist, someone skilled in making orthotics and treating foot problems. “I’m interested in not only making beautiful shoes, but shoes for people who cannot wear factory made, stand-sized shoes.” Board served as a master artist in 2013 Southern New England Traditional Arts Program and was a craft artist at 2012 Lowell Folk Festival, Lowell, MA.
Vincent Crotty, European sign craft
For the past 23 years, Vincent Crotty has been making hand-painted signs created using old-world techniques like wood-graining, marbleizing, freehand lettering, and pictorial designs. Traditional sign craft, a skill that has almost been obliterated by computer graphics, is an art form that has been handed down from father to son, master to apprentice, for centuries. Born in Ireland, Crotty learned his craft in his 20s, at a trade school called Fas, where his teachers had learned through the old-world guild system. Tools of the trade include sign quills and special sable hair brushes; materials include sign enamels, gold leaf, varnish, and shellac.
Crotty’s work can be found on neighborhood storefront signage throughout Boston, local churches, pubs, and on signage for Irish music festivals around the country. Selected commissions include The Irish Cultural Centre, Canton, MA; Irish Arts Week, East Durham, NY; Codman Academy, Dorchester, MA; St. Mark’s, St. Ambrose, St. Margaret’s, St. Peter’s, and St. Ann’s, Dorchester, MA; St. Ann’s, Quincy, MA.
Mal Barsamian, Armenian and Middle Eastern music
Multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Barsamian grew up in a household rich in Middle Eastern music. He comes from a family of oud players starting from his grandfather, his father, his great-uncle, and uncle. His father, Leo, had four-year-old Malcolm sitting in on dumbeg at Armenian picnics. As a youngster, Barsamian listened to old recordings of Armenian and Middle Eastern Masters, picking up the ability to improvise. Classical training enhanced his musical skills and his ability to perform Armenian and Middle Eastern music.
He has gone on to become a sought-after player of the oud and dumbeg, as well as instruments such as clarinet, guitar, and saxophone, performing in the Armenian and Greek communities for over thirty years. Barsamian is well schooled in the underlying theory of Turkish classical music, and related music of the Middle East, Armenia, and the Balkan countries. In addition to teaching, Barsamian plays regular for concerts, community events, weddings, and festivals concerts, reinvigorating and preserving the music of his Armenian heritage. Selected performances include the Armenian Festival, Watertown, MA; Armenian Festival, 2008; Birmingham, MI; Lowell Folk Festival, 2012, Lowell, MA; The St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church, Arlington, MA;Tufts University, 2010, Medford, MA; and The African Museum,2013, Detroit, MI. Barsamian recorded One Take: Armenian Dance Songs in 2005.
The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Folk Arts & Heritage Program offers a unique opportunity to learn first hand from a master traditional artist through its Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. Apprenticeships are awarded every other year to a limited number of master artists. Priority is given to rare or endangered traditions. If you are interested in applying, please take a look at the program guidelines before contacting program manager, Maggie Holtzberg.
Pictured here are just a few of the apprenticeships that have been funded since the program was established in 2001.
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.
We are delighted to share the exciting news that Irish-born and longtime Massachusetts resident Séamus Connolly has been named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. Though he recently moved to Yarmouth, Maine, we still like to claim him as one of our own.
In drafting his nomination letter, Irish music journalist Earle Hitchner writes, “I can think of no Irish traditional musician more qualified and deserving than Séamus Connolly for a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His achievements as an Irish traditional fidder, music school organizer, and music teacher are long and lustrous. . . First and foremost is his fiddling, a combination of virtuosity and vitality that stamps his style of playing as original, unique, and highly influential . . . Every time he picks up the fiddle — whether on stage, in a recording studio, in a class, or in an informal session — Séamus both preserves and advances the Irish tradition. His zeal and love for this music are as ardent now as they were when he was a boy in Ireland, and the body of art and work he has created is exceptional and formidable.”
Séamus Connolly grew up in a home filled with music in Kilaloe, County Clare, Ireland. He won his first All-Ireland National Fiddle Championship only ten months after initially picking up the fiddle and it wasn’t long before he gained national prominence. He joined the famous Kilfenora Ceili Band, traveling throughout Ireland and Britain playing for dances, concerts, and radio broadcasts and television programs.
Séamus directed the highly acclaimed Gaelic Roots Summer School and Festival at Boston College from 1993 – 2003. In 2004, Boston College named Connolly the “Sullivan Artist in Residence.” He also coordinates a Gaelic Roots Series of free concerts and lectures by visiting artists throughout the academic year. In 1990 and 2004, he was awarded a Fellowship in Traditional Arts by the Massachusetts Cultural Council; he was also awarded three Master/Apprenticeship Grants for teaching traditional Irish music.
Séamus often performed and recorded with two stellar musicians — Irish button accordion player Joe Derrane, who won a National Heritage Fellowship in 2004, and guitarist John McGann, a gifted guitarist and mandolin player, who passed away unexpectedly in 2012.
Indeed, it has been a momentous year for Séamus — On May 11, 2013, he was awarded another highly prestigious prize: the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, given by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations to American citizens for their outstanding contributions to the United States. An exhibition titled ” the Musical Roots of Seamus Connolly” recently ran at Boston College’s Burns Library.
We are so very proud of you Séamus.
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.
To help celebrate International Women’s Month, the Lowell Folklife Series is pleased to present Veronica Robles with her Mariachi. Known affectionately by fans as La Mera, Mera, Robles is widely recognized as the most authentic representative of Mexican music and culture in New England.
This free concert takes place on March 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm in the Visitor Center Theater of Lowell National Historical Park (246 Market Street, Lowell, Massachusetts).
Veronica Robles has Mexican music in her blood. She first learned to sing corridos and rancheros from her grandmother as she prepared traditional dishes in the family kitchen. It was in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, the cradle of mariachi music, where Veronica was introduced to the mariachi group led by El Chiquis. She began working with his group at age 15, learning hundreds of songs and musical styles from these elder musicians. In 1992, Robles left her home country for New York City to pursue her life as a professional mariachi musician.
Robles has made Massachusetts home since 2000, where she specializes in performing for young audiences through school assembles, residencies and dance workshops. Her television show, Orale con Verónica has been on the air since 2002. She was named an Artist Fellowship Finalist by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 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.
Joe Derrane is a living legend in the Irish traditional music community. Born in Boston to Irish immigrant parents, Derrane developed an early affinity for the button accordion and Irish traditional music. At age 14, he was playing regularly in the ballroom dance scene that was booming in the Dudley Street section of Roxbury. At age 17, Derrane recorded the first in a series of 78-rpm recordings, which have since become legendary in the Irish music world. Decades later, Derrane’s musicianship is marked by his unique ornamentation, vigor, and flawless execution. In addition to his virtuosity on the button box, Derrane is known for his tune compositions, many of which have entered the repertoire of Irish musicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
YARY LIVAN, Cambodian ceramicist
An MCC Artist Fellowship also went to Yary Livan (Lowell, MA), master of traditional Cambodian ceramics and kiln building. His 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. Livan recently served as master artist in MCC’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, passing on what he knows of kbach, the basic element of design in Khmer art, to apprentice Samnang Khoeun. The two are building a smokeless wood-burning kiln on the grounds of Lowell National Historical Park.
In addition to these two Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts, four Finalist awards were announced.
VERÓNICA ROBLES, Mariachi musician
Verónica Robles has Mariachi music in her blood. “I first learned the traditoinal music of my home country, Mexicao, from my grandmother, whom I would spend hours with in the kitchen as she prepared dishes such as chicharron prensado, con calabazas, elote y nopales. . . ” It was in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, the cradle of Mariachi music, where Verónica was introduced to the Mariachi group led by El Chiquis. She began working with his group at age 15, learning hundreds of songs and musical styles. Robles has made Massachusetts home since 2000, where she specializes in performing for young audiences through school assembles, residencies and dance workshops. Her television show, Orale con Verónica, has been on the air since 2002.
KHENPO CHOPEL, Tibetan torma maker
Khenpo Chopel was born in Tibet and became a monk at the age of 14. Holding the title of “khenpo” (a spiritual degree given after three years of intensive study in Tibetan Buddhism), Chopel is a master torma maker and tantric practitioner. Tormas (pictured above) are a traditional art form essential for everyday practice in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and households. These ritual forms — in conical shapes of bright colors — are made both as an offering to a deity and as a representation of a deity. Since 2009, Chopel has been living at the Drikung Meditation Center in Arlington, Massachusetts, where he serves as a master torma-maker and tantric practitioner.
JORGE ARCE, Afro Caribbean percussionist and educator
Jorge Arce grew up in the Bélgica, a working class neighborhood of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Ponce is known as the wellspring of bomba, plena, and danza, traditional Afro Caribbean styles of music and dance. Born into a family of dancers and singers, Arce grew up with Plena folk groups and musicians. Arce credits Don Rafael Cepda and family with expanding his knowledge of bomba. In addition to his life-long work in Bomba and Plena, Arce is an experienced actor, dancer, and cultural historian. He is considered an expert on the history of Puerto Rican’s African people and their descendants. Touring the United States since 1975 as a musician and educator, Arce continues to give workshops, lectures, residencies and performances at schools, festivals, and community organizations.
DANNY MEKONNEN, Ethiopian American musician
By the time he was an accomplished saxophonist, Danny Mekonnen sought out master Ethiopian musicians to learn to play the traditional instruments of his Ethiopian heritage. In 2006, Mekonnen founded Debo Band, an Ethiopian music collective melding traditional East African polyrhythms, American soul and funk, and the layered instrumentation of Eastern European brass bands, to form a sound that is a jubilant reinvention of music that once rocked Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. He also performs for events within the Ethiopian community, such as weddings and adoption community gatherings for American parents of Ethiopian children.