MCC Awards 2016 Fellows & Finalists in the Traditional Arts

FELLOWS:

Portrait of Shannon Heaton

Shannon Heaton, Irish flute playing, singing, & composition

No matter how well any of us play, our Irish cred lies in
how tightly we can play with others. Irish music is social.

Shannon Heaton is highly regarded in Irish traditional music circles for her beautifully expressing playing, composing, and dedication to teaching and promoting the music. She was fortunate to learn firsthand from musicians in Chicago’s rich traditional Irish music scene and later in repeated trips to County Clare, Ireland. For National Heritage Fellow, Seamus Connolly, Shannon’s playing encapsulates the tradition, “In it I hear so many elements of the old styles, such as the playing of Kevin Henry from County Sligo, Ireland, who lived in Chicago and whose music goes back to another time.”

Shannon co-founded the Boston Celtic Music Festival in 2001, a festival that continues to bring Irish musicians together with other Celtic styles. “Live Ireland,” an Irish music radio show broadcasting from Dublin, nominated Shannon “Female Musician of the Year” twice. In addition to performing regularly, Shannon is a sought after teacher, not only of tunes and technique, but also of the tradition’s social and musical customs, e.g., the importance of session etiquette.

 

Dimitrios Klitsas at his workbench
Dimitrios Klitsas, architectural and ornamental woodcarving

Both students and seasoned wood carvers come from around the country to study with master woodcarver Dimitrios Klitsas in his studio in Hampden. Like the architects and designers who seek out his impeccably carved ornamental work for fine homes and churches, these students are inspired by Dimitrios’s ability to shape slabs of walnut, mahogany, or oak into breathtaking architectural and figurative works. Guided by his deep knowledge of the fundamentals of classical European design, Dimitrios patiently creates carvings that exemplify both his unique talent and his devotion to the tradition of his craft.

Dimitrios began his training in classical carving at age 13 at the Ioannina Technical School near his home in the foothills of northwestern Greece. After graduation, he served a five-year apprenticeship and then ran his own woodcarving shop in Athens for another five years, before coming to Massachusetts nearly four decades ago. His work here has been recognized nationally with commendations including the Arthur Ross Award for Artisanship from the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. Many of Dimitrios’s students have gone on to professional carving careers, including his son, Spiro.

FINALISTS:

Delft redware by Stephen Earp

Stephen Earp, redware pottery

Stephen Earp works within the redware tradition, the common name for a variety of domestic, leadglazed
pottery made in New England between the 17th and 19th centuries. Originally, redware was produced to meet the daily needs of food storage, preparation, and serving such as plates, platters, and pitchers. On occasion, redware served commemorative and decorative purposes. Stephen has perfected the functional forms and sgrafitto of Colonial redware, and more recently found his way to his own heritage through making Dutch Delftware.

Most of Earp’s pottery is thrown on a wheel that he designed and built. He uses local materials including clay from a family owned pottery in Sheffield, Massachusetts, which mines clay from a local seam. His glazes include locally dug clay, as well as ashes from the hay of a nearby farmer. In 2007, Stephen was included in Early American Life Magazine Directory of Traditional Crafts. Stephen was named an MCC Finalist in the Traditional Arts category in 2008. He writes an engaging and informative blog, This Day in Potter History.

Soumya Rajaram

Soumya Rajaram, Bharatanatyam dancer

Soumya Rajaram performs and teaches Bharatanatyam dance, a South Indian classical tradition with strong spiritual connections to Hindu religion and mythology. Although originally a hereditary tradition, the teaching of Bharatanatyam has become institutionalized. Indeed, Soumya came up within a deep lineage of dance teachers trained at the Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, India. In addition to her years of dedicated training in the technique and expressive elements of Bharatanatyam, she has extensive training in Carnatic music, which is integral to Bharatanatyam dance.

Known for her exacting standards, Soumya is skilled in nritta (abstract dance) and abhinaya (emotive aspect). She performs regularly at festivals and concerts and is thought of highly by senior dance teachers who first brought Bharatanatyam to southern New England. Soumya is an active contributor to the India arts community in Greater Boston. She continues to enhance her learning under the mentorship of Sheejith Krishna, spending a few months a year at his studio and home in Chennai.

Lutchinha

Maria Neves Leite, Cape Verdean singer

Known in the performing world as  “Lutchinha,” Maria Neves Leite is a singer of Cape Verdean songs. She was born into a singing family on the island of Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands, part of an archipelago off the coast of West Africa. She began singing at age seven, first with her father and later with family friends who would come to the house. Luchinha’s first solo CD Castanhinha bears the title of a mourna that her father wrote for her mother. She went on to become one of the winners at the Todo Munco Canta singing competition, representing her island of Sao Vicente. Engagements in the Soviet Union and in Portugal soon followed.

Lutchinha enjoyed a successful performing career in Europe before she joined her parents in immigrating to the United States. The family settled in Brockton. Lutchinha sang out in the local region, performing for Cape Verdean weddings, Noite Caboverdiana, and other community events. Her repertoire continued to draw from the deep well of traditional Cape Verdean song including the morna, coladeira, batuku,and funana Only recently, with her own children grown, Lutchina has returned to performing outside of the Cape Verdean community, including appearances at major festivals like the 2014 American Folk Festival in Bangor, ME. and the 2015 National Folk Festival in Greensboro, NC where she was backed by an all-star band of Cape Verdean musicians from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

  Textile with hole to be repaired Invisible reweaving

Toni Columbo, invisible reweaving

When is a traditional art at its best when it can’t be seen? Toni Columbo excels at invisible reweaving, French weaving, over weaving, and reknitting; all are traditional ways of repairing holes and damages by hand as imperceptibly as possible in woven and knitted fabrics. Threads or a frayed piece of fabric are harvested from an inconspicuous spot on a jacket, pants, coat, or sweater, and rewoven thread by thread, into the damaged area, rendering it virtually invisible.

Toni learned needle arts from her mother, who in turn, learned from her mother. Toni was born and raised in Boston’s North End, and she maintains a vital connection to this Italian American community. She is highly regarded by customers and by high end retail stores for her excellent skill in mending cherished items of clothing. Using the skills passed down through her family, Toni repairs and restores suits, sweaters, coats, couches, tapestries, and uniforms (including Babe Ruth’s 1926 New York Yankees baseball jersey). In addition to working on heirlooms, Toni keeps up with the new weaves and fibers used in today’s textiles. To work on these micro fabrics, some containing between 100-125 threads per inch, Toni uses a high powered surgeon’s loupe.

The Coloring Book Trend in Light of an Ancient North Indian Tradition

Adult coloring book cover

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the benefits of coloring books for adults. Once considered child’s play, coloring is now being touted as an adult’s “centering activity,” one that can combat anxiety, relieve stress and improve fine motor skills. Hearing about the trend in recently published coloring books and coloring groups of made us wonder what 8th grader Sanjana Krishan would think of the coloring trend.

Sanjana Krishnan standing with two of her Madhubani paintingsher

Sanjana recently completed an apprenticeship with master artist Sunanda Sahay in the ancient North Indian art of Madhubani painting. This very traditional art form features hand drawn hatched borders, motifs, and figures from Hindu mythology. Once the black lines are drawn, brushed acrylics fill in the spaces, leaving very little white space on the finished work.

filling in the drawing with color

Sanjana was interviewed by the Acton Tab, the local paper about her passion for Indian art. Towards the end of the article, she affirms, “(Art) relaxes you . . . when you paint, it’s focusing you on different things other than schoolwork. It’s different. It’s healing.”

Sounds like it might be the perfect time for someone to publish a Madhubani coloring book . . .

 

Planting the Art Tree in Lowell: Yary Livan

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.

Apply for an Artist Fellowship

Guidelines and application forms for our next upcoming Artist Fellowships in the traditional arts have just been posted!

Recent recipients include craft artists, dancers, and musicians:

Yary holding brown bowl
Yary Livan, Artist Fellow 2012
Elizabeth James Perry with Wampanoag weavings
Elizabeth James Perry, Artist Fellow, 2014
Jimmy Noonan at Boston College Jan 23 2014. Photo: Paul Wells
Jimmy Noonan, Artist Fellow, 2014
Kieran Jordan Irish sean nos dancer
Keiren Jordan, Artist Fellow, 2008

To see a complete list of past fellows in the Traditional Arts category, see here.

MCC announces Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts

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.

ARTIST FELLOWS:

Elizabeth James Perry, Wampanoag weaving and wampum

Hand woven sash by Elizabeth James Perry

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 at Boston College Jan 23 2014. Photo: Paul Wells

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.

FINALISTS:

Thomas Matsuda, Japanese Buddhist woodcarving

Thomas Matsuda at Lowell Folk Festival 2014. Photo: Greg Cook

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

Hand made shoes by Daphne Board

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

Cumann na nGaeilge sign by Vincent Crotty

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

Malcolm Barsamian on saxophone

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.

 

 

 

 

Learn from a Master Artist

Qianshen Bai lifting seal

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.

David Hawthorne teaching bowmaking to Joel Pautz

Yary Livan and Samnang Khoen

Estefany Navarro and Sixto "Tito" Ayala on congas

Sekou and Balla Kouyate playing balafons

Chris Pereji and Nisha Purushotham

Kieran Jordan and Emerald Rae Forman Samnang Hor andSopaul Hem Cambodian dance

 

Learning Chinese calligraphy from a master

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.

 

Seamus Connolly named National Heritage Fellow

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 came to the United States in 1972 as a member of the first Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann (CCE) tour, an ensemble of 26 musicians, singers and dancers. He then returned in 1976 and settled in the Boston area. At the request of the Boston branch of CCE, Séamus agreed to teach and pass on to American-born students the various regional styles of Irish fiddling.

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.

 

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians

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.

 

 

 

 

Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

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.