Archive for the ‘Exhibitions’ Category

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

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

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 . . .

 

Today’s Native American Art in New England

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Guest blog by Dawn Spears,Program Manager, Native Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) 

The Native Arts program at NEFA has partnered with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center(MPMRC) on Native New England Now, an exhibit featuring many of New England’s Native American artists who have been supported through NEFA’s Native Arts program. The exhibit is up through January 4, 2014.

Cradleboard by Julia Marden, 2007.Photo by Doug Currie Spoon carved by Annawon Weeden, 1998. Photo by Doug Currie

This is a rare opportunity for an organization to be able to showcase the work it supports, and we are grateful for the partnership and expertise of MPMRC. It allows the visitor a quick immersion into our world, to showcase our artists and the work that is happening now. The work here and the work supported in our program represent our master artists, our elders, our youth, our emerging artists, and those in between.

The exhibit of NEFA-supported work, which has been a goal of mine for a while, was the result of a conversation with MPMRC. Fast forward through a lot of work by the museum and NEFA staff together: contacting grantees, other museums, working on image collection and object curation, and collecting the artist statements.  It’s been a true community effort that would not have happened without the support of our artists, the museum, and those who have loaned from their collections (the Abbe Museum, the Hood Museum), or their own private collection. It was an intense and exciting period, but with an amazing team and eyes focused on the opening, I could not be more proud of the result.

Decorative covered vase basket, 2007 by Jeremy Frey. Photo by Jeremy Frey

Personally, I can’t say enough about the art that is happening in New England. It’s our home, and what you see in this exhibit really represents the love of our land and its gifts. The work that is happening represents this connection to our land, our resources, our cultures and heritage, and, in reality, to our future.

It was such an honor that so many of the exhibited artists attended the opening reception, along with  program advisors, funders, museum officials, NEFA board members, and my own NEFA colleagues. I’m hopeful that we will have similar participation at the artist panel discussion on November 16 and the holiday artisan market on November 30!

Native artists posing on the stairs at museum. Photo by Ann Wicks

This exhibit shows the work of 28 of the over 80 artists and organizations – representing over 35 tribes – that have received grants from NEFA’s Native Arts program. You can learn more about the artists in the companion book we  published, but the best way for you to really understand the work that has come from this love – and really see the talent and creativity of our amazing artists – is to see it in person.

NEFA’s Native Arts program supports projects that nurture artistic exchange, community development, youth engagement, environmental resource research and preservation, cultural preservation, and artistic innovation. Special thanks to the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the six New England state arts agencies, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, and other Native Arts program funders.

Changes Afoot …

Friday, April 16th, 2010

  

As the Folk Arts and Heritage Program begins its 12th year at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, we are excited to tell you about some changes. Through a unique partnership with Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP), state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg has been temporarily assigned to the Park to support the development and expansion of traditional arts programming serving the public. We will continue our work in running a vital state folk arts program — doing field research, maintaining an archive, database, and website, and providing grants to individual artists. This new endeavor is an exciting opportunity to explore cross-cultural understanding within in the context of a National Park based on ethnic heritage, occupational folklore, immigration, and industrial history.  

  

The goal is to engage visitors and more of the region’s immigrant and ethnic populations by offering a robust variety of culturally-relevant public programs at the Park year-round. Though the MCC Folk Arts and Heritage Program has worked with the Lowell Folk Festival for over a decade (providing potential crafts artists and musicians, emceeing on stages, etc.) we will be more actively involved in the planning and presentation of folk arts than ever before. This summer, look for “Folk Craft and Foodways” in Lucy Larcom Park where we will showcase some of the extra-musical aspects of traditional folk culture.

The plan is to build on the energy of the festival — the high-quality, traditional arts performances that are the hallmark of the Lowell Folk Festival — and offer similar experiences throughout the year. Special exhibits and interactive presentations of craft, foodways, performing, and expressive traditions will be developed based on both previous and new folklife field research within the region’s many diverse communities. There is even the possibility of re-establishing a folklife center at the Park.

 Keep your eye on this blog for further postings from Lowell . . .

“Old-school” visitor comments arrive in the mail

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

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.”

Massachusetts Artist’s Work Featured in New Smithsonian Exhibition

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

The detail is mind boggling. And the engineering, craftsmanship, and design are just what one would expect from maritime historian and ship modeler Erik Ronnberg, Jr. He called a few months ago to invite me up to Rockport to see a model he has been working on for the past two years. The Smithsonian Institution commissioned Ronnberg to design and build a Pacific Coast factory trawler. The piece is an incredible rendering of a working factory trawler, with exacting detail. Though the hull is made of very thin wood, the majority of pieces are cast out of metal. She is modeled after the real ship “Alaska Ocean,” which routinely catches and processes 50-100 tons of Alaska pollock in a single haul. Every fish that comes onto the factory deck is weighed and measured to ensure that the ship doesn’t exceed her quota.

Once the fish are released, they spill out into one of three holding tanks. A conveyer belt brings fish to their ultimate fate, where they end up as packaged and frozen surimi (imitation crab/lobster), rectangular fillets, or highly profitable roe. The majority of the work on the processing deck is automated. Erik has machined parts to represent the many processes that take place on this factory-on-waves: sorting, scaling, skinning, filleting, gutting, deboning, washing, cooking, compacting, freezing, bagging, loading, and storing.

Examining the many fish processing stages, you can see where the infatuation with technology comes from. The model is six feet long (scale: 3/16 in. = 1 foot) and is part of the new exhibit, On the Water: Stories from Maritime America, which opened May 22 at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. Erik Ronnberg’s hope is that a few kids will see his model of Alaska Ocean and out of that will come the next generation of naval architects.

Falling Between the Cracks

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

As folkorists, we are always questioning what constitutes “tradition,” “transmission,” and “context.”

Mary Hart attended the Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts exhibition twice during its run at the National Heritage Museum. Like many visitors, she filled out a comment card — in her case, the one where we asked people to tell us about a folk art tradition we should know about. Mary described her work in the German paper cutting tradition known as Scherenschnitte.

Scherensnitte is a tradition of making decorative documents that flourished within German American farm communities in and around Lancaster, Pennsylvania from the 1750s to the 1890s. People used these cut papers for birth announcements, memorials, love letters, and baptismal certificates. Rather than put them on display, many families stored them between pages of the family Bible.

I was curious about Mary’s paper cutting, but well aware of how she didn’t fit our criteria of traditional artist. Not only did she learn her folk art from a book, she claims no German heritage, and she is what folklorists refer to as a “revivalist,” practicing her art outside of the cultural context in which it was created. After Mary and I exchanged a few emails, I picked up on her frustration of falling in between the worlds of fine craft and folk art, not fully appreciated by either.

Folklorists place great emphasis on the cultural context in which traditions are transmitted. Who one learned from is important. How someone’s work is valued within the community in which the traditional art originated and is practiced is relevant.

So what does a folklorist do with an artist who essentially learned folk art from a book, doesn’t claim any familial or ethnic connection to a tradition, and has a college degree in art? In this case, I drove out to meet with her.

Although Hart has a studio — a small and bright room off the dining room of an open plan contemporary house — she does most of her paper cutting on the dining room table. Before my arrival, Mary had brought out samples of her work, as well as magazines, craft catalogues, and books about paper cutting. She showed me examples of Scherenschnitte, pointing out what attracted her to this German style of paper cutting: the symmetry, the simplicity of the cuttings, and the historical use of recycled papers. Back when paper was not readily available, people reused old letters — not unlike the recycling of cloth in the making of pieced quilts. She also likes the fact that you don’t need specialized equipment to do paper cutting.

Mary creates her own patterns, drawing in pencil. The paper is folded in half. Using an exacto knife, she cuts only the parts that won’t be different once the paper is unfolded. Unique elements are cut only once the paper is unfolded. Her work is traditional in that she uses borders and standard subject matter (farm imagery, trees, flowers, vines). Examples of how she has introduced innovations into the tradition are by adding fruit on the trees, or using a flock of birds.

Like any self respecting artist, Mary would like to be able to sell her work for a fair price and to be appreciated. She also wants to continue being able to teach – she keeps a busy adjunct teaching schedule. Teaching grammar school students is especially gratifying, “I see the visceral pleasure they take in making something with their own hands.”

Mary Hart’s work is beautifully rendered. Is she a folk artist? The folklorist in me must point out that Hart is working in a culturally specific tradition, yet completely outside of the cultural context in which this folk art was created and is practiced. But it is beautiful work, nonetheless.

When work “falls between the cracks” it brings us back to larger questions, such as: How are the traditional arts perpetuated outside of their cultural context? How is tradition reinvented in a transplanted community?

What do you think?

Contact Mary Hart at Jeffrey.Hart@verizon.net

Fiddle or Violin? Meet a Maker

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

It is a question we hear all the time — what is the difference between a violin and a fiddle? It depends on what style of music someone plays, but basically, they are the same instrument. Chunk Dingle, a country guitar player from Georgia put it this way: “A violin has strings on it; a fiddle has straangs on it.” Classical musicians tend to call their instruments violins, but they sometimes refer to them as fiddles. Players of bluegrass, old-time, and contra dance tunes are more likely to call their instruments fiddles.

The violin pictured here was made by Bob Childs and it is currently on display at the National Heritage Museum, as part of the exhibition “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts.” This Saturday, from 1:00-3:00 pm, Bob is going to demonstrate various aspects of violin making. You can ask questions, watch Bob measure, sand, chisel, and carve, and then go take a look at the finished product.

Sign Maker to Give Artist Demo

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

We first wrote about Nicholas Lonborg back in September, but it’s worth repeating, since he will be doing an artist demonstration a few days after Christmas at the National Heritage Museum. Lonborg has mastered the art of hand carved signs featuring V-cut letters and the application of gold leaf. He specializes in highly finished quarterboards, like the one he is working on here. Once associated with ships, quarterboards now mark personal property, especially on the seafaring island of Nantucket and other coastal communities.”

Come watch Lonborg work, ask questions, and hear him talk about his craft on Sunday, December 28th from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Nicholas Lonborg outlining in black. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

“Keepers of Tradition” exhibition extended through June 7, 2009

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

The National Heritage Museum, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), is pleased to announce it is extending “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts” through June 7, 2009. ” The exhibition has been hugely popular with visitors,” said Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Collections and Exhibitions, “and when the opportunity to extend the show presented itself, we didn’t hesitate. We are very grateful to the artists for allowing us to display these treasures a bit longer.”

“Keepers of Tradition” features more than 100 works by 70 Massachusetts artists who preserve and revitalize deeply rooted traditions. Reflecting the populace of Massachusetts, their art takes many expressive forms-from Native American basketry to Yankee wooden boats, Armenian lace, Chinese seals, Puerto Rican santos, and Irish music and dance. Passed down from person to person within both long-settled and new immigrant communities, traditional art involves the shaping of deeply held cultural values into meaningful artistic forms. These keepers of tradition are recognized in their communities as outstanding practitioners of craft, music, dance, and sacred arts. Yet much of this work is hidden to the public at large, remaining essentially unknown beyond the local community in which it flourishes.

More information about the exhibition, including an audio tour, can be found at the Museum’s web site. The official MCC web site for the show can be found at www.massfolkarts.org.

Wooden boat builder demonstrates the use of half models

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Ever wonder how shipwrights with little or no drafting skills designed large sailing vessels, like the one pictured above? A key tool was the half-hull model and it is still used today. It’s basically a model that, once perfected, can be taken apart and used to draw full-scale lines on the lofting floor.

Come hear wooden boat builder Harold A. Burnham explain this tradition which developed in Essex shipyards over 200 years ago. Burnham will be giving an artist demonstration Saturday November 22 from 1:00 ;.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the National Heritage Museum. (Free event)


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