Metalsmiths demonstrate their skills at Lowell Folk Festival

The art of metalsmithing was one of 15 craft traditions on display at the 2008 Lowell Folk Festival. Retired sheetmetal worker Dick Clarke of Local #17, assembled and disassembled a tin man, explaing how the human form was fabricated from flat sheet metal.

Weathervane maker Marian Ives worked in copper on a codfish vane. One of her vanes tops the Merrimack Mills, a textile mill building just a short distance from the festival site. Marian had never seen the finished weathervane mounted atop Merrimack Mills and was eager to find the building. The jury is still out on whether Hook Lobster will have Marian repair the six-foot lobster weathervane she made for the 3rd generation business, which was recently damaged in a major fire.

Strong showing of Massachusetts crafts artists at Lowell Folk Festival

 

Massachusetts was well represented in the crafts area at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival. Festival goers got to meet and ask questions of artists who demonstrated the making of weathervanes, duck decoys, Chinese calligraphy, hooked rugs, porcupine quill work, native twined baskets, Ukrainian decorated eggs, Cambodian ceramics, hand carved signs, Puerto Rican carved saints and carnival masks, wooden boatbuilding, ship’s wheels, tin men, and white ash baskets. The participating craftspeople are are just some of the artists featured in the exhibition, Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts, on view at the National Heritage Museum through February 8, 2009.

New England folk musicians celebrate Quebec 400

Crossroads Finale

Joyeuse Anniversaire, Québec!

Just back from accompanying a great group of musicians to perform for our neighbors to the north. “Crossroads: Music Traditions of New England” was New England’s contribution to Québec 400, a year-long celebration marking the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding. Crooked Still represented Massachusetts and Nightingale VermontRehearsing. Nightingale on deckRhode Island sent the Pegheads, Connecticutt it’s state troubador, Pierce Campbell. Maine was represented by Nipmuc flutemaker/player Hawk Henries and New Hampshire by dance fiddler Rodney Miller (a National Heritage Fellow), David Surrette, and accordion wiz Gary Sredzienski. Above you see everyone squeezed on stage for a finale. The event took place at Espace 400 on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. A full day of traditional tunes and songs, some with strong Franco-American influence, culminated with everyone on stage. Just minutes after closing, we were all treated to Robert LePage’s incredible sound and light installation projected on the grain silos across the river.

The Québecois know how to enjoy life!

Fiddle through line

Suhas Rao and Tara Anand Bangalore. Photo by Billy Howard.For years I’ve wanted to pair a kora player with an oldtime banjo player. Or get rhythm tap dancer Rocky Mendes together with swing fiddler Matt Glaser. We did just that and more at a recent concert, African Roots, Fiddle Tunes, and Fancy Footwork — one of two performances complementing Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum. The concert gave us the opportunity to hint at the diversity of performance traditions thriving in Massachusetts today — African kora, old-time fiddle and banjo, swing fiddle, South Indian Carnatic violin, and Irish accordion and fiddle. This is music that makes people dance — and so we complemented the musician’s offerings with some of the extraordinary dance steps their music has inspired: rhthym tap dance and Irish stepdance. It wasn’t “Riverdance,” “Hee Haw” or “Bollywood.” It was the living, breathing root traditions from which they sprang.

We’re putting something similar together for October 4th. Stay tuned . .

Photo by Billy Howard

Crooked Still Quebec bound

Crooked StillHow does New England help Quebec City celebrate its 4ooth birthday? By sending acoustic musicians from each of six New England states to perform on July 4th in Quebec City. Crossroads: Music Traditions of New England takes place at the Grand Square on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. On the bill are Crooked Still, Rodney Miller and David Surette, Gary Sredzienski, Nightingale, Pierce Campbell, the Pegheads, and Hawk Henries. The musical fare will include a blend of French, Native American, Celtic, Scandinavia, Anglo and other influences, opening people’s ears to some of the exciting traditional music that is thriving in New England today.

Keepers of Tradition up and running . . .

Deborah Joseph, Trinidad & Tobago Social Club, Boston Caribbean Carnival 2003Detail of Hardanger cutwork table runnerAfter almost four years of work, Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage has opened at the National Heritage Museumin Lexington. The response has been heartening – especially from artists, who feel honored, as they should. Their work is often seen only by family members — like the cutwork embroidery of Aline Drivdahl or by the specific community in which it is displayed — like the costumes of local mas bands at Boston’s Caribbean Carnival.

The media coverage and reviews are starting to come in. WBUR’s Here and Now host Robin Young spoke with me recently about some of the artists featured in the exhibition. WGBH’s Greater Boston producer Jared Bowen paid a visit to the show.

Below are links to a sampling of reviews:

“. . . this exhibition is more than just an exhibition. It’s one part of a much bigger project, which includes Holtzberg’s excellent catalog essay (it explains the stories behind the various objects in some depth) and, beyond both the show an dthe catalog, a great deal of valuable documnetation which can only help in the attempt to keep these traditions alive . . .” Sebastian Smee, Boston Globe

Keepers of Tradition reflects the diversity of the state better than any art show you’re likely to see for a long time.” -Greg Cook, The Boston Phoenix

“An engaging, informative exhibit . . .Think of this fascinating show as a tour through the markets and bazaars of the world with no haggling.” – Chris Bergeron, Metrowest Daily News

“. . . head to the National Heritage Museum in Lexington for the enthralling exhibit “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts.” This is not your mom’s folk art show: check out the stone fence, the sheet-metal “tin men,” and the boat making, as well as the scrimshaw, quilts, and redware pottery. – Stephanie Schorow, Sidekick, Boston Globe

Visit www.massfolkarts.org for more on the exhibition.