“Festival Moments” by folklorist Millie Rahn

Carl Close Jr. at Hammersmith Studio. Photo: Maggie Holtzberg

Recently my colleague Maggie Holtzberg and I were interviewing ornamental blacksmith Carl Close, Jr., in West Newton as part of fieldwork for the 2018 Lowell Folk Festival. I met Carl in 2001, when arranging for him to demonstrate his smith work at that year’s event, where the theme was The Arts of Preservation and Conservation.

Another artisan, Jim Ialeggio of Shirley, was a window restorer for historic houses and buildings. When Carl’s wife Susan, co-manager of their Hammersmith Studios, looked at a lock on one of Jim’s windows, she said, “This looks like Carl’s work.” Indeed it was. Carl and Jim met, the two artisans began doing business directly, and cut out the middle broker. It’s festival moments like this—when artists meet, admire each other’s work, and forge bonds—that we folklorists live for.

The 20th festival in 2006 featured crafts traditions from across New England. Abenaki basketmaker Jesse Larocque, from Vermont, was pounding black ash to make the splints for his baskets. He started out Saturday pounding a large log and by Sunday afternoon it was merely the size of a walking stick. I happened to go past as two women were commenting, “Now I know why baskets are so expensive,” seeing the amount of physical work, as well as artistry, that goes into them. Another festival moment for me, a visual teachable moment.

Jesse Larocque pounding black ash at Lowell Folk Festival

The 2003 festival showcased regional textile traditions. Quilter Sally Palmer Field, of Chelmsford, was a native Lowellian whose father brought her scraps from the mills during the Depression to make her dolls’ clothing. Later, she collected and incorporated mill scraps into her quilts and other fabric art works.

Sally Palmer Field at the entrance to her home. Photo: Maggie Holtzberg

Her wall hanging, “Mile of Mills,” sewn with Meyer’s thread, drew many comments of recognition from women who’d worked in the mills and at the Ideal Dress Factory, in particular. Not only did Sally’s work incorporate her Lowell roots, but it was a collective commemoration of the city’s textile past, including pieces of nylon woven for parachutes during the Second World War. For those women, Sally’s work wasn’t just art or history; it was the stories of their lives. If only I’d had my tape-recorder running.

 

 

Scenes from a Festival: Textile Traditions

Signage in Folk Craft & Foodways area

Entrance to folk craft area in Lucy Larcom Park

Kudos to all the textile artists who made the Folk Craft area of this year’s Lowell Folk Festival so vibrant! Here are some images from the two-day event.

Kathy Blake-Parker (far right) of the Cranberry Rug Hookers Guild
Kathy Blake-Parker (far right) of the Cranberry Rug Hookers Guild
Fatima Vejzovic of Hartford demonstrating Bosnian rug weaving
Fatima Vejzovic of Hartford demonstrating Bosnian rug weaving
Jonas Stundzia holding a frame with Lithuanian pick-up weaving
Jonas Stundzia holding a frame with Lithuanian pick-up weaving
Jonas Stundzia (right) with friend Irene Malasaukas, who demonstrated Lithuanian pickle making in the Foodways tent
Jonas Stundzia (right) with friend Irene Malasaukas, who demonstrated Lithuanian pickle making in the Foodways tent
Entrance to Foodways demonstration tent
Entrance to Foodways demonstration tent
David Blackburn serving pickes at the foodways demonstration tent
David Blackburn serving pickles at the foodways demonstration tent
Samples of torchon bobbin lace by Linda Lane
Samples of torchon bobbin lace by Linda Lane
Sisters 'n Stitches quilting guild members
Sisters ‘n Stitches quilting guild members enjoying the crowd
Melissa Dawson of Chelmsford Quilters' Guild
Melissa Dawson of Chelmsford Quilters’ Guild
Elizabeth James Perry discussing Wampanoag weaving traditions
Elizabeth James Perry discussing Wampanoag weaving traditions
LFF2015_Patrisiya Kayobera with festival goer
Patrisiya Kayobera holding one of her Rwandan coiled baskets
Rwandan coiled basket by Patrisiya Kayobera
Rwandan coiled basket by Patrisiya Kayobera
Qamaria Amatal-Wadud with examples of her Islamic hijab and abaya
Qamaria Amatal-Wadud with examples of her Islamic hijab and abaya
Rosaline Accam Awadjie (on right) with two festival goers that she has dressed in African headwraps and dress
Rosaline Accam Awadjie (on left, standing) with two festival goers that she has dressed in African headwraps and dress
Jaya Aiyer and Lakshmi Narayan displaying South Asian saris
Jaya Aiyer and Lakshmi Narayan displaying South Asian saris
LFF2015_attendance at unstitched garment tent copy
Visitors checking out the “unstitched garments” in the folk craft area

We are just weeks away from the 2015 Lowell Folk Festival

banner of folk craft artists' work

The Lowell Folk Festival is coming right up on July 24-26th. In addition to checking out music and dance performances and sampling some of the best ethnic food served at a festival, consider spending some time in the Folk Craft area located in Lucy Larcom Park. This year we are featuring 13 different textile traditions. From noon until 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, artisans will demonstrate traditional techniques used in the making of textiles: twining, coiling, weaving, quilting, hooking, and lace making. Others will explore how textiles are used in what is called the “unstitched garment,” i.e., wrapping Indian saris, African headwraps, and Islamic headscarves.

You will discover how the pattern of a textile’s weave, its thread count, and the way it is worn can convey religious belief, marital status, wealth, or social standing. Come compare quilting traditions from African American and Anglo American quilting guilds. Watch how embellishments such as bobbin lace are created. See how you look in an African head wrap. Try your hand at hooking a rug . . .

Rug hooking detail. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

If you get hungry and tired and want to sit down, the Foodways demonstration area is close by. My colleague and friend Millie Rahn has put together a tasty program on pickling traditions.

Pickles. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

“Pickling is a method of preserving food that is found in many cultures and usually involves brine, vinegar, spices, and fermentation. Vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, and nuts are often pickled alone or mixed together in various ways to keep food for out-of-season eating. Traditionally, pickling was a way of ensuring food sources for those working far from the comforts of home on land and sea, no matter the climate. Today, many home cooks in the region use the bounty of their gardens and local markets to pass on favorite recipes and preserve their foodways throughout the year.”

The schedule is below.  As in past years, you will have a chance to ask questions and to taste samples once each demonstration is over.

12pm: Refrigerator Pickles Mill City Grows/UTEC; Lydia Sisson
1pm: Jamaican Pickled Pepper Sauce, Nicola Williams
2pm: Northern Indian Cholay, Yogesh Kumar
3pm: Lithuanian Pickles, Irena Malasaukas
4pm: New England Bread Butter Pickles, Jackie Oak with Tricia & Gerard Marchese