MCC master artist performing at Sri Lakshmi Temple

Tara Bangalore, a Carnatic violinist who served as a master artist in our Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program last year, is part of an upcoming concert of Carnatic, Hindustani, and a fusion of these with western styles of music. The program has been created as a good will gesture by the music teachers in the Boston area and is a fundraising effort for an ambitious Temple Expansion Project for the Sri Lakshmi Temple of Ashland. Music will be on violin, veena, vocals, mridangam, dolak, sitar, harmonium, keyboard, flute, table, saxophone, and slide guitar.

Date: Sunday November 9 from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm, followed by a complimentary dinner. Venue: Ashland High School, 65 East Union Street, Ashland, MA 01721. For more details contact JV Krishna at jvkishna@hotmail.com or Raj Raghavan at rajhema.raghavan@gmail.com.

Typecasting in Boston

Metal type that has been inked at Firefly Press.

When most people hear the word “typecast,” they probably think of acting. But in fact, type was (and is still) cast in metal for use in printing. This centuries-old technology is alive and well at Firefly Press in Brighton, Massachusetts thanks to printer John Kristensen. Clients that come to Firefly Press are fans of traditional craft. John explains, “They like the look of letterpress printing, which is not only the bite into the paper, but also the typographic sensibility that comes from using actual metal type rather than plastic printing plates.”

John Kristensen pulling out a galley of type at Firefly Press.

At Firefly, the majority of type used in printing is generated using Monotype and Linotype typecasters — wondrous, complicated, mechanical devices perfected in the late 1880s. Once the industry standard, they have been largely replaced by computer typesetting — also known as “cold type.” In “hot lead” typesetting, molten lead is formed into individual or lines of type on these machines. Below we see Jesse Marsolais working at the keyboard of a Linotype. Near the bottom left, you can see the “lines” of metal type that the machine has cast.

Jesse Marsolais at the Linotype.

In a letterpress shop like this one, the design of a printed piece develops through the maniputaion of physical materials. John elucidates why working with tangible letterforms can be so gratifying, “. . . it is just that it is so satisfying to do. It is so direct, it is so hands on, it is so immediate. You learn so much and you communicate so much through your fingers: the wisdom of hands.”

Firefly has earned the reputation of printing finely designed work that is always appropriate for its purpose — broadsides, business cards, certificates, stationery, and what John calls special occasion printing. By this he means printing that is celebratory and purposeful — like announcing the birth of a child or thanking the people who have just given millions of dollars to your museum.

In addition to being a talented printer, John is a wonderful speaker. He will be giving a lecture (free & open to the public) next March. For a link to that event, visit the American Printing History Association.

Have a comment? Send me an email: maggie.holtzberg@state.ma.us

Photos by Maggie Holtzberg

Native veteran and woodcarver

Joseph Johns, aka Cayoni, with one of his woodcarvings.

Last week we headed out to Worcester County to meet Joseph Johns, a.k.a. Cayoni, a Muscogee Indian who is reputed to be the last practicing, (if not last surviving) traditional Muscogee Creek woodcarver in the United States today. Here you see him holding one of his carvings — a green corn mask which is used in the Muscogee Green Corn Ceremony. Johns explains that the festival is usually held around the first of June because the corn is beginning to ripen.

“[The greencorn masks] are carried in your hand and rested on your shoulder. See? And you kind of dance in a procession of people. It’s a very festive time of year because the fires are all extinguised in the village — every fire goes out. They pour water on them. And they start the festival. No fire is lit until it’s over. And all things are forgiven.”

Though Joseph Johns has lived in Massachusetts for nearly 60 years, he was raised on an island in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. It was there he learned traditional carving from his grandfather, Tahoma. It is important to Johns that you know his Indian name, “Cayoni” which means bad weather. On the night he was born, a freak storm brought high winds and snow — an unusual weather pattern for southeast Georgia.

Cayoni working on an eagle mask. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

Below is a traditional woodcarving Johns created around thirty years ago. Made of cypress wood with elkhorn eyes, the carving symbolizes the trials of the Trail of Tears.

Buffalo carving by Cayoni. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

“When the army removed the people from the Okefenokee Swamp [forcing them to march] to Oklahoma, they were told there would be buffalo, antelope, all kinds of animals out there for them to eat when they got there. That was during the Trail of Tears March. When the people got to Oklahoma, the only thing out there was a few poor jack rabbits and an antelope or two, and no buffalo. So the people wound up eating their horses and their dogs and their cats, and every damn thing that had followed them out there to Oklahoma. And somebody created this design; instead of it having the buffalo horns come up, they turned down because it was a sad occasion and they had been lied to . . . it’s an old design.”

As if being the last in a line of Muscogee woodcarvers isn’t rare enough, Johns also has a singular military history. When he was only fifteen years old, the navy came around looking to recruit Muscogee men to serve in World War II. Johns’ exceptional marksmanship was too good for the Navy to pass up. A career military man and Native Veteran, Johns went on to serve in the Normandy Invasion and Korean War, and did two tours in Vietnam, before retiring from the military. He then spent six years in the Delta Force. As if that weren’t enough, he survived being bitten by a venomous snake (which blinded him for four days) and he chain smokes. Clearly, a man with nine lives.

Joseph Johns outside his home. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

Now enjoying his retirement, Joseph Johns and his wife live in bucolic New Salem, Massachusetts.

The view from John\'s home in New Salem. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

Have a comment? Send me an email: maggie.holtzberg@state.ma.us

New Handcarved Sign Swings on Charles Street

Newly hung handmade sign by Gneal Widett on Charles Street.

Gneal Widett has been making handcarved signs since 1975. He just let me know that the third generation Gary Drug sign is “swinging in the breeze” so I went to take a peak. The gold leaf work is done by Gneal’s wife Janet Lomartire. Store employee Eileen Fitzpatrick has been working at Gary Drug since 1976 — she says Gneal’s craftmanship and independent business [in an age of chains] are the same idea as their business, which was established in 1939. “We’ve known Gneal since his business was across the street.” Widett has since moved his shop from Charles Street, but an impressive number of his handwrought signs grace this Beacon Hill street.

Gary Drug on Charles Street.

Secret stitch of Armenian embroidery revealed

Anahid Kazazian holding a piece of Marash embroidery. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

Many of us have family heirlooms — but how many have ones that were made in a far away country and date back to the mid-1800s? When Anahid Kazazian’s family fled their home during the Armenian massacre, and eventually made it to the United States, they brought with them treasured pieces of needlework with them. Including, this piece, which was made nearly 150 years ago by Anahid’s paternal grandmother, Lucia Dakessian, for her daughter’s trousseau. Anahid says, “We refer to it as gaghtnaker or “secret needlework,” because you can’t tell how the pattern is made by looking at it — you have to be taught.”

Anahid Kazazian will share her knowledge of Marash with visitors at the National Heritage Museum on Saturday October 11th from 1-3 p.m. She is a natural storyteller as well. Come learn about this sturdy and colorful needlework used to adorn textiles in the home for generations.

Listen to Kazazian’s audio stop from the Keepers of Tradition exhibition.

Harvesting Cranberries: From the Archive

Cranberries being unloaded.

Ever wonder where your OceanSpray cranberry juice comes from? This is a good time of year to find out. Cold weather ripens the cranberries, to make nice dark fruit. Commercial buyers pay a bonus for dark colored fruit. But for cranberry farmers in southeastern Massachusetts, there is a fine balance between cold weather and frost. So the Cape Cod Growers Association issues a frost report.

Cranberries growing in low lying bogs have to be harvested before the first frost comes. Back in October 2000, we visited the Gilmore Cranberry Company bog in South Carver, just after it had been flooded and picked. Susan Gilmore was our guide bogside, while her husband Ben Gilmore worked along with two day laborers from New Bedford.

Cranberry harvest in Lakeville, Massachusetts. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

The berries had been swept to one side of the bog by the wind and then carrolled with “booms.” A tow line with floatation was hooked to the end of the boom; pulling it “corralled” the berries. A hose sucked the berries up along with some water into the truck. The berries were “detrashed” — washed and separated from the chaff and trash. The latter is used for mulch. The clean berries were then loaded into a truck.

Ben Carver walking in bog during wet harvest. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

Ben Gilmore has donned his waders to help corral the remaining berries. Once the truck was loaded with berries, Ben drove it to the Oceanspray receiving station a few miles away. A few trucks were in line ahead of us. We got permission from an employee in the control house to observe — this is a restricted area. Once on a lift, the truck tilts up to a 90 degree angle, forcing the berries against the back of the truck. A small opening allows the berries spill out — it sounds like a giant rain stike. Once dumped, the load passes by a blower to remove leaves, then is fed onto a conveyor belt into another bin for a final wash to remove the bad fruit and leaves.

Cranberries being unloaded at Oceanspray receiving station. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

And so goes a “wet” harvest of cranberries. The majority of cranberries are harvested this way and will be used for processed food — the juices and sauces. A dry harvest is used for the fresh fruit market and is much more labor intensive. That market is from November to December; the berries don’t keep.

Listen to WBUR’s Robin Young talk with Maggie about her visit to the bog.

Photos by Maggie Holtzberg.

Have a comment? Send me an email: maggie.holtzberg@state.ma.us