What a delight it was to be present for the 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellowship awards in Washington, DC last week. The stellar “class” of master traditional artists were recognized and feted in the nation’s capitol. The events culminated in a dazzling and moving concert most ably emceed by PRI The World’s Marco Werman.
Entrance to folk craft area in Lucy Larcom Park
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 . . .
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.
“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
We are thrilled to announce that Yary Livan, a Cambodian ceramicist living in Lowell, Massachusetts, has just been named a National Heritage Fellow. Given by the National Endowment for the Arts, these fellowships are the nation’s highest award in the folk and traditional arts.
Yary Livan is one of the only known Cambodian master ceramists to survive the Khmer Genocide and still actively creating Cambodian ceramics and temple ornamentation. Yary’s training in the classical art of Cambodian ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh was disrupted when the Vietnam War spread to Cambodia in the early 1970s. After three years of unspeakable hardship, Yary was granted the status of political refugee; he left Cambodia on July 13, 2001, for Lowell.
Yary is currently teaching school residencies in Lowell, infusing traditional arts into curricula for elementary, high school, and community college students. He continues to make artistic contributions to community celebrations like Cambodian New Year and the Southeast Asian Water Festival.
Material culture has been a life line, connecting Yary to vital resources and linking him to students to whom he is passing on the ancient and endangered tradition of Khmer decorative art. He recently fulfilled a decade-long dream of building and firing in a wood burning kiln.
The hope (and beauty of it) is that the kiln, and the ware fired inside of it, will help insure the tradition of Khmer ceramics continues and thrives, along with one of its finest practitioners.
2015 has been a banner year for Yary Livan. He gave his first public talk at a NCECA [National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts] conference. He returned to his homeland for the first time since emigrating in 2001. On October 1 and 2, 2015, the 2015 fellows will be feted in an awards ceremony and concert in Washington, DC, on October 1 and 2, 2015. I smile just thinking about Yary being recognized and honored as one of our nation’s national heritage fellows.
As mentioned in two recent posts, this year’s Folk Craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival will feature textile traditions. You will have the opportunity to watch artisans demonstrate techniques such as lap and loom weaving, quilting, lace making, basket making, and rug hooking. In addition, there will be a tent dedicated to the textiles and techniques used in creating what is known as the “unstitched garment,” e.g., South Asian saris, African headwraps and fashion, and Islamic hijab and abaya.
South Asian saris
Lakshmi Narayan, Auburndale, MA
For over 1,000 years, women throughout the Indian subcontinent have worn the sari. Conceived on the loom as a 3-dimensional garment, the sari is made from a single piece of unstitched fabric 5 to 12 yards in length, that is wrapped and pleated, pulled and tucked around the body.
Lakshmi Narayan knows the sari both as cultural insider and researcher. Born in South India, she immigrated to Massachusetts with her family in 2000. When possible, she travels to India to work with people involved with Indian handicrafts and handlooms.
Lakshmi notes that there are over 100 different traditional styles of wearing the sari in India. “You could tell from the way the lady drapes her sari, which community she belongs to.” Once common for everyday wear, the sari now survives as special occasion wear, especially here in the United States. “Women now go to the tailor to have pleats stitched and pinned up. We are losing the ability to wrap the sari, something that was traditionally passed on.”
How comfortable do you feel in a sari? Lakshmi is often asked this. “I can bike miles in one, my aunt played tennis in a white sari with the British memsabs, and today it is worn with pride in corporate India to board meetings.”
African textiles, headwraps, & fashion
Roseline Accam Adwadjie, Worcester, MA
In many cultures around the world, clothing and head adornment are made by wrapping textiles around the body. Roseline Accam Adwadjie, who grew up in Liberia, says, “Africans, we wrap, but not all of our clothes are wraps. African women love dressing, they love colors. They are very elaborate in dressing.”
Roseline runs Chic D’Afrique, a store in Worcester specializing in imported African textiles. “Fabrics come in different grades,” she explains. “The highest quality of waxed cotton has a supple sheen – almost like fine leather.” She also carries plain brocades and Dutch wax prints known as Hollandaise. The latter are stiff from sizing, a combination of wax and starch. “In Africa,” Roseline explains, “after dying the cloth, they put sizing on it and beat it with sticks. They sing as they beat the sizing into the cloth – both as a way of keeping rhythm and avoiding boredom.”
African headwraps can be truly sculptural in form. Their voluminous style enhances the face, like a crown worn by a queen. Roselines more fanciful headwraps are wrapped, pinned, and sewn, thereby holding their shape. A single headwrap provides multiple looks, depending on how it is positioned. The variety is a form of improvisation, a concept fundamental to African and African American performance.
Islamic headwear & fashion:
Qamaria Amatul-Wadud, Springfield, MA
Qamaria Amatul-Wadud designs and sews clothing for Islamic women who choose to dress modestly. She is skilled in making both the hijab (headwear) and the abaya (outfit). Her creations are primarily for herself, but also for friends and family. In her Muslim community there are many women who sew for themselves, because modest, fashionable clothing is often hard to find commercially.
The Islamic hijab can be square or rectangular, and fastened with a safety pin under the chin and worn with a decorative hijab pin or headband on top. Qamaria adds her own twist to a traditional craft. She considers her style comfortable, yet elegant and modest, pointing out that her designs adhere to religious customs.
Qamaria grew up the youngest girl in a family of 10 children. She started sewing her own clothes when she was 14, following in the footsteps of her mother and older sisters. She makes outfits for every-day, party, and wedding wear, including headscarves, tops, and pants. She never makes an outfit the same way twice, preferring to “switch it up a little.” Now she is passing on the tradition of handmade clothing by teaching her young niece to sew.
Rug hooking fits into the “waste not, want not” mentality. Using recycled wool from clothing and remnants from textile mills, rug hooking was once common in households along the eastern seaboard in New England and Atlantic Canada. The technique is still used to create colorful floor rugs, table mats, pillows, and wall hangings.
In late March, Millie Rahn and I drove out to S. Dennis to attend a meeting of the Cranberry Rug Hookers’ Guild. The guild, which is a chapter of the Association of Traditional Hooking Artists ( ATHA), meets at bi-monthly “hook-ins” to work on individual rugs, learn from each other, and socialize.
When we arrived, guild president Kathy Blake-Parker welcomed us and invited to partake of the snacks in the kitchen – fresh fruit and vegetables, dip, baked goods, coffee and tea. A group of about 25 women were busy working on their individual rugs or mats.
Some members were working on projects other than rug hooking, including knitting, felt applique, and punch cut embroidery.
Rug hookers work on a small frame, using a hook to pull strips of cut wool or other fiber through a loose weave, such as burlap.
“It’s like coloring with wool,” says Kathy Blake Parker.
About mid-way through the afternoon, the group did a show and tell. Each guild member held up what she was working on while one of their members took photos. Once this was done, they did what they called a “mat swap” – a version of the White Elephant game people play during Christmas time. Five women sat in a circle holding the mat (approximately 8 x 8 inches square) she had made specifically for the swap. Reading the text of Goodnight Moon, each would pass on the mat upon hearing a previously selected word. When the poem ended, each woman took home the mat she was holding.
We went around looking at each woman’s work, engaging some in conversation. Throughout the afternoon, members socialized, worked on their rugs, ate snacks, exchanged advice, and seemed to enjoy themselves. The variety of work was impressive. Some women use commercially produced patterns while others create patterns of their own design. Most everyone re-dyes their wool.
In addition to the pleasure had in creating something of beauty, guild members commented on how comforting rug hooking can be during life’s changes, like a daughter going off to college. Guild member Mary Rita Labor, who has been hooking rugs for 15 years, shared this with us, ” I became a rug hooker after my three children, the last child went off to college. I was a little lonely, a little lost. I did have that emptiness syndrome, no question about it. And I took an adult education class and really fell in love with rug hooking. It’s been very relaxing, it’s been a good friend to me. Brought a lot of good people to my life. And was very comforting when I lost my mother. It comes in handy in more ways than one.”
The guild displays their work at the Barnstable County Fair every summer and also produces the Biennial Cranberry Rug Hookers Guild show in mid-May. Two members of the guild will be demonstrating in the F olk Craft area of this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival. Come meet them.
It’s that time of year when we are busy selecting craft demonstrators for the Lowell Folk Festival. Our theme is textile traditions and for the past several months I’ve been traveling to meet with people who are passionate about hand crafting textiles out of wool, cotton, and linen.
In Colonial New England, prior to the availability of manufactured goods, women were primarily responsible for the production of household textiles. Cloth was woven out of homespun cotton, wool, and flax; quilts were pieced together from worn out clothing and feed sacks. Women sewed the family’s clothing, hooked rugs, and knitted sweaters and mittens.
Of course, the late 19th century Industrial Revolution changed all this. As pictured above in Sally Palmer Field’s Mile of Mills wall hanging, Lowell is the birthplace of the American textile industry. Once fabrics were manufactured locally, they became more affordable. Today, the majority of textiles we use are commercially manufactured halfway round the world. Buying hand-crafted textiles has become something of a luxury. What began as basic survival skills — weaving, knitting, quilting, and rug making — has evolved largely into expressions of creative artistry. The craft artisan’s purpose/market has changed too – from domestic necessity to supplying craft fairs and galleries, and engaging tourists at living history museums.
This is especially true when it comes to the time-consuming, exacting production of bobbin lace. As Linda Lane, a master lace maker points out, “It can’t really be done on a commercial basis because one square inch of lace takes approximately an hour. Due to its complexity and the fineness of the lace, that can be days. So immediately, you price yourself out of a demand market.”
An accomplished weaver and spinner, Linda Lane learned to make lace by watching another lace maker for a number of years. Then, with the aid of a few formal lessons and some very good instructional books, she taught herself. Decades later, Linda is a treasure trove of lace making history, patterns, and techniques. A retired nurse, Linda is currently the resident lace maker at the Hooper-Hathaway House in Salem, Massachusetts and a member of the New England Lace Group.
Linda weaves using 20 to 40 English bobbins, plaiting and working the lace-making fibers, which can go from 36 twos to 200 twos. (Two is the ply – the higher the first figure, the finer the thread.) To make bobbin lace, one must have tremendous patience and keen eyesight. Just look at this example of lace in the making — its pattern comes from the edging found around a handkerchief once belonging to Christian the 4th, King of Denmark, circa 1644.
Notice the size of the metal pins in comparison to the lace to get a sense of scale. The pattern is called a pricking. “This is my sheet music . . . it tells me where to go, but not how to get there. The “how” to get there is up here,” Linda says, pointing to her head. “In lace, there is a whole world of technique in just getting around a corner.”
Although lace, being woven, is technically a textile, it is more truly an embellishment. Indeed, lacere, the Latin root of the word lace, is to entice or delight. Bobbin lace, the type that Linda Lane excels at, dates back to the 1450s. “Throughout history,” Linda explains, “lace follows the dictates of fashion very closely. It goes up and down. Only the well-to-do could afford it – royalty, the aristocracy, and the church.”
And what of lace, today, I ask. Linda responds,“It’s only purpose to exist is to be pure decadence, as it [was] in years past. It’s a socio-economic statement.”
Linda Lane will be demonstrating bobbin lace making at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival, July 25-26, 2015.
Between the New England Patriot’s victory parade down Boylston Street and the over 40 inches of snow Boston has received in just one week’s time, this image says it all.
Okay, I’m not exactly a football fan and, to be honest, I have no comprehension of the game. On the big day, I didn’t watch the Superbowl — ( I’m more of a Downton Abbey fan). The only way I knew the Patriots had won was being awakened by the distant sound of fireworks going off late Sunday evening.
That said, I am surrounded by knowledgeable and fervent fans. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement and hometown pride over the Patriot’s victory. And even a sports dummy like myself knew key players ridomg by on Boston’s duck boats.
Drew Matott had an “aha” moment when he first realized paper could be made from old clothes. He and Margaret Mahan have gone on to bring the transformative experience of hand paper making to people all over the world. In order to pulverize rag into pulp, they use a machine designed and built by papermaking engineer Lee McDonald of Boston. Not only is it portable, it is bicycle powered. Pulling sheets of paper is a fun and messy business. To form a piece of paper, a screen is dipped and submerged in a vat of pulp and pulled through the fibrous water. A thick wet sheet of paper forms as the water drains away. Sheets are stacked, pressed, and hung up to dry.
In addition to hand paper making and bookbinding, Drew and Margaret founded the Peace Paper Project in 2011. Through paper making workshops, survivors of war and terrorism have been guided to pulp the clothing they associate with their traumatic experience, including military uniforms. The clothing is cut up, beat, and formed into sheets of paper. Working with certified art therapists, participants use the paper to begin the process of adjusting and recovering from their experiences.
At a recent Lowell Folk Festival planning meeting, Millie Rahn and I brought up Drew and Margaret’s request for textiles that could be recycled for making paper at the festival. We talked about approaching a local textile mill but Pat Bowe (of The Lowell Festival Foundation) had the brilliant idea to recycle surplus festival T-shirts from festivals past. Last week, Pat mailed them bundles of brightly colored cotton T-shirts.
Drew wrote to us saying, “We received the t-shirts! We love all the colors! I think it is the perfect amount- Margie and I cut them all up and started processing them into pulp. Over the next three days we will make 12lbs of it into paper to hand out to participants. We will pulp the remainder for use with the bike operated beater and sheet forming during the festival.”
Come by to meet paper makers Drew Matott and Margaret Mahan this weekend at the Lowell Folk Festival. You’ll never look at old clothing the same way again.