MCC Supports the Preservation of Traditional Arts in Massachusetts

We are delighted to announce this year’s Apprenticeships. The following five Master Artists will work with their apprentices in a variety of music and craft traditions.

Monotype Typecasting and Letterpress Printing John Kristensen of Firefly Press, Master Artist, and Jesse Marsolais, Apprentice

Piobaireachd, Great Highland Bagpipe Nancy C. Tunnicliffe of Lanesboro, Master Artist, and Sean Humphries of Millville, Apprentice

Mridangam: Carnatic South Indian Drumming Pravin Sitaram of Shrewsbury, Master Artist, and Ullas Rao of Westwood, Apprentice

Cambodian Dance Samnang Hor of Lowell, Master Artist, and Sopaul Hem of Melrose, Apprentice

Tabla: North Indian Drumming Chritstopher Pereji of South Attleboro, Master Artist, and Nisha Purushotham of Roxbury, Apprentice

Apprenticeships are a long-standing method by which an individual learns skills, techniques, and artistry under the guidance of a recognized master. Applicants were reviewed by a panel of experts who evaluate the artistry of the master artist, skill level of the apprentice, rarity of art form, appropriateness of the pairing, and work plan. They are expected to offer a community presentation at the end of the year-long apprenticeship.

“Old-school” visitor comments arrive in the mail

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

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.

Historic New England’s take on folk art

Folklorist Millie Rahn alerted us to two upcoming programs offered by Historic New England (formerly the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) which focus on folk art, material culture and collecting. She writes, “Although the perspectives are different from how folklorists look at this material, the collections are superb and the settings ooze sense of place.” We couldn’t agree more.

The Folk Art Immersion Weekend takes participants on four days of tours and lectures featuring superb collections and top experts. Explore the origins of Folk Art, paintings, hooked rugs, painted furniture, redware, and the many other objects often referred to as “country arts.” This program runs from Thursday, May 14 – Sunday, May 17, 2009.

New England Studies is an intensive week long course running Monday, June 15 – Saturday, June 20, 2009. This annual course on New England architecture, decorative arts, and material culture is conducted by the leading experts in their respective fields. Three scholarships are available to graduate students and mid-career museum professionals.

Surviving Pol Pot and the Power of Art

Daily news of the tribunal proceedings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia are a grim reminder of the atrocities that took the lives of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge. One can only imagine how the testimony of those responsible for afflicting war crimes is affecting those who survived unspeakable conditions.

While the making of art is a life force for the majority of traditional artists I’ve met, it is rarely as dramatically a matter of life and death as it has been for Yary Livan. A Cambodian master ceramicist, Livan, the sole survivor of his generation of artists, trained in traditional Khmer ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Forced to hide his education to survive under the Khmer Rouge, it was ironically his knowledge of traditional wood-burning kilns that saved him from certain starvation.

In 2001, Yary and his wife emigrated to Massachusetts. With support from leaders in the local Cambodian community and the arts education community, Yary was able to set up a studio. In no time, he began producing a surprising amount of work — flower vases, elephant pots, and spirit houses.

Sally Reed, a graphic artist who had befriended Livan, stopped by his studio one day and was overwhelmed by the amount of work he had ready for firing. It seemed to her the production of three or four full-time potters. She wondered, “how could one man do this?”

Yary answered her seriously: “In Pol Pot time, I work like an animal. An animal with fear. Now, I work like an artist. In Pol Pot time, my art spirit was almost dead. Now my art spirit is big, is strong, is on fire!”

You can listen to Yary’s story as told in this audio stop, produced by Acoustiguide for the exhibition.

Summer Teacher Institutes in Folklife and Folk Arts

A growing number of teacher training institutes in folk arts, folklife, and oral history are being offered each summer across the country. Last summer, here in New England there were a number of teacher training opportunities, including ones in Massachusetts (Explorations in Puerto Rican Culture, July 14-18), New Hampshire (Celebrating Heritage: Creating and Producing a Community Festival, July 8-29), and a series of institutes in Vermont (Place as the Context, Service Learning as the Strategy, Sustainability as the Goal.) If you have information about this summer’s workshops, please contact C.A.R.T.S. website – which stands for Cultural Arts Resources for Teachers and Students. They are compiling the summer’s offerings.