Folk Craft Area

2016 A Sampler of Traditions

Lucy Larcom Park, Saturday & Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m.

2016 FolkCraft_banner (1)

This year we celebrate 30 years of presenting craft artists at work. You may see familiar faces as we feature some of the most skilled and engaging individuals who have demonstrated over the years and welcome new ones to the festival. Their work is inspired by the human urge to make music, to celebrate, to commemorate, to worship, to adorn, or to delight the senses. Like the music heard on festival stages, these craft traditions have been handed down within families, ethnicities, occupations, or apprenticeships.

Walk through the folk craft area and you will observe master craftspeople carving letterforms in stone, working clay, marbling paper, and carving fruit so stunningly it defies eating. Watch musical instrument makers plane a plank of spruce or insert a decorative inlay. Marvel at the material culture of Lithuanian mid-summer. Pose in one of the Hat Ladies of Fiesta’s creations as you learn how one venerable tradition spawns a new one. You will even have the chance sit down and experience culture-specific traditions of folk beauty that originate in Africa and India, and continue in American communities.

2016 Craft Artists

Fruit Carving
Ruben Arroco, Lowell, MA

The art of fruit and vegetable carving is said to have originated in Thailand over 700 years ago.  Ruben Arroco learned to carve during his training as a hotel chef in the Philippines. “There is a Ruben Arrocoplace in the Philippines where people there make a living carving wood. Some of those guys, I was lucky enough to work with in the hotel. If you can carve wood, you can carve [fruit] — so I kind of learned it from them.”  Ruben went on to work as an executive chef for 30 years before starting his own business, Culinary Artworks, Inc. here in Lowell. He regularly does carving demonstrations at regional tech schools and was recently recognized by the American Culinary Federation for mentoring the next generation of chefs.

Ruben uses a specialized stainless steel to make most of his own tools. “Even just making simple V-cuts transforms it and gives it that nicer look. Separation of the petals from the part that you carved, that’s very important.” One might wonder how it feels to make art that is so stunning, yet so ephemeral. After delivering his carved fruit, Ruben often gets a call back from the host saying, “We have a problem. Nobody wants to touch it!”

The Hat Ladies of Fiesta
Robyn and Amy Clayton, Gloucester, MA

Robin and AmySometimes an old tradition spawns a new one. Sisters Robyn and Amy Clayton are known around Gloucester as “the Crazy Hat Ladies of Fiesta.” Their outlandish hats have become an integral part of Saint Peter’s Fiesta, which recently celebrated its 90th year. The annual festival honoring the patron saint of fishermen is part religious devotion, part ethnic pride, and part boisterous revelry. Throughout the five-day festival, Greasy Pole competitions, Seine boat races, music, and dancing engage visitors. Fiesta also features a carnival, a temporary altar and outdoor mass, and a blessing of more than100 Italian-American fishing vessels.

Each year, the Clayton sisters make new hats that replicate in miniature key elements of Fiesta e.g., church facades, temporary altars, St. Peter, working carnival rides, and Ambie the sausage man. Sometimes, their hats serve as visual commentary on local political controversies. On Sunday of Fiesta, a parade lasting over three hours marches through town, featuring religious groups carrying elaborate statues honoring Saint Peter, Mary, Jesus and others, while shouting prayers and salutations, “Viva! Viva! Viva San Pietro!” Robyn and Amy will be right there in the midst of it, more than happy to pose for pictures.

Come take a close look at the hats’ details and find a photo-op behind the cut-out of St. Peter.

Guitars and Puerto Rican Cuatro Making
William Cumpiano, Easthampton, MA

William CumpianoSince completing his apprenticeship under master luthier Michael Gurian in 1970, William Cumpiano has created hundreds of individually-crafted guitars and other stringed instruments in the European, North American, and Latin American traditions. His work has become inseparable from an all- consuming quest to recover the social history, music, and traditional construction of the cuatro, a ten-stringed instrument that is the national cultural icon for Puerto Ricans all over the world. More recently, he has helped revive three native string instruments of Puerto Rico: the tiple, bordunua, and tres. Once ubiquitous in the Puerto Rican countryside during the 19th century, these musical instruments all but disappeared during the first half of the 20th century.

William works with exotic woods, sourced from all over the globe. In recent years, however, he has undertaken the project of substituting renewable local timbers to replace endangered rainforest hardwoods. In addition to making instruments, Cumpiano has taught his craft for over 20 years out of his studio, in schools, during workshops and lectures, and through numerous publications. He has been awarded multiple traditional arts apprenticeship grants by state and federal arts agencies to pass the craft of cuatro making on to Puerto Rican youth.

Redware Pottery
Stephen Earp, Shelburne Falls, MA

Stephen Earp Redware is the common name for domestic pottery produced in New England between the 17th and 18th centuries. Redware was made primarily to meet the daily needs of preparing, serving, and storing food. On occasion, redware also served commemorative and decorative purposes.

Stephen Earp is an accomplished ceramicist who has made the study and practice of making traditional pottery his focus. After completing an apprenticeship with the protégé of a Japanese National Living Treasure potter, Earp worked with traditional potters in Central America, Africa, and Europe. But it was while working at Old Sturbridge Village and encountering redware, that he found his calling.

Earp’s pottery uses imagery inspired by the slip-trailed designs of New England redware potters. Other sources of inspiration include Pennsylvania tulip ware and the slipware pottery of Devon, England. Most of Earp’s pottery is thrown on a wheel that he designed and built. He uses local materials, including clay from a family owned pottery in Sheffield, Massachusetts, which mines clay from a local seam. His glazes include ashes from the hay of a nearby farmer.

Since 2007, Stephen has been included in Early American Life Magazine’s annual National Directory of Traditional American Crafts. Earp was named a Traditional Arts Finalist in the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship Program in 2008 and 2016.

Carving Letterforms in Stone
Jesse Marsolais, Millbury, MA

Jesse MarsolaisBefore opening his own printing and letter carving business, Jesse Marsolais spent six years working alongside master letterpress printer John Kristensen at Firefly Press in Boston. Years of composing foundry and metal type for letterpress printing turns out to be excellent experience for embarking on the daunting task of designing and laying out letterforms to be cut in stone. A six-week apprenticeship under master letter carver and National Heritage Fellow Nicholas Benson at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island, didn’t hurt.

Jesse’s recent commissions include alphabets carved in stone, signage for businesses, memorial stones, and house numbers. His raw materials are stone: Vermont slate, pink Tennessee marble, or variegated beach stones. The letterforms are designed by painting with a chisel-edge brush. Next, the carving begins with chisel and mallet. Each character is created by a V-cut, which brings out the contrast between light and shadow. Chasing the edge of a chisel to form the letters takes a steady hand; one false move and the letter is ruined, hence the saying, “written in stone.” It is a time-consuming process. Once complete, the letterforms are either left unembellished or they can be painted or gilded and oiled.

Greek Bouzouki and Oud Making
Chris Pantazelos, Lowell, MA

Chris PantazelosA luthier for the past 30 years, Chris Pantazelos specializes in building and repairing the stringed instruments heard in Greek, Armenian, and Turkish music. Walk into his Lowell shop, Spartan Instruments, and you will see bouzoukis, ouds, mandolins, and santouris lining the walls and workbenches. Some await repair; others are in the process of being created. Although bouzouki building is very widely practiced in Greece, it is rare to find a luthier in the United States who personally completes every step in constructing this instrument. Pantazelos takes great pride in doing just this.

Born in Greece, Chris immigrated to the United States at the age of 19. In 1985, he met master luthier and National Heritage Fellow Peter S. Kyvelos of Unique Strings, with whom he began an apprenticeship. At the time, the Belmont shop was known around the United States as the epicenter of instrument making by Greek, Armenian, and Middle Eastern musicians.

An inquisitive and inspired maker, Chris is always looking for new ways to improve the sound of a musical instrument. Ask him how variations in wood thickness, joinery, and the number of frets can alter the tone of a stringed instrument. And what about those beautiful inlaid designs?

Lithuanian Summer Solstice Celebrations
Jonas Stundžia, Lawrence Massachusetts

Jonas stundziaJonas Stundžia is a Lithuanian folklorist active the Romuva movement, which is dedicated to the preservation of ancient Baltic folkways.  Mesmerized by the Lithuanian culture in which he grew up in Lawrence, his interaction with elderly immigrants was more than an ethnological study, but an immersion that became a worldview and lifestyle.

Wreaths and garlands are an important part of the Summer solstice celebration known as Rasos or St. John’s Day. After long winters limited light per day, the return of the sun is a major event and there are numerous references to the sun in folk songs and folk art. Water, fire, flowers, and the sun are important elements to the festival. Garlands of herbs, grasses, and wildflowers adorn people’s heads, waterways, structures, and gates. People float wreathes with candles on the water and burn garland figures on poles to guide the sun back through the short night. Garlands can tell the future and bring fortune, and even a spouse if it lands in a branch of a birch tree. Ferns mystically bloom at night while the sun skips in the sky by day.

On this holiday, all people named Jonas are decorated with oak wreathes on their heads, for they are a special component of the feast day. This could be why “Jonas” is the most common name in Lithuania.

Mehndi Bridal Art
Noureen Sultana & Danish Khan, Framingham, MA

Noureen Sultana_bannerIt is customary in India, Pakistan, and parts of the Arab world for brides to decorate their hands and feet with intricate henna designs called mehndi. Traditional mehndi often includes floral motifs, lines, dots, and paisley to create this remarkable “wearable” yet ephemeral art that is also used for religious and seasonal festivals like Eid ul Fitr , Eid ul Adha , Diwali, Navaratri and Karva Chaut.

Noureen Sultana, who grew up in Hyderabad, India, is a master of henna art. She learned from her mother Zaheer Unnisa Begum, who learned from her mother Mehmooda Katoon. Noureen has also begun teaching her two sons to do mehndi in order to carry on this family tradition. Working with her today is her son Danish Khan. Noureen prides herself on creating unique designs and is in high demand among Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern brides in New England, doing 85 to 90 weddings a year.

While Noureen’s mother practiced a very traditional style of henna, Noureen has been exposed to and embraced a multitude of cultural influences that inspire her to innovate. She has set her sights on expanding the realism of henna art, applying traditional techniques to a variety of new media.

Think about how are other traditional practices of folk beauty are transformed when practitioners immigrate to a new country.

Kolam Art: Daily Ritual
Tamil Makkal Mandram, Inc., Bedford, MA

Kolam_front-stepKolam art has been practiced by women throughout southern India for hundreds of years, with mentions dating back to the Ramayana. These brightly colored rice flour designs adorn the thresholds of homes and temples every day, as well as streets and sidewalks at festival times. During the month of Margazhi Masam (mid-December to mid-January), many women wake up before dawn to begin preparing designs in front of their homes which take several hours to complete.  Once finished, neighbors compare each other’s designs in an informal competition.

Kolam designs range from highly organized to freehand. Geometric designs are started by laying down a grid of dots which are then connected by drawing lines or curves using white rice flour or stone dust. Once all the lines are connected, colors are added to fill in the design. Some kolam are used specifically for holy days and locations, while others are more secular and celebratory. Though types and designs may vary widely, all kolam have deep symbolic meaning.

Priya Karthigai and Sridevi Karthikeyan all grew up in Tamil Nadu in southern India and learned this daily but ephemeral art from their mothers. In India, the time spent creating kolam together is recalled fondly as being warm and social. Although American life does not make it easy, these women still use kolam here as a tool of connection, both culturally and spiritually.

Hair Culture from Africa to America:
Sellou Coly &Lujuana Hood, Springfield, MA
Margy Green, Chicopee, MA

For Africans and African Americans, “Hair is power,” says Lujuana Hood, director of the Pan African Historical Museum USA in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In SenegaHair Culturel, the birthplace of master braider Sellou Coly, hairstyles can convey essential information about the wearer and her position in society. Cultural traditions also reinforce the power of hair braiding. The Senegalese believe that a person’s soul rests in the crown of the head, so when the braider is done, she will knock on the crown of the client’s head to make sure that her spirit hasn’t crossed over into the braider.

In America, Black hairstyles not only express personal aesthetics, but also the historical struggle for cultural self-determination and power. In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, African Americans looked to Africa for inspiration. By the time master braider Margy Green was growing up in New York in the 1990s, African hair braiding had become an American tradition as well.

Sellou first learned her craft by braiding corn silk as a child in Senegal; Margy’s first “client” was her Barbie doll. As a devout Muslim, Sellou chooses only to braid with clients’ natural hair, while Margy often uses “extensions” to supplement the styles she braids. Together they demonstrate the diversity of this beautiful and powerful art.

Chena River Marblers
Regina & Dan St. John, Amherst, MA

Regina and Dan St. John run Chena River Marblers in the Pioneer Valley, a region known for book arts. They produce stunning marbled patterns on paper and silk.

ChenaRiverMarblersThe process of marbling is almost magical. A bath of water and a thickening agent, such as carrageenan (dried seaweed) is prepared, which allows the paints to float on the surface. Alum-treated paper is gently laid on top to pick up the patterns.

Regina works mostly using acrylic paints for her silk and paper marbling. Dan points out one of her enviable talents, saying, “Genie has got a perfect pitch for colors.” Complimenting this is Dan’s background as a physics and chemistry teacher, which gives him grounding in the chemical makeup of materials and processes.

Dan builds the equipment, including the many different style combs which, when pulled through the bath, create unique patterns. Because no paint company manufactures colors specifically for marbling, Chena River Marblers create their own paints (grinding up pigments, adding binders, mulling them together), which allows them more control in how they will spread on the liquid surface. Dan favors old style marbling done with watercolors, where he creates tiger eyes.

Together, Genie and Dan St. John convey a passion for the marbling craft, a facility for teaching, and a dedication to passing on the tradition.


CurateMCC logod by
Maggie Holtzberg
(Folk Arts & Heritage Program), Massachusetts Cultural Council 

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