FOLKLIFE: Coastal and Inland Traditions
Lucy Larcom Park, Saturday & Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m.
This year’s folk craft area features artists whose work has tangible ties to land or sea – market baskets woven from homegrown willow, Native wampum forged from locally harvested quahog shells, and yarn spun from the fleece of grazing sheep.
Craft traditions evolve from the human response to utilitarian needs and the quest for beauty. A hand-crafted wooden ship’s wheel with its polished brass hub looks beautiful and feels good in the hand. Learn how leather is formed into lasting saddles that benefit both rider and horse. Compare how an English saddle differs from a western saddle. Explore eastern Woodlands tribal art of wampum and discover the role Native American whalers played in the maritime folk art of scrimshaw. Try your hand at carding fleece or spinning wool.
If you’re hungry, head to the Foodways tent, where home cooks talk about how they’ve adapted their traditions over time and place. Watch them assemble a recipe while sharing family stories and then sample the finished fare—from Southwest chili adapted to coastal Rhode Island, Lithuanian pickles, and shrimp curry from the coast of southern India.
2017 Craft Artists
Keith LaRiviere, Orange, MA
Horseback riders in eastern Massachusetts predominantly ride English style, while those in the western part of the state favor western saddles. Lucky for them, they can rely on the craftsmanship of Keith LaRiviere, who may be the only western saddle and tack maker in New England. LaRiviere is a parachute rigger by training with 37 years’ experience as a skydiving jump instructor, parachute rigger, and jump pilot. So why saddles? Blame his wife Jane’s need for repair of her horse tack, says Keith. His familiarity with repairing parachuting harnesses led to his slowly accumulating the tools and skills to work on leather horse tack. “I started out small, basically doing repairs and making headstalls and bridles, chaps and chinks.”
Inspired, Keith went on to study saddle making with Colorado saddler Jesse Smith and apprentice with New Hampshire harness maker Russ Bigelow. The apprenticeship was a chance to build a show harness for a draft horse and a replica of an 1859 saddle, the one used by US Cavalry during the Civil War. In addition to the two to three saddles he builds a year, Keith repairs old ones with tender loving care. Beyond saddles, Keith has made or fitted several pieces for Civil War reenactors, created harmonica cases, tool cases, and holsters for modern cowboy mounted shooters.
Tony Cooper, Royalston, MA
Tony Cooper has been making, fitting, and repairing saddles since 1984. A native of Dublin, Ireland, he received his training in leatherwork at Cordwainers College, London, where he focused on rural saddlery. Tony completed his saddlery training, was elected to the Guild of Master Craftsmen, and returned to New England and started knocking on barn doors.
A proper saddle gives support to the rider, while distributing the rider’s weight on the horse. If the horse is comfortable under the saddle, it moves more freely, enabling horse and rider to perform optimally as a single unit. “I contour the bottom of the English saddle to fit the horse’s shape.”
In addition to making a saddle from scratch, much of Tony’s time is spent refurbishing, replacing, or rebuilding all parts of a saddle. This can involve re-stuffing panels and converting felt and foam panels to wool; replacing worn seats, skirts, knee rolls, billets and flaps; enlarging panels by adding gussets; and adjusting and repairing trees, the wooden framework of the saddle.
Tony likes that there are certain parts of saddle making that must be done by hand. Like sewing – using an awl to punch holes, he sews 12 stitches to the inch, just like a skilled quilter.
Marlinspike & Horse Blankets
Barbara Merry, Wakefield, RI
Barbara Merry excels in the maritime tradition of knot tying, fashioning rope into nautical fenders, beckets (decorative rope handles), and other useful marine lines. She recently revived the art of making Victorian-style horse fly blankets, which were once used solely for the purpose of keeping biting flies off horses.
Today, some kind of blanket remains in demand, particularly among discriminating horse owners who choose not to use petroleum-based fly repellent on their animals. Called “swish” blankets and made of nylon, these blankets are woven in two sizes (draft horse and buggy horse). Back in the early 1800s, the material of choice was strips of leather stitched together. In time, the blankets “morphed” into ornate objects, beautifully knotted in natural fiber cordage.
Women excelled at this type of work. It was usually done by wives, sweethearts, and daughters after finishing or repairing nets for their fisherman. It was only natural that these women would turn this skill to the manufacture of horse fly blankets for customers in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston — big cities where there were a lot of flies!
These highly decorative horse fly blankets have all but disappeared. Thanks to marlinspike artists like Barbara, this tradition is not lost to time.
Berkshire Hills & Dales Spinners Guild
Berkshire County, MA & Beyond
The craft of spinning transforms fiber into yarn or thread. Humans have been spinning for millennia. As one guild member put it, “It probably started by picking animal fiber that caught on bushes and rolling it by hand to make yarn.” Spinning — and spinners — figures in many folk tales the world over. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, spinning was a highly-valued domestic skill.
Since its founding in the mid-1980s, the Berkshire Hills & Dales Spinners Guild has been meeting once a week to play with fiber. Some card, some spin, and some knit. Enjoying the chance to socialize and share information, these gatherings have evolved into friendships.
A few members raise sheep, llamas, or rabbits, which provide fiber for spinning but many purchase their fleece. Once shorn, sheep wool is washed and combed or carded before it is spun. Like any group active for more than 30 years, the guild has its traditions. The “traveling afghan” began with the making of a baby blanket for a member who was an expectant mother. Using only hand-spun yarn, a guild member knits a 200-stitch-width segment to this afghan-in-making, then passes it on. Once finished, a name is pulled from a hat to see who wins the afghan.
Many find spinning calming. Come by and try your hand with a drop spindle. Carving Letterforms in Stone
Wooden Ship’s Wheels
Bob Fuller & Apprentice John O’Rourke, Halifax, MA
Bob Fuller may be the only craftsman in the country today still making wooden ship’s wheels by hand. He grew up in a boatbuilding family, where he apprenticed under his father and grandfather. The family developed the Edson Yacht Wheel and has been making wheels for Edson International in New Bedford, Massachusetts, since 1965. In 1990, Bob founded South Shore Boatworks which, in addition to custom boat building, finishing, and restoration, specializes in handmade wooden ship’s wheels. The latter is a highly- specialized marine craft involving pattern making, metal working, marine joinery, and fine woodworking.
One of the best ways to learn marine joinery is one-on-one, under the guidance of a skilled master. John O’Rourke, a recent graduate in preservation carpentry from the North Bennet Street School, got this opportunity when Bob and he were awarded a Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship last September. Curves distinguish marine joinery from house carpentry. Bob says, “I chose to work on things where nothing is ever straight. And generally on boats, if something looks straight or looks plumb, it’s wrong.”
Bob appreciates passing the craft skill forward, “It is just such a part of our maritime tradition, in Massachusetts especially — shipbuilding, fishing, boat building. Skills get lost for generations and then all of a sudden, no one knows how to do it anymore.”
Narragansett Wampum Artist
Allen Hazard, Charlestown, RI
Among Eastern Woodland Tribes, wampum has traditionally been used as adornment in the fashioning of beads for necklaces, earrings, and belts and as a medium of trade. The word “wampum” comes from the Narragansett word for “white shell.” The quahog is a hard shell clam once found in abundance along coastal New England waters. The meat of the quahog has long been valued as a source of highly nutritious food. The white shell and deep purple inside of the shell continues to be highly prized as a material for fashioning beads.
Allen Hazard has been making wampum for the last 30 years. He acquired his skills from his mother Sarah (Fry) Hazard and other Narragansett elders as a child. Creating a single tubular bead from the hard shell of the quahog is a time-consuming task. Using traditional wampum tools, Allen demonstrates how it was done before the availability of power tools. He has introduced modern tools into the process, including a wet saw to cut the clamshell, and a Dremel to smooth, bore, and polish the final product.
Allen’s wampum beads, necklaces, and belts are made in an old style so they can be worn with traditional Eastern Woodland regalia. Allen and his wife Patricia run the Purple Shell store in Charlestown, Rhode Island.
Wampanoag Wampum Artist
Elizabeth James-Perry, Dartmouth, MA
Wampum artist Elizabeth James-Perry is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah. Her work is strongly influenced by finely crafted ancient wampum adornment and lore, as well as her late Wampanoag mentors and cousins Nanepashemut and Helen Attaquin.
Elizabeth harvests quahog and conch shells from local waters, sorting them by size and color. Using the rich layered purples of the quahog shell and softer conch shell, Elizabeth sculpts patterned whale and fish effigies and thick wampum beads. Her earrings often contrast the purple and white of quahog shells with the white of deer antler or bone. The combination gives the earrings color and textural variety, while subtly expressing the link between land and ocean. Using shell appliqué, she makes star medallions and finely-woven wide purple gauntlet cuff bracelets, both emblems of traditional Native leadership.
Elizabeth’s art is a form of Native storytelling and genealogy relating to coastal North Atlantic life. She grew up watching her mother Patricia execute tiny whaling scenes on bone scrimshaw, and shared her Wampanoag families’ whaling history in Living with Whales, a book by Nancy Shoemaker. When the historic whaling vessel Charles W. Morgan was newly refurbished, Elizabeth sailed onboard its 38th voyage as a descendant of the Gay Head and Christiantown tribal crewmembers. In 2014, she was awarded a Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in the traditional arts.
Patricia James-Perry, Dartmouth, MA
Patricia James-Perry’s family roots are deeply planted in Wampanoag ancestral lands on Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard. One could say she was born into the tradition of scrimshanding, the once common art of hand-crafting decorative and functional items from salvaged whale ivory. She fondly recalls the abundance of scrimshaw in her 1940s-childhood home in New Bedford – her grandmother’s ivory sewing needles, pendants inscribed with tiny whaling scenes, niddy-noddies for yarn, rolling pins, and pie crimpers.
The Wampanoag people of Massachusetts/Eastern Rhode Island were inshore whale hunters and later heavily involved in New England’s global whaling industry. Gay Head whalers were prized for their hunting prowess and navigational skills. Patricia’s grandfather, Henry Gray James, was a career whale man, as was her uncle, Joseph Belain. Family stories tell of Belain twice leading captain and crew to safety, after their ship became ice-bound in the Arctic.
Patricia inherited her whaling ancestors’ tools and her families’ supply of whale teeth. In the 1970s, she carved scrimshaw at LaFrance’s Jewelers in New Bedford. With small children, making scrimshaw became difficult for Patricia, along with changing laws governing marine mammal items. Patricia is making scrimshaw again, but now using polished deer antler. Elizabeth and Jonathan James-Perry plan to apprentice with their mother, keeping scrimshanding in the family and maintaining the Native identity it rightly deserves.
Aquinnah Wampanoag Copper Jewelry
Jonathan James-Perry, N. Providence, RI
Jonathan James-Perry grew up in a creative household surrounded by music, sculpting, beadwork, and scrimshaw, all coming out of rich Wampanoag traditions. He practices an impressive variety of indigenous art forms including making effigy pipes, copper jewelry, engraved slate pendants, burl bowls and platters, wooden hair combs incised with Native motifs, boat paddles, boats, and flint knapped stone tools. He works with locally sourced woods, stone, and metals.
Copper is his preferred metal to work in, as it holds a special meaning and significance for Eastern Native people. Copper’s reflective surface is evocative of the warmth of the sun and is considered medicinal as well as being ideal for adornment. Jonathan cold hammers and draws out the metal, forming long copper thunderbird breastplates, lunar gorget neck plates, and gauntlet cuffs. He then hand-presses designs into the metal’s smooth finish, embossing them with either abstract edgework or clan animal shapes. These embellishments are inspired by those found in ancient Wampanoag material culture — basketry, tattooing, stone carving, and pottery stamps. Concave discs represent the moon, a repeating double curve may represent growth or a whale’s spout out on the ocean. As a 2017 Community Spirit Award recipient from the First Peoples Fund, Jonathan is committed to passing on his knowledge to the next generation.
Crockery For Kraut
Jeremy Ogusky, Jamaica Plain, MA
Fermentation is one of the oldest methods for preserving food. Think pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Even cheese and yogurt are fermented foods. To ferment food, microorganisms and bacteria are cultivated to consume the sugars in food, transforming them into organic acids that preserve the vegetables.
Jeremy Ogusky has worked in ceramics for more than 20 years, but it was only recently that his passion for fermentation was realized. Growing up in a family with Eastern European roots, his grandmother’s fermented foods such as borscht and sauerkraut were staples of the family’s diet. Why not combine his two passions by crafting fermentation vessels in which to produce his own sauerkraut, kimchi, and other vegetable ferments?
Jeremy balances safety, utility, and beauty in designing his clay crocks. Since the fermentation environment can become quite acidic, he uses only non-toxic and non-reactive materials. The thick clay walls of the crocks help maintain a constant, cool temperature and their wide opening makes them easy to use. A lid fits snugly inside to submerge the ingredients beneath the brine, keeping conditions anaerobic.
Taking a probiotic to help your digestion? Try the natural version by eating fermented food. Even better, come try your hand at making a basic fermentation recipe.
Willow, Seagrass, & Rattan Basketry
Wendy G. Jensen, Monterey, MA
Wendy G. Jensen’s timber framed basket making studio sits within walking distance of her house on a wooded lot in the Berkshires. The property has eight varieties of shrub willow, an oblong tub for soaking willow, and a number of structures that Wendy has woven out of live willow, including a kind of love seat that provides shade for sitting in the vegetable garden. Inside the studio, basketmaking materials hang on the back wall, while other materials are stored by width and shape in drawers.
Early on, Wendy studied with several basket makers, including Kari Lonning of Connecticut. Wendy favors utilitarian baskets and experiments with two toned designs. Many of her designs are inspired by the basketry of northeast Native Americans and the Shakers, who learned their basketmaking from the Northeast Indians. She excels at the mathematical challenge of working out weaving patterns and an endless variety of shapes, while taking pleasure in the usefulness of the finished product. That pleasure is shared by members of The Berkshire Hills & Dales Spinners Guild (demonstrating in a nearby tent) whose yarns are often stored in Jensen baskets.
Like other contemporary basket makers, Jensen teaches and exhibits and sells her work at craft fairs and sheep and wool festivals.
Ugandan Fiber Craft & Toys
Juliet Najjumba, Waltham, MA
Juliet Najjumba grew up in a small village in southern Uganda. She credits her grandmother for teaching her most of what she knows about Ugandan folk culture– storytelling, medicinal folk healing, and the making of crafts from locally available materials like banana fiber, gourds, and the inner bark of the Mutaba tree. The latter is sustainably harvested and pounded to make bark cloth. Soft as leather, bark cloth is used for clothing and traditionally to wrap the dead.
The cultural value placed on recycling materials is captured in the Ugandan saying, “Whatever is not useful anymore, find a use for it again.” In Uganda, where banana fiber is abundant, Juliet uses it to make children’s toys like jump rope, soccer balls, and dolls. Here, she substitutes plastic bags. Juliet also commissions women in her home village to weave baskets and handbags out of banana fiber and bark cloth. The income helps them gain hard-won financial independence and boosts pride in their local heritage.
In 2003, Juliet founded African Cultural Services, Inc., an educational organization promoting African cultural awareness. Through hands-on activities, youngsters learn about African cultural traditions. Come listen to Juliet’s stories of Ugandan folklore. Learn how to make paper beads. Touch banana fiber. Try twisting its modern equivalent into jump rope and learn a Ugandan jump rope song.
Khmer Ceramics & Temple Ornamentation
Yary Livan & Apprentice Panit Mai, Lowell, MA
Yary Livan is a master of Cambodian ceramics and temple ornamentation. These traditional art forms date back to the 11th century during the Angkor Wat era and represent the height of achievement in ornamental bas relief. Due to the Khmer Rouge Genocide of the late 1970s, artists were among those targeted for death by the regime; the living knowledge of Khmer ceramics and temple ornamentation was almost lost. Today, Yary is the only known Cambodian actively carrying on this tradition in the United States. In 2015, he was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award in folk and traditional arts in the country.
Examples of Yary’s work including a large sculpture of Buddha and architectural ornamental carvings adorn and enhance worship at a local Buddhist temple. It was at this temple that Panit Mai and Yary first met. Speaking of Panit, Yary says, “After knowing him for nearly six months, I saw his passion, commitment, and dedication to this art that mainly derived from his love for his culture, and most importantly, his religion, which is the main aspect of the Angkor style.”
In September 2016, Mass Cultural Council awarded the pair a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship. Yary mentored Panit in Khmer design, drawing, modeling, and carving forms and shapes, including the mythical goose tail shape, the Chang flower shape, and a large sculpture of Buddha.
Maggie Holtzberg (Folk Arts & Heritage Program), Massachusetts Cultural Council