FOLK CRAFT: Painted, Plaited, Pounded, or Pulled
Lucy Larcom Park, Saturday & Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m.
This year’s folk craft area draws attention to four basic techniques underlying the work of traditional master artists – painting, plaiting, pounding, and pulling. These ways of working result in craft that is functional, decorative, spiritual, and musical. See how icons and church interiors are painted to enhance spiritual practice. Observe how the plaiting of birch bark creates baskets and shoes. Learn how the black ash splints of finely woven baskets are harvested and prepared. Notice how the pulling of yarn through burlap creates the looped pile of a hooked rug. Hear how the pounding of metal creates different pitches on steel pan drums. Watch how pounding red hot iron transforms a rod into a chisel. You can even try your hand of some these techniques, too.
2018 Folk Craft Artists
Jewish Ritual Garments
Amy Lassman – Needham, MA
Having sewn all of her life, it was eight years ago that Amy Lassman turned to creating Jewish ritual garments and ceremonial objects. She began making covers for challah (braided bread) and matzoh bags (hold matzoh during the Passover Seder). Soon after, members of Amy’s temple started asking her to make tallises (prayer shawls) and kippot (head coverings). She admits it was intimidating at first, “It’s a lot of responsibility. A tallit is something that you will wear for the rest of your life. It represents your foray into Jewish adulthood.”
Amy makes pieces for both women and men. While kippot and tallises were historically worn only by Jewish men, the rise of egalitarianism has encouraged women to claim this rite. Thanks to Amy’s creative artistry and familiarity with the sartorial objects of religious ritual, women are embracing these sacred traditions with style and grace.
Ask Amy to share some of her stories of working with families in preparation for Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and adults looking to re-define their relationship to Judaism. Try your hand at tying tzitzit – the tassels tied into the four corners of a tallit. Find out why the combination of the number of strings, knots, and twists must equal 613.
Christopher Gosey – Manchester, NH
Iconography depicts images of saints and sacred history in a traditional language of forms, composition, geometry, color, style, and techniques that are more than 1,500 years old. After working in historic preservation and church design, Christopher Gosey made the transition to iconographer. He was fortunate to apprentice with the late master Russian iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky in Sharon, Massachusetts. She found his work original and encouraged him, “Don’t change who you are; don’t shape yourself into an imitator of Greek or Russian iconography. You have to write the way your heart guides you.” As he progressed, she was pleased, saying, “He now writes the way the ancient Ethiopians and the Copts wrote – very vividly, very decoratively, very expressively.”
After serving as an artist in residence at Andover Newton Theological School, Christopher moved to New Hampshire where he continues to practice Russian, Byzantine, and the Gondarine style of Ethiopian Orthodox icon writing. The latter is characterized by sharply modeled faces; bright, exotic and richly patterned clothing; and bold, loose, black outlines.
Christopher’s icons are informed by a deep understanding of theology, purpose, and spiritual meaning of Ethiopian and Eastern Orthodox icons. Parishioners around the world benefit. His icons grace churches throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, New Zealand, and Bermuda.
Liturgical Painting & Restoration
Geoofrey Kostecki – Montague, MA
Geoffrey Kostecki excels at the sacred art known as liturgical painting, that is, painting done in spaces for public worship. As a young man, he was inspired by the powerful imagery of Catholicism, first created for the Church during the Renaissance. Geoffrey moved to Italy to study at University Lorenzo Di Medici in Florence. There he gained many of the advanced painting techniques required for liturgical painting which include site-specific design, fresco painting, figurative sculpting, stencil design, gilding, and marbleizing.
After returning home and earning a MFA, Geoffrey apprenticed himself with the renowned figurative painter Graydon Parrish, who himself had trained with trompe l’oeil painter Robert Bock. Geoffrey’s original work and restorations can be seen in churches throughout Central Massachusetts and upstate New York, including St. Paul’s Church in West Warren, St. John’s in Worcester, and a 30 x 40 feet Adirondack nave mural commissioned by St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid, New York.
The response Geoffrey receives from the parishioners in these and many other churches continues to be one of overwhelming thanks and gratitude. In addition to liturgical painting, Geoffrey’s abilities include conserving decorative painting, painted statues, and icons as well as gilding, and stenciling. He is dedicated to continuing the practice of liturgical art and craft.
Pam Bartlett – Loudon, NH
My grandmother . . . wanted pretty things for the house and didn’t have a lot of money.
Pam Bartlett grew up around rug hooking, a craft that was once common in households along the eastern seaboard in New England and Atlantic Canada. In the19th century, hooked rugs were used for warmth on a bed or a cold floor. Using remnants from textile mills and recycled wool from old clothing, rug hookers worked on a small frame maneuvering a hook to pull strips of cut wool through a loose weave (such as burlap). By the late 1880s, professional designers came on the scene. The craft flourished until commercially made rugs became readily available.
Pam believes it is important to preserve the traditional crafts and skills once vital to the comfort and necessity of everyday life. She is a certified rug hooking teacher with the National Guild of the Pearl McGown Hookcrafters (named for the legendary Massachusetts pattern maker and rug hooker.)
At her shop, The Woolen Pear, she offers classes, hooking supplies, fiber craft, and a modern hooking community. In addition to her prize-winning designs, Pam is a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and has been awarded four Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.
Linda Miller – Middlebuy, CT
It was a brooch decorated with floral designs that inspired Linda Miller to take up the Norwegian art called rosemaling. This calligraphic style of painting features scrolls and flowers, and is often done on a black or red background. In the 1980s, Linda joined the New England Rosemaling Society and studied with master rosemalers Sigmund Aarseth and Nils Ellingsgaard at the renowned Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. Another major influence has been National Heritage Fellow Eldrid Arntzen of Connecticut. She encouraged Linda to learn additional aspects of the tradition such as the types and uses of wooden pieces to be painted and the varieties of Norwegian women’s traditional dress called the bunad, which Linda is wearing at the festival.
Just as in Norwegian Hardanger fiddle music, dance, and folk costume, each region of Norway is known for its particular style of decorative painting. As she developed her own mastery, Linda focused on Telemark regional style. Her husband’s family comes from the area outside Oslo where this style predominates. Among the wooden objects Linda paints are trunks, boxes, bowls, cabinets, plates, and urns, some of which are turned and carved by her husband.
Linda teaches at the Vesterheim Folk Art School, the John C. Campbell Folk School, and at Scandinavian lodges around the country.
Black Ash Splint Basketmaking
JoAnn Kelly Catsos & Steve Catsos – Ashley Falls, MA
Some baskets are used for tasks such as picking berries or lugging potatoes while others are stunningly crafted pieces of art. JoAnn Kelly Catsos’s baskets fall into the latter category. Her early designs were influenced by traditional Shaker and New England splint basketry. Thirty years later, the clean lines of her black ash splint baskets have remained, but they have evolved into smaller, more finely woven, intricately patterned vessels. JoAnn’s skillful blend of symmetrical shapes, intricate designs, and fine weaving structure has earned her numerous awards. Basket weaving guilds across the country seek her out as a teacher. They also rely on JoAnn and her woodworking husband Steve to supply the black ash splints.
Steve and JoAnn harvest black ash trees near their home in the southern Berkshires. Neighbors allow them to select trees from their property and JoAnn practices the traditional “basket for a tree” exchange. Processing black ash is labor intensive. After splitting the log, removing the pith and stripping the bark, one pounds steadily along the log to loosen the growth rings. These separate into nice even layers called splints. These layers can be split again to get the thickness desired for a particular size and type of basket. Steve uses his woodworking skills to make splints, wooden molds, handles, and rims.
Finnish Birch Bark Basketry
Elaine Moe – Millers Falls, MA
I am constantly learning and keeping my hands on the bark.
Birch bark has long been the favored material of basket makers in Finland, Sweden, and Russia for making essential items such as containers, shoes, hats, and backpacks. The bark is naturally water resistant. In recent times, there has been a decline of birch bark basket making, and other Finnish material culture crafts, due to the ubiquitous availability of modern plastic containers.
All four of Elaine Moe’s grandparents were Finnish immigrants to the United States in the 1900s. For her, learning and teaching the art of birch bark basketry is not only a way of preserving centuries old Finnish craft tradition, but also the most significant contribution she can make to her ethnic community.
During apprenticeships with master birch bark craftsmen Vladimir Yarish and John Zasada, Elaine learned to collect birch bark and prepare it into strips and layers used to make baskets, shoes, and household items. Birch bark weaving employs traditional techniques of diagonally plaited double walled construction. She often adds decorative elements. Some of Elaine’s birch bark baskets are for baking bread. Elaine has taught basket workshops at the Finnish Center at Saima Park in Fitchburg, MA, and is a recipient of several Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants.
Mi’kmaq Wooden Flutes
David Lonebear Sanipass – Cumberland, ME
David Lonebear Sanipass comes from a long line of Mi’kmaq Nation woodworkers and basketmakers in northern Maine. “My family lived traditionally,” he notes, “following the harvest of potatoes, wood, and blueberries up and down the eastern part of the state. We lived simply but well with traditional skills, hard work, and a sense of humor.”
Next to the drum, the most important Native American instrument is the flute. David has been making flutes for more than three decades, having learned to carve them at age nine from his grandfather. “As a child,” he says, “I would sit with him for hours to watch and ask questions about the art of flute carving.” He adds, “I harvest all the wood and make many of the tools myself. I use mostly lightning-struck white cedar. Once the cedar tree is struck by lightning, the wood crystalizes. It is this result that gives the finished flute a unique sound and tone.” Through his carving and performing, David passes along the sacred wisdom stories, songs, and chants that have been part of his culture for generations. “These stories/songs…teach us through the voices of our ancestors how life should be lived and celebrated.”
David’s uncle Wilfred “Wolf” Sanipass demonstrated woodcarving at the 1991 Lowell Folk Festival.
Jason Roseman – Pawtucket, RI
Jason Roseman, a second-generation steel pan “tuner,” learned to make steel pan drums from his father while growing up in the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. “I had never been able to resist the sound and beauty of my father’s daily routine of making steel drums.”
The steel pan has its origins in the 1800s. When British rulers banned Trinidadians from using hand drums to communicate, islanders turned to other objects (old car parts, garbage can lids) to make percussive instruments. In the 1930s, someone discovered that a dented section of an empty oil barrel from the Navy bases on the island produced a musical tone. Many tuners began producing tuned “pans,” eventually forming groups of neighborhood pan men into orchestrated bands that paraded through the streets. People continue to use drums like these in musical competitions at Carnival, the exuberant festival that takes place prior to the beginning of Lent.
Jason started performing on steel pans at age eight and has traveled extensively, sharing the indigenous art form of his beloved country. He has also arranged music for steel band at secondary and tertiary level schools, both in Trinidad and the United States. His repertoire varies from his native Calypso to, jazz, and classical music. He has played and toured with several bands including the AS220 Criss-Cross Orchestra (Afro-beat), and the rock band Changes in Latitude.
Solomon Murungu – Belmont, MA
The mbira, sometimes called a thumb piano, has a history going back 1,500 years. It originated with the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is traditionally played in religious ceremonies called “bira” and is associated with healing. The sound is believed to invoke and speak to the spirits of family ancestors.
Solomon Murungu grew up in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) under British Colonial rule. At the time, students were prohibited from learning about their own culture. “It was sort of like apartheid,” says Solomon.” Under the British, the Shona people had to reject their traditional ancestor worship and embrace the Church of England. Solomon points out that even today, indigenous Africans remain reluctant to embrace this part of their culture.
Murungu came to the US in 1973. By 1980, he’d earned a degree in computer science and was a keen fan of American rock bands. It took reggae singer Bob Marley and his comments about Rastafarianism to make Solomon reconsider his Shona roots. He began lessons with the late Zimbabwe master mbira player Ephat Mujuru. Following this mentorship, Solomon returned to Zimbabwe on multiple trips to continue research on traditional music and honed his knowledge of the mbira repertoire.
Today Solomon travels throughout New England promoting cross-cultural understanding through presentations on mbira music and Shona culture through his organization, Zambuko, Inc.
Carl Close Jr. – Newton Upper Falls, MA
Blacksmithing hasn’t really changed or evolved that much since the dawn of time. . . Paul Revere could come into this shop and basically go right to work.
Carl Close Jr. comes from a family of craftsmen on Massachusetts’ North Shore. His father had a forge and made all his own tools – a vital skill in the days before hardware stores and home improvement centers. “There was an old saying, ‘With hammer in hand, all art forms stand,’ which meant that, if it wasn’t for the blacksmith, nobody else could do their job.”
Carl served as a welder and later worked in an architectural iron work company before striking out on his own. His company takes its name from the Saugus Iron Works which, back in the 1640s, was called Hammersmith. In addition to making decorative interior furnishings, doorknockers, grills, and lighting, Carl makes basic tools like hammers, chisels, fire tongs, and garden tools. He and his wife Susan also teach at their Blacksmithing School of Boston. “It’s our way of giving back.”
Come watch Carl use a forge to heat and shape iron. Ask him how blacksmiths talk about heat temperature as colors. Discover the original meaning behind those familiar phrases like “red hot” and “having irons in the fire.”
Mithila or Madhubani Art
Sunanda Sahay & Anindita Lal – Acton, MA
Mithila or Madhubani is a type of painting from North India that uses various techniques and intricate patterns to celebrate seasonal festivals, rituals, or rites of passage, often depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.
Sunanda Sahay grew up in a region associated with the art and recalls seeing village women painting form to supplement meager family income. Traditionally they painted the mud walls of their homes and temples, but later transferred their art to paper and garments to sell. They also adopted modern paints, replacing nature-derived dyes that were once closely guarded secrets among families.
Sunanda has practiced Mithila for 20 years and is credited with maintaining the art’s relevance and purity. In addition to exhibiting at museums and universities, Sunanda serves the Indian expatriate community by teaching and donating her art to charitable causes.
For as long as she can remember, Anindita Lal has been fascinated by the stories from which Mithila paintings are drawn. She is from the caste, gender, and region that first produced the art form. In 2017, she and Sunanda were awarded a Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship. The opportunity advanced Anindita’s artistic skills and deepened her understanding of the stories, history, and symbolism behind the art. She also learned to use natural colors extracted from minerals and plant juices.
Maggie Holtzberg (Folk Arts & Heritage Program), Massachusetts Cultural Council