2023 Folk Craft Area

2023 Lowell Folk Festival Folk Craft Area is
“Carrying Traditional Knowledge Forward” July 28-30
 8 Mentor Artist and Apprentice Teams Presenting Works


(Lowell, MA - June 22, 2023) The 2023 Lowell Folk Festival (July 28-30) expects to welcome as many as 150,000 visitors to 3 days of music, dance, crafts, food, and family fun, celebrating a diverse range of folk arts.  The Folk Craft Area, titled Apprenticeships: Carrying Traditional Knowledge Forward, focuses on the central role that the relationship between mentor and apprentice plays in keeping folk craft traditions alive. 
“Many traditional craft artists feel duty bound to pass on what they know and the skills they have mastered, keeping alive the memory of mentors who make up their artistic lineage,” explained Maggie Holtzberg, curator of the Folk Craft Area.
Festival Coordinator Lee Villesis said “At this year's festival, attendees can meet eight mentor artists and their apprentices, all of whom have benefited from Mass Cultural Council funded apprenticeships."
The eight pairs of mentor/apprentice represent folk traditions from Indigenous traditions such as Wampanoag, Dakota adornment, Western Boot making, and New England ship wheels. Guests also have the opportunity to explore crafts that reflect our rich immigrant history with intricate Chinese paper cutting, Irish hand-lettered signs, and Dominican carnival mask making.
Here is a roster of Mentor/Apprentice Pairings at the 2023 Lowell Folk Festival:

Chinese papercutting: Zhonghe Elena Li & Jason Wang
Mentor Zhonghe (Elena) Li, spent her early childhood in a rural region of China known for its papercutting tradition. “Families were extremely poor when I was a child, yet every window was decorated with papercuts during the Spring Festivals.” says Elena.  In 2009, the art form was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Soon after, she returned to her childhood home to learn from master papercut artists. She has mentored teenager Jayson Wang for several years now, instilling how the art of papercutting incorporates Daoist philosophy, such as achieving Yin-Yang balance in what is cut off and what remains.


Traditional Signs, Decorative Painting & Celtic Knot Work: Vincent Crotty & Lori Greene
Vincent Crotty learned his craft as a young man in his native Ireland whose teachers shared skills that had been handed down to them through the old-world guild system. Since emigrating to Boston in 1990, Vincent’s brushwork has been beautifying storefront businesses, pubs, churches, cultural centers, and stage productions. Now apprenticing Lori Greene, who has long had an interest in traditional sign painting and Celtic design, Vincent and Lori are invested in maintaining and revitalizing Boston’s historic look through traditional sign making.


Wampanoag & Dakota Adornment: Elizabeth James-Perry & Erin Genia  
Elizabeth James-Perry, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, is carrying on Indigenous traditions such as Wampanoag and Dakota adornment. She was honored this year with a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. Apprentice Erin Genia is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota and a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and community organizer.  Their apprenticeship focused on creating Northeastern wampum by hand from the Atlantic Quahog shell, a heavy bivalve clam used for delicious chowder and other foods, sturdy tools, and purple and white wampumpeak (beads) with carved pendants.


Nipmuc Traditions: Wampum, Paddles, Drums, & Hide Tanning: 
Andre Strongbearheart Gaines, Jr., Nazario Tall Hair Red Deer Garate & Miguel Wandering Turtle Garate
Andre Strongbearheart Gaines, Jr., citizen of the Nipmuc tribe, is a craftsman, traditional dancer,  carpenter, and cultural steward for his Tribe.   He learned Nipmuc techniques of preparing hides and making wampum, drums, and mishoon paddles; cultural traditions that date back thousands of years.  Nazario and Miguel Garate, apprenticing with their uncle, have gained experience sustainably harvesting cedar poles and bark needed to construct wetus, shaped quahogs into wampum jewelry, and made paddles and drums.  Essential to passing on these craft skills is sharing the reasons for continuing them along with the stories and songs associated with them.  “It’s healing medicine for the spirit,” says Nazario. “ This is the Native idea that everything you do should be in pursuit of a healthy spiritual life, balance, and peace for yourself and your community.” 


Western Side-Seam Bootmaking: Sarah Madeleine T. Guerin & Diana Wagner
“You can study footwear design in school, but learning how to build boots is another matter,” says bespoke bootmaker Sarah Guerin. There’s no other way to truly acquire that knowledge than having somebody pass it on to you.” Although once common in Massachusetts, making footwear by hand is practiced by very few people today. It took Sarah years to find a master bootmaker willing to teach her. She persevered in becoming a bootmaker and is passing on the tradition to Diana Wagner, a fellow RISD graduate.  During their two-year apprenticeship, Diana created a custom pair of side-seam western boots. She also produced a detailed manual from the perspective of one learning the craft. 


Hand-Built Wooden Steering Wheels for Ships, South Shore Boatworks
Bob Fuller & Christina Fuller
Bob Fuller apprenticed under his father and grandfather and has been building steering wheels for yachts and ships since 1977. “A ship’s steering wheel needs to stand up to rigorous conditions. It also needs to feel right to the captain and complement the look of the cockpit and helm station,” said Bob.  “It takes years in a busy shop to become proficient in the designing and building of wooden steering wheels.” Christina Fuller’s apprenticeship under her father has allowed her to maintain the family tradition of crafting wooden ship’s wheels. Christina says, “For me, it would be an honor to be half the artisan that my father is.”


Dominican Carnaval Traditions: Stelvyn Mirabal & Leonardo Mirabal
Stelvyn Mirabal is leader of the Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts group based in Lawrence, MA, where there is a sizable Dominican community. Born in Santiago, Dominican Republic, Mirabal is passing on the knowledge he learned from his uncle, who taught him carnaval traditions of mask making and processioning during pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations. Stelvyn is passing this tradition on to his son Leonard who has learned how to fill out the la morcilla (sausage), fix the fuete (whip), and repair and paint broken horns of the mask.  


Uyghur Calligraphy: Ablikim Emet & Munawwar Abdullah
Ablikim Emet was born in Khoshut a small town in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East-Turkestan) and found his mentor Niyaz Kerim, a well-known calligrapher among Uyghurs in northwest China. The mostly Muslim population of Uyghurs speak their own language and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. Their ancient form of calligraphic script is valued both as an art and a key to knowledge. Emet, who left his homeland in 2017 and now lives in Boston, sees his calligraphy as helping to keep alive the language of the Uyghur people. Apprentice Munawwar Abdullah was born and raised in a Uyghur household in Australia. Her drive to learn more about Uyghur culture led her to Ablikim Emet, the only professional Uyghur calligrapher in the U.S. today. 
Visit Lowell Folk Festival to stay posted on all future updates for the 36th Lowell Folk Festival 2023.
Major support for the Lowell Folk Festival comes from Mass Cultural Council, the City of Lowell, Saab Family Foundation / Saab Center for Portuguese Studies, Pridestar/Trinity EMS, Richard K. and Nancy Donahue, Demoulas Foundation, John Hunnewell Trust, Middlesex Community College, Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau/Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, UMass Lowell, Mahoney Oil/Eastern Salt, the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center, Enterprise Bank, Aubert Fay Foundation, and Jean D’Arc Credit Union.


The Lowell Folk Festival is produced by the Lowell Festival Foundation, the City of Lowell, Lowell National Historical Park, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, and the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.