Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Value of a Handmade Gift

I have been thinking about my own handmade gift giving and choices to buy handmade this holiday season. There have been many years where I commit myself to a project only to realize the artwork will take three times the amount of time and resources predicted. For an artist to choose to invest time and energy into a project, it is never about being fast. It is about sharing the skills honed, the joy experienced in creating, and the distillation of thoughtful choices that go into a project. I now try to be honest with myself about how much time it will take to craft something by hand, and have more frequently budgeted for and enjoy purchasing handmade items that others have created.
Candlelight stroll during Christmas at Canterbury

In the December newsletter of Canterbury Shaker Village, Executive Director Funi Burdick writes, “But as with so many things Shaker, it turns out that mindfulness and intentionality was, and still is, the secret to cultivating and living the simple life no matter what the season, no matter how long the list.” She quotes a 1907 Shaker publication, "the true meaning of Christmas goes deeper than gift-giving...the gift is most truly a part of Christmas that has been prompted by love, respect, gratitude or charity.”

Matryoshka dolls painted by Master Artist, Marina Forbes
Many cultures have traditions of creating handmade items in groups or as a family. Marina Forbes is a Master Traditional Artist in Russian Icon Painting, and often teaches workshops throughout New England in the folk tradition of Russian Matryoshka (wooden nesting doll). Marina says that in Russian families, painting a set of Matryoshka dolls is, “about quality time together working on a family heirloom…Many times, I have had more than four generations of families come. Everyone signs their name on the bottom of the doll.”

Jeanne Brink is a Western Abenaki Master basket maker who has passed on her skills to several apprentices. During a 2005 interview discussing teaching her then current apprentice, Sherry Gould, Jeanne said “basket making to me, is it’s not that you just sit and make baskets. You’re teaching someone but you don’t say, okay, this is how you’re going to do this, so watch. It’s also a time when you talk, when we share things about our families, what we’ve been doing; we really get to know each other better. That’s part of it. Making baskets alone, it’s almost like quilting. You can quilt alone, but it’s better with a quilting bee; with someone else.”
Master Abenaki Basket maker Jeanne Brink with then Apprentice Sherry Gould. In 2010 Sherry Gould was juried as a Master Abenaki Basket maker.

I do admit to a secret hidden agenda when buying handmade items. The work of artisans are the products of labors of love, and I sometimes question whether or not the recipient will be able to appreciate the deep value that has been invested in the object, if they are not artists themselves. I then expose my hidden agenda of wanting to share with others how much handmade objects can enhance quality of life, by using the gift as an opportunity to share the story of the artisan or art form.

Ann Winterling (right) and Julie Robinson (left)
Julie Robinson, a marine biologist, has completed two apprenticeships with master rug hooker, Ann Winterling. Ann shared with Julie many fine arts principals that she used in her hooking. “I look at everything different now. I wasn’t raised with an artist’s background. I never took formal art classes. I never did any of that. And when I met Ann, I remember at first I was a little intimidated because she’s so artistic and her ability just flows out of her with no effort. She taught me to understand that we all have that within us, that if you work on it and you look at things differently than you ever have, you can see things. Like one of my favorite things… I think about it now all the time is in the winter, when the light is on the snow, you can see the pinks and the purples that Anne described to me when I did a piece that was a winter piece. And now I see it all the time. Not only has she given me a beautiful gift by teaching me to rug hook but she’s opened my eyes to look at everything differently and I think that’s through an artist’s eyes and I wouldn’t have had that experience without her.”

Whether you make, purchase, or receive a handmade gift, the thoughtful and careful skill, time, choices, and resources embodied in the work by the artisan will continually show the recipient your own gratitude.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sparrow's Joy Folk Ensemble Rocks the State House

Guest Blogger Carol Robidoux created this two-minute musical interlude about Sparrow Joy's visit to the State House. Two members of Sparrow's Joy, Madeline Stewart & Fiona Shea are both past recipients of Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grants in New England Fiddling. This blog post originally apperead on Concord Patch

It is generally all business when the Governor's Council convenes. However, as is the tradition, meetings always begin by shining a spotlight on local musical talent.

On Nov. 6, the Concord Community Music School Scholarship Folk Ensemble, aka Sparrow's Joy, did the honors.

Members include Dan Faiella, 20, Madeleine Stewart, 18, Axel Stewart, 17, and Fiona Shea, 17, who have been playing together since before they landed at the Concord music school, which is why they are so, well, "wonderful," as Gov. Maggie Hassan said, following their performance.

The troupe performed an a cappella vocal arrangement of "Down in the River," followed by "Red Prairie Dawn and "Chinquapin Hunting."

Carol Robidoux

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Tradition and Fine Craftsmanship of Lutherie Resonates in New Hampshire

photos courtesy Tim Gaudreau,
New Hampshire is well known for its history of fine craftsmanship and highly skilled artisans. You can hear a variety of live music in the state's cities at least a few nights a week. Depending on the circles you frequent, some of these craft and music traditions are more prominently visable, while and others exert quieter reverberations. As in any music, quiet reverberations can be powerful.

John Whiteside and Tim Gaudreau were awarded a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant in Lutherie, and recently finished their Apprenticeship together. John and Tim belong to a larger statewide group that is interested in this tradition, the Granite State Luthiers Guild. This art and musical form dates thousands of years back to lute making in both Greece and versions of the instrument in India and China.

Tim Gaudreau has been documenting his experience learning Lutherie with John through a blog where he discusses tool building, wood selection, design, inlay, listening, learning, and experimenting. Tim admits that the blog isn't finished, "It's sorely out of date as I have been so busy working on the guitar that I haven't had the time to write about it. I do plan to update this though."

Here is a quote from Tim's blog, but we encourage you to check out his full blog here:

"John likes to build guitars with a particular sound in mind and he keeps that focus when selecting woods and constructing the instrument. It’s a tricky thing to describe, but with some of the sounds of the songs in our heads, we did some tap tone testing on sample tonewoods to see if we could pick out something that had the same feeling in its sound quality."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Concord Multicultural Festival, guest blog by Jessica Fogg

Our first guest blogger is Jessica Fogg of JFogg Social Inspirations. Jessica is Event Chair and Organizer of the Concord Multicultural Festival. She can be reached at
photos taken by Lynn Martin Graton

The 8th Annual Concord Multicultural Festival was held on a perfect fall day, at the State House Plaza on September 28th, 2013. The afternoon was packed with dynamic and engaging performances, delectable cuisines from around the world, fun activities for the kids and the essence of what the event is meant to be about: lots of community spirit.

About 11 years ago, the Greater Concord Area Task Force Against Racism & Intolerance began coordinating community discussions. The 2004 discussion, titled "The Changing Face of Concord: Racial, Ethnic & Cultural Diversity," nearly everyone involved recognized the importance of street festivals to the civic life of Concord, so they decided that a big outdoor party was the ideal way to advance the goals of racial and ethnic tolerance and understanding in our small but quickly changing community. And thus the Concord Multicultural Festival was born!

The mission is to raise local awareness of those newly arriving in our community and appreciation for cultural diversity with the hope that increased awareness, supported by educational programs will inspire our neighbors to accept, welcome and assist the newest members of our community. After all, our ancestors were all immigrants or refugees at one point.

Participants shared and celebrated their native cultures through music, dance, food, crafts, and storytelling. There were 15 different performances ranging from a Chinese Lion Dance, Celtic bagpipes and fiddling, Burundian drumming, Nicaraguan dancing, Indian Carnatic singing, African Dance, Bhutanese Singing, German Classical music, and Nepali Singers. I had a wonderful committee comprised of Unitarian Church members who have a great relationship with the New American communities, staff from Lutheran Social Services (the organization that facilitates the Refugee Resettlement Program), and a few other enthusiastic people who were passionate about organizing the event. We had many local sponsors as well that made the event possible. I was also extremely lucky to have the guidance and support of the past organizers who started the event. - Jessica Fogg


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Alice Ogden, Traditional Black Ash Basket Maker visits with Cynthia Robinson's 5th & 6th grade at Madison Elementary School

As part of the 2013 Arts in Education Partnership Conference, the NH State Council on the Arts partnered with the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire and Madison Elementary School to bring traditional black ash basket maker Alice Ogden to Madison Elementary for a one day artist visit with 5th and 6th grade students.

Alice brought in many examples of baskets she's made, tools, and even a black ash log to demonstrate how the growth rings are split from the tree to make different baskets for different functions. Students worked with Alice and art teacher, Cynthia Robinson to weave a tree star. This artist visit complements many of the other units Cynthia does with her students, placing a high value on respecting and creating art with natural materials.

Through cultural artistic traditions and skills students learn about other cultures as well as their own. They develop empathy and understanding for the expressions of other cultures as well as reaffirm what makes their own community unique. Learning connections beyond the school day and for lifelong learning are fostered by having a traditional artist in the classroom.Sharing the cultural and artistic traditions of a community offers many opportunities for youth to engage in hands on experiential learning and make connections to their culture and heritage. These connections can be used to support the curriculum of many subjects including social studies, history, citizenship, earth science, english language arts, mathematics, and of course the visual arts, music, dance and theatre.

Listen to Cynthia and Alice discuss the importance of artist visits to the classroom:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Interview with Master Guqin player Shin-Yi Yang and apprentice Adam Kale

The NH State Council on the Arts has been funding Master and Apprentice Traditional Arts teams since 1995, providing support for over 35 art forms. The grant helps to support a master traditional artist and an experienced apprentice in one-to one sessions for a six to ten month period.The teaching and learning usually take place in homes- around a kitchen table, in a garage or workshop. Their work is rooted in the community and the success of these grants is based on trust and respect.

At the conclusion of a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship, State Arts Council staff visit many of the grantees to conduct audio interviews and take photographs in order to document the project, provide an archive for those interested in state culture and history, and to share with the wider public (Graton, 8).

On September 29, 2013 Julianne Morse interviewed master guqin player (pronounced goo-chin) Shin-Yi Yang and her apprentice, Adam Kale. The guqin is a seven stringed zither, and is one of the oldest Chinese instruments dating to over 3000 years ago. In 2003 UNESCO designated the guqin as as a piece of Oral and Intangible Hertiage of Humanity. In the video below you can listen to both Shin-Yi and Adam talk about how they came to learn the instrument, its importance to both Chinese culture and heritage, and how it is informing the cultural landscape of New England.

interview with Shin-Yi Yang & Adam Kale from Julianne Morse on Vimeo.

Graton, Lynn (Ed.). (2012). Shaping Our Heritage. Concord, NH: New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. Print.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Harvesting fibers in New Hampshire

Details of in process weaving by Diane Homes

Antique hand carved shuttles
Heckling, retting, swingling, breaking, spinning and weaving- hang out with the Flax Girls and these are some of the things you’re in for.

Gina Gerhard moved to NH as a young girl from NY and soon took up fiber arts as a way to pass the winter months. As a girl she thought, “wool is boring, I want to do something different." Piecing together information from craft books, journals, and store ledgers she taught herself how to process flax including harvesting, retting, drying, breaking, swingling, heckling and eventually spinning and weaving. Gina is now very knowledgeable about the process, the tools, and the history of this art form that was essential to New England farm life prior to the invention of the cotton gin. Despite all of her research however she would tell you that there are only so many things you can learn from a book. Most written accounts and instructions assume a degree of familiarity with the flax crop and the process of turning it into a fiber. Some steps you need to learn by repeated experience – like how brown and moldy should your flax look when it is ready to stop the retting process? Why is retting flax in a pond more efficient than dew retting? Just how hard to you have to whack the flax when you’re swingling it?

Cathy Goodmen spinning 
flax fiber into linen thread

Gina was joined by two other dedicated fiber artists from New Hampshire, Cathy Goodmen a spinner and dyer from Franklin, and Diane Howes a Master weaver from Danville. The women jokingly refer to themselves as the “Flax Girls” as they have been demonstrating together across the state for years. Gina prepares the flax from straw to fiber, Cathy spins the fiber into thread, and Cathy was nearby weaving checked linen towels on an antique 4 shaft counterbalance loom. All three women were deeply interested not only in the process of working with the fiber but also the craftsmanship and history of the handmade tools. The flax to fiber process can be traced to the middle ages, and Gina highlighted how the tools are the distillation of hundreds of years of refinement. That’s not exactly the first thought you might have when looking at the wrought iron spikes sticking up from a board to form the heckle, or comb used to thin the flax. On Diane’s antique loom, there are 516 hand tied string heddles which have been replaced by metal on more modern looms. “This loom is so quiet”, Diane and Cathy both remarked. There was no metal slamming up and down only hand tied string knots, and hand carved wooden shuttles. Processing and weaving of flax by the individual New England family declined with the popularization of mills like those in Exeter, Meredith, and Manchester. 

Gina Gerhard demonstrating the flax to fiber process. Flax is still grown near the site of the retting pond in Gilmanton, NH

The demonstration took place in Gilmanton near one of the only known flax retting ponds in New Hampshire. The pond has been undergoing restoration by the Gilmanton Historical Society, and the organization has invited Gina, Cathy, and Diane to demonstrate at the pond for the past two years. The flax retting pond is man made with the bottom lined with rocks so the flax could be laid out on the rocks, and then weighted down with clumps of sod to prevent the straw from floating to the surface. The natural microorganisms in the pond create the perfect environment for a retting process that can take 4-6 days- which is much quicker than the month it usually takes for dew retting out in a field.  The land has recently been purchased with community donations to the Gilmanton Land Trust, and will be placed in conservation permanently with the town. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Showcase at the 80th Annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Fair, Newbury, NH

Fred Dolan would tell you the League Fair is all about connecting with people- sharing stories of your craft with new listeners or seeing old friends and fellow craftsmen. Dolan, an accomplished decoy carver and painter from Strafford, NH, knows a thing or two about what to expect at the League Fair, and what it means to share the beauty and knowledge of a craft form with others. For many years Fred demonstrated at the League Fair for the entire nine-day run, mainly to see other fine craftsmen in New Hampshire. Of course, he was also there to share with new appreciating audiences a skill he has  honed over the years.

Fred Dolan (right) & David Horan demonstrating sharpening 
tools at the 80th annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen

This year, as part of the NH State Council on the Arts Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Showcase tent, Fred demonstrated decoy carving and displayed many examples of his birds alongside his current apprentice, David Horan. The recently crafted decoy by Horan, completed during their apprenticeship, was remarkable for a newcomer to the craft, and he attributes the progression of his skill all to Fred. The decoy was carved of Northern White Cedar and painted with acrylics. The painting process incorporated traditional combing techniques on the side pockets and scapulars, all skills that Fred passed on to David, but took him many years to perfect.  Many participants in the apprenticeship program seek to work with master artists that are not only known for their individual skill in the art form, but also 
Fred Dolan (left) & David Horan showing off their decoys.
for their skills as teachers. 

There was a steady flow of traffic into the Apprenticeship Showcase tent, with fair-goers stopping along the way to talk with and watch demonstrations by the other featured master and apprentice teams.

Pam Bartlett

Lynda Hadlock, apprentice to master rug hooker and White Mountain Woolen Magic president Pam Bartlett, switched multiple projects on and off her stand throughout the day. Some areas were difficult and required concentration, and she wanted Pam’s undistracted attention to help her figure out the best way to tackle the rug hooking project. Lynda said, “It’s too distracting here. All I want to do is talk with people.” Pam and Lynda set up a public rug hooking project and had many visitors try their hand at rug hooking. The artists had many examples of hooked rugs on display, from rugs illustrating family stories, sections of rugs that were created for collaborative community projects, and rugs that celebrated Celtic design patterns. A quote from Pam was displayed on the table, “The wool is stronger than your problems.”

Pam Bartlett helping a visitor practice hooking.
Lynda Hadlock, hooking a rug.

Debbie Dostie, a master Native American bead weaver from BristolNH, had a tension loom set up with examples of moccasins, bead weavings, and other projects that she and apprentice Vicki Blanchard worked on during their past apprenticeship together. If you spent time with Debbie, she would tell you that bringing beauty to an object through beading, for some Native Americans, is a spiritual process that reflects the artisan’s appreciation for the gift of beauty in the natural world. Patterns including flowers, vegetation, animals, geometric and curved designs all help the artist weave a story of community, tradition, and a connection to place. In a recent interview with Lynn Martin Graton, Acting Director of the NH State Council on the Arts, Debbie discussed passing on the tradition of Native American beadwork through the apprenticeship program, “There are some people who learn to bead, and there others who bead to learn.”

The Apprenticeship showcase was right at home among the many other demonstrations, workshops, and fine crafts at the League Fair, which holds the distinction of being the oldest fine craft fair in the country. The NH State Council on the Arts Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program helps to preserve traditional crafts, music and dance so that future generations can continue to benefit from them. Apprenticeship grants fund a master traditional artist to teach an experienced apprentice in one-to-one sessions over a period of six to ten months. As a complementary venue to the program, the 80th annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Fair was filled with inspiring examples of traditional arts and music being celebrated and preserved across the state.

Debbie Dostie, weaving on the loom.
Vicki Blanchard, weaving with seed beads.