Friday, August 19, 2016

2016 League of NH Craftsmen Fair- Guest Blog post by Mikael Pluhar

Out of all 83 years the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Fair has been running, I have witnessed exactly one day. 

One day of a nine-day event, the oldest craft fair in the country boasting over 200 booths of fine craft goods, over 350 artists, workshops demonstrations, and exhibits. I was just one of thousands of people coming to see the fair, many of whom have been coming for decades, and some who, like me, had just stepped on the fairgrounds for the first time.

My first day at the League Fair was phenomenal. The second I walked in I was a lost in a sea of beautiful things, and even though I spent most of my day trying to find my parents, who were equally lost, I enjoyed every second of the fair. As I wandered into the booths I was pleased to discover that all of the craftsmen were eager and happy to talk about their work. I met some of the most funny and interesting people and learned about a range of crafts from leather stitching to silk screening. To top it all off I turned a corner and discovered a long lost friend of mine manning one of the booths! There couldn’t have been a more perfect reunion, plus I went home with a lovely ring made out of an 1890’s spoon.

When I finally found my father he was still by the entrance, having walked directly into the blacksmithing tent and become captivated with the demonstration. Master blacksmith Garry Kalajian had been slowly replacing the safety rope around his exhibit with a chain he was fastening on site. All day long people wandered through his tent and pumped his bellows via a converted bicycle. What I didn’t personally witness I learned secondhand from my father, who had become so enamored with the traditional art of blacksmithing he was thinking about taking classes.

The League Fair has a wealth of traditional and contemporary arts on display. There were demonstrations on pottery, traditional woodworking without power tools, beading, and much more. I spent a while learning about painted canvas floor cloths, a traditionally colonial mat. The painted cloths shed water and protect your floors from grease, and can be easily made at home. My family and I were encouraged to try and design our own cloth for our home.

Because that’s what the fair does: it encourages the love of crafts. There wasn’t one booth I didn’t want to buy something from, and there wasn’t one workshop I didn’t want to take. I tried craft cheese and wool coats. My dad learned about steam engines, and my mom won tickets to ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway. All I can say is that I can’t wait for the Fair to come back next year!


The League of NH Craftsmen is a 2016/2017 recipient of a Public Value Partnership grant from the NH State Council on the Arts.

Mikael Pluhar is an intern at the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. He is currently a student at Vassar College where he studies Studio Art and Architecture.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Times they are a-changin'

Working with New Hampshire’s traditional arts community for the past four years has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received both personally and professionally. I have been filled with so much gratitude, inspiration, and reverence for the people and stories who share the highest level of craftsmanship in perpetuating our cultural heritage. I have learned an immeasurable amount as you’ve invited me into your homes for interviews, were patient as I tried to learn contra dancing, and trusted in our staff to listen as you shared what is important.

This summer I am transitioning to a new focus and will begin the equally valuable work as the Arts in Education Coordinator. The NH State Council on the Arts will be welcoming a new Traditional Arts Coordinator and I look forward to the experience and skill set that person will bring to this work. All of the programs and initiatives at the Arts Council are a collaborative endeavor among our entire staff, advisory council, and input from the community. I am eager to continue to support the traditional arts community through efforts in arts education.

See you real soon,


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Contemporary Native American Art Informed by Tradition

So what exactly is traditional art? What is contemporary? Can artwork be both?

Artists are skilled in cultural appropriation. They pick and choose pieces of their past, stories, cultural references, ideas of what is pleasing or unpleasing to look at, and messages they want to convey. Through their own process or a process handed down over time they mix these elements into communication, sound, movement, fibers, ink, charcoal, video, and expression.

Brenda Garand
Installation view of work by Native Artist
Brenda Garand at AVA gallery in Lebanon, NH
But how artists describe themselves can box them into where their work will get shown, what kinds of audiences will view it, or whether it is even good or not. Are you a traditional artist? Contemporary? Hobbyist? Craftsperson?

"It's one of the questions that continues to puzzle the art world as Native-American artists address the value of their indigenous history and seek to define their place as contemporary artists... For example non-Native audiences can struggle to understand work that incorporates tribal stories and symbols, which has led to a ghettoization of Native artwork to venues dedicated solely to indigenous art. On the other hand, the work may confuse or disappoint audiences who wrongly consider Native Americans as "people of the past," especially work that may look insufficiently traditional when familiar art forms such as pottery, rugs, or beading are used in dramatically different and potentially discomforting ways. This discomfort has led to perceptions that Native-American artwork is political or too steeped in identity," writes Victoria Hutter in her recent article, Outside the Box published in NEA Arts Magazine. 

If your indigenous ancestry is from this region, you might be Abenaki, Pennacook, or Mi'kmaq. Or at some point, as in most families, someone relocated and you now call New Hampshire home. You might be Dine, Cherokee, or any other of the hundreds of tribal groups across the nation. Because many Abenaki were forced to leave NH in the 17th and 18th centuries, it can be easy to assume that there are no Native Americans that live here. Add to that New Hampshire is one of the only states in the nation that has no federally recognized Native American tribes.

Untitled, steel and leather, by NH artist
Margaret Jacobs, photo courtesy of the artist.
Rest assured there are many Native Americans who make New Hampshire home, and many who are practicing traditional storytelling, beading, basketmaking, drumming and other artforms. There are also many, like Margaret Jacobs of Enfield, NH who pull on her Native ancestry to inform her contemporary metal sculptures, "I am exploring how traditional culture and knowledge can thrive in a contemporary world."

Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner has an extensive traditional native collection, but also has a gallery dedicated to revolving exhibits of contemporary work. AVA gallery in Lebanon, NH highlights artists' heritage in the labels marking the artwork, but does not separate or differentiate Native Artists contemporary work from other work in the gallery.

Chickasaw and Choctaw artist Heather Ahtone remarked in the NEA article, "If you are making contemporary art that retains the traditional coded visual language of your tribe, isn't that both still traditional and contemporary?"

Contemporary Gallery at Mt Kearsarge Indian Museum,
Warner, NH
Cannupa Hanska Luger’s Reliquary, 2016,
photo courtesy of the artist;

Friday, June 17, 2016

Oui, Franco Americans Let's celebrate! La Kermesse, Franco American Festival in New England

In the 1920s half of New Hampshire's population was foreign born with many residents having immigrated from Canada, Ireland, and Italy. Manchester was lovingly called la petite Canada and the French section on the west side, Mcgreggorville was nicknamed Notre Dame. 
In Manchester there was a French Opera,  French Orchestra and St. Mary's Church was adorned with the finest architectural craftsmanship in the city. 
There is still a strong presence of French-Canadian cultural heritage and arts in New England today. On June 16-18 in Biddeford, ME a New England wide festival, La Kermesse will celebrate Franco-American culture with food, craft, stories, and music. Linda Pouliot, a singer on the NH State Council on the Arts Traditional Artist roster will perform classic French standards. She will share stories of growing up in Berlin, NH, where she spent Sundays with her family sharing food and cultural traditions. 
Pouliot ensures us, "If you do not speak French, no worries, songs include the English version as well.  Beautiful song arrangements by Charlie Jennison, and melodies sure to please,"
She will be accompanied by seacoast artist Charlie Jennison on piano, Nate Therrien on bass and from Rob Duquette from Saco Maine.
The New Hampshire Humanities Council recently held a day-long symposium of speakers in Moltonborough, NH on Franco-American Life and culture in NH. The symposium accompanies an exhibit of photos and text at the Castle in the Clouds that will be available to travel around the state.

If you would like to learn more about your own heritage, the NH Historical Society will be sponsoring a genealogy workshop focused on French Canadian ancestry on June 25th. 

Below: video of Sandy La Fleur, Paul Lizotte, and others performing French Canadian fiddle tunes with a jig doll or gigeux at the NH Preservation Alliance Old House & Barn Expo.
A video posted by @juliannestarrynight on

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Americans for the Arts releases Statement on Cultural Equity

 At the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts we put a lot of thought, effort, and action into ensuring creative opportunities are accessible to all. In Folk & Traditional Arts that usually means making sure the traditional arts of rural communities, folk and craft, cultural traditions, and religious artistic practices are given the means to be celebrated and passed down to younger generations. All of these unique artistic practices affirm and connect us with our diverse cultural heritage.

Americans for the Arts released their statement on Cultural Equity earlier this year. At one page in length, it is an inspiring reminder for what we need to work toward every day.
Definition of Cultural EquityCultural equity embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.
Acknowledgements & Affirmations
  • In the United States, there are systems of power that grant privilege and access unequally such that inequity and injustice result, and that must be continuously addressed and changed.
  • Cultural equity is critical to the long-term viability of the arts sector. 
  • We must all hold ourselves accountable, because acknowledging and challenging our inequities and working in partnership is how we will make change happen.
  • Everyone deserves equal access to a full, vibrant creative life, which is essential to a healthy and democratic society. 
  • The prominent presence of artists challenges inequities and encourages alternatives.

    Modeling Through Action
    To provide informed, authentic leadership for cultural equity, we strive to…
  • Pursue cultural competency throughout our organization through substantive learning and formal, transparent policies.
  • Acknowledge and dismantle any inequities within our policies, systems, programs, and services, and report organization progress.
  • Commit time and resources to expand more diverse leadership within our board, staff, and advisory bodies.
Fueling Field Progress
To pursue needed systemic change related to equity, we strive to…
  • Encourage substantive learning to build cultural competency and to proliferate pro-equity policies and practices by all of our constituencies and audiences.
  • Improve the cultural leadership pipeline by creating and supporting programs and policies that foster leadership that reflects the full breadth of American society.
  • Generate and aggregate quantitative and qualitative research related to equity to make incremental, measurable progress towards cultural equity more visible.
  • Advocate for public and private-sector policy that promotes cultural equity.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Cultural Fairs & Festival this summer in New Hampshire

Wow, New Hampshire. We know how to celebrate! 

Burundi Drummers at Concord Multicultural Festival
 From fairs, to festivals, to food celebrations and tons of music, there is no shortage of things to do.  Below are some of the state's cultural festivals, many of which are free. Be sure to also check out area Old Home Days (the tradition originated in NH), Music & Food Festivals, and our famous Agricultural Fairs
Cultural Festivals

June 16- 19
Biddeford, ME
June 25
Concord, NH
June 29- July 4; July 7-10
Washington, DC
Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Basque & Peruvian
July 9-10
Warner, NH
July 10
Laconia, NH
July 16
Exeter, NH
July 29-31
Lowell, MA
August 6-14
Sunapee, NH
League of NH Craftsmen Sunapee Fair, traditional and contemporary craft
August 13
Manchester, NH
We Are One, African, Caribbean, Latino Festival
August 19-21

August 20
Manchester, NH

Winchester, NH
September 10
Laconia, NH
September 16-18
Lincoln, NH
New Hampshire Highland Games, Scottish Heritage
2016 TBA
Somersworth, NH
Jakkarta Fair, Indonesian festival
2016 TBA
Dover, NH
2016 TBA
Manchester, NH

The NH State Council on the Arts has put together a reflection and observation guide for festival organizers and volunteers. If you are interested in helping with a future festival in your community, consider visiting festivals with this guide to help you remember all the good ideas you want to use at your event. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Faith and Folk Traditions: Music from South Asia

On April 7, a packed chapel at the Concord Community Music School  listened in awe to the beautiful tones and music that came from 3 Bhutanese and Nepali Musicians who performed as part of the Bach's Lunch Lectures. Each artist shared the history of their instrument, their own musical background, and how appreciative they were to find such a receptive and welcoming community in New Hampshire. Shyam Nepali performed on the sarangi, a hollow-bodied stringed instrument similar to a violin, but carved from one singular piece of wood from a mango tree. Shyam's sarangi was carved by his brother and had their family symbol of a bird, or "a free spirit", on the back of the instrument.  Harimaya Adhikari shared that the harmonim was originally a German instrument but found its way into South Asain and Classical and Folk music in the 1600s. It is performed like a small hand-pumped reed organ. Harimaya is a current Master Artist in the NH State Council on the Arts Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program. She and her husband Sagar have been teaching up to 15 local Nepali youth the harmonium, tabla, and folk songs every Sunday. They currently have 10 kids on their wait list to join the music classes. Sagar Khatiwada's rhythms on the tabla echoed throughout the chapel in patterns sometimes unfamiliar to Western audiences.

The trio will perform again next week on April 14 from 12:10-12:50 pm at the Concord Community Music School. The event is free and open to the public.