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Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture

Just in time for the holiday that is at its center, I am happy to trumpet the publication of Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture by Gabrielle Berlinger. Framing Sukkot is the third title in the Material Vernaculars series and it is appearing in the world just as the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is about to begin for 2017/5778!

Here is how Indiana University Press introduces Professor Berlinger’s new book:

The sukkah, the symbolic ritual home built during the annual Jewish holiday of Sukkot, commemorates the temporary structures that sheltered the Israelites as they journeyed across the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Despite the simple Biblical prescription for its design, the remarkable variety of creative expression in the construction, decoration, and use of the sukkah, in both times of peace and national upheaval, reveals the cultural traditions, political convictions, philosophical ideals, and individual aspirations that the sukkah communicates for its builders and users today.

In this ethnography of contemporary Sukkot observance, Gabrielle Anna Berlinger examines the powerful role of ritual and vernacular architecture in the formation of self and society in three sharply contrasting Jewish communities: Bloomington, Indiana; South Tel Aviv, Israel; and Brooklyn, New York. Through vivid description and in-depth interviews, she demonstrates how constructing and decorating sukkah and performing the weeklong holiday’s rituals of hospitality provide unique circumstances for creative expression, social interaction, and political struggle. Through an exploration of the intersections between the rituals of Sukkot and contemporary issues, such as the global Occupy movement, Berlinger finds that the sukkah becomes a tangible expression of the need for housing and economic justice, as well as a symbol of the longing for home.

As I noted in discussing the edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds last fall, it is my hope that many readers will purchase a beautiful paper or hardback edition of Framing Sukkot, thereby helping support the work of a great university press. One of the things that makes IU Press great is its commitment to building strategies for free and open access to scholarly writings. The Material Vernaculars series, co-published with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, is part of that commitment. So, first let me note that you can buy copies of the book from a range of online booksellers, including Amazon and the IU Press itself. Secondly, let me show you where the free digital edition of the book lives. Hopefully by the time Sukkot ends, people around the world will be reading this great new book.

To access the free PDF version, click on the image below or go to this URL https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/21232

Once you are there, click on the “View/Open” link as shown in the image. Clicking should enable you to download a copy of the book.

Dr. Berlinger is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is also the Babette S. and Bernard J. Tanenbaum Fellow in Jewish History and Culture within the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. In addition to the new book, you can find a moving Sukkot-oriented post by Dr. Berlinger on the IU Press blog.

Check out Framing Sukkot!

Guest Post: An Encounter with Basket Traditions in Zanzibar City

I am very happy to here share a guest post by Kurt Dewhurst and Marsha MacDowell of the Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing, Michigan, USA.

Traditions of handmade, woven basketry is alive and well in communities around the world. After attending the launch of the Alliance for African Partnerships organized by Michigan State University with African partners in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in July 2017, we decided to journey to the island of Zanzibar where we stayed in Stone Town. Stone Town (the old portion of what is also known as Zanzibar City) was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. It takes its name from the coral stone buildings of the 19th century that were constructed on the site of an old fishing village.

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Figure 1: A Vendor selling baskets, vegetables, and other items next to Emerson Spice Guest House

Immediately after disembarking from the ferry from Dar es Salaam, we found ourselves in a truly mesmerizing environment. Stone Town, perhaps best known for its contested colonial past and a legacy of being a major site for the slave trade in East Africa, is replete with tall houses of Arabic and Victorian-era architecture, women garbed in beautiful kanga textiles, and maze-like thoroughfares so narrow that pedestrians, bicyclists, and moped riders all work hard to avoid collisions. The sounds of muezzin making calls to prayer five times daily from the over fifty mosques in Stone Town create a memorable soundscape. The sounds and visuals create a unique cultural space where the convergence of historical influences of Arab, Persian, Indian, and European cultures can be readily glimpsed.

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Figure 2: The Malcolm X shop selling baskets, fez, clothing, and food

We found ourselves exploring alleyways filled with small stalls and stores catering to the tourist trade that carries the Stone Town economy today. As folklorists with a passion for seeking out locally made material culture and with a deep interest in basket traditions, we found ourselves drawn to the presence of new and old baskets that were being used functionally for a variety of purposes as well as being sold along with other crafts, paintings, and clothing. In many displays of items for sale, baskets were often carefully arranged to aesthetically appeal to customers.

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Figure 3: The Moto Women’s Craft Cooperative

We were pleased to find traditional Zanzibar baskets being sold in several tourist-oriented shops, and were especially pleased to find one shop–Moto Cooperative–that represented many examples of baskets made by women in a craft cooperative. The stated goal of the Moto (Swahili for “heat”) Cooperative is to support the development of the rural economy. The project aims to recover and sustain high quality traditional weaving and to seek out new markets locally and internationally to support the weavers and weaving families. The cooperative stresses that they are “empowering women, reviving a cultural heritage, and building sustainability.” Currently Moto has nine villages and 19 cooperatives with over 200 women (and some men) engaged in this effort.

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Figure 4: Display of baskets, hats, and purses at Moto Women’s Craft Cooperative

The baskets made in this cooperative are produced in the centuries-old ukili weaving tradition. Relying on soft palm fibers from mkindu and mvumo palm trees, the weavers seek to revive the tradition in the face of the growing replacement of traditional baskets by plastic bags and mass produced forms. They do this not only through weaving in traditional techniques and patterns but also by planting palm trees for future materials for their baskets. They use mostly natural dyes and, in a quest for sustainable resources, incorporate solar cookers to prepare the dyes.

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Figure 5: “Pointy cone-style” baskets at the Moto Women’s Craft Cooperative

It was wonderful to see the prevalence of large, open-weave bamboo working baskets being used by vendors in the fruit, spice, vegetable, and fish markets. In fact, we saw these rough-hewn, large, durable baskets in many sizes and shapes being used by individuals to carry almost any item – by hand, bike, or truck. We had seen similar kinds of working baskets in China, but made there primarily of bamboo. These baskets seem to have been made by flexible wooden fibers from local trees and they were woven and then tied off with strands of wood fiber. We learned that there was a place on the edge of Stone Town where most of these baskets were made and sold for local vendors or workers. We look forward to investigating that on a future trip We came away inspired to learn more and share our experience in the hopes that we might connect with others who know much more about the basket making traditions of Zanzibar.

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Figure 6: A work basket at rest in Stone Town

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Figure 7: A bicycle basket in Stone Town

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Figure 8: A basket of pineapples in Stone Town

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Figure 9: A motorbike basket in Stone Town

 

 

 

A Southwest Central Indiana Collaboration: The Art with a Purpose Exhibition at the Brown County Art Gallery

This afternoon the Brown County Art Gallery in Nashville, opened the exhibition Art with a Purpose: Brown County Baskets. The exhibition is a homecoming, of sorts, because it is being staged in the community in which the baskets and basket makers who are the exhibition’s focus lived and worked. Oak rod baskets, while once made in other pockets in the Eastern United States, were unique within Indiana in a small region centered on Brown County. The exhibition is also a homecoming in another way. While the exhibition’s curator–Dr. Jon Kay–produces exhibitions that appear all around Indiana, and at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures‘ galleries in Bloomington, it is much less common for him to be able to present an exhibition in his own home town of Nashville. Thanks go to Lyn Letsinger-Miller, President of the Brown County Art Gallery, and to the Gallery’s other leaders, for hosting the exhibition and a very special kick-off event today.

The exhibition is also an exciting re-mix, as it is a new, edited, and updated version of Working Wood: Oak-Rod Baskets in Indiana, the 2015 exhibition that Jon curated for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures as part of the 2015 Themester @Work: The Nature of Labor on a Changing Planet (a program of the IU College of Arts and Sciences). As you can see from the photographs, the exhibition was adapted for the art gallery and includes two beautiful paintings related to the county’s unique basketry heritage executed in the Brown County Art Colony’s signature style. They are The Basket Weaver and The Basket Weaver’s Daughter, both by E. K. Williams.

In Jon’s talk this afternoon, he explained the history and practice of oak rod basketry and tracked the ways that these baskets went from being valuable tools for everyday living to being symbols of an old-fashioned way of life consumed by urban tourists visiting the county to disappearing when easier-to-make white oak splint baskets were imported to the county from basket making areas of Kentucky and Tennessee. These rustic splint baskets were good enough for tourists who did not know the local history of rod basketry and who were not collecting the works of named artisans.  The story of particular basket making families linked across time, in Jon’s account, to the broader history of tourism and the politics of culture in Brown County. These themes, in turn, reflected larger modern and anti-modern sensibilities in the U.S. as a whole during the twentieth century.

There was a big crowd out for the opening events. The attendance by descendants of the two key basket marking families–Hovis and Bohall–made today’s events extra special. Thanks go to the Brown County Art Gallery for its wonderful efforts bringing this exhibition to a new audience. Congratulations to Jon and to all of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures staff and students who worked on the project.

Some background…

Traditional Arts Indiana, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures program that Jon Kay directs, is a partnership between Indiana University and the Indiana Arts Commission. Its task is to document, interpret, and support the folk and traditional arts across all of Indiana. It does that in a myriad of ways, including through the production of exhibitions that circulate across the state and engage its people in deeper appreciation for Indiana’s diverse heritage.

While TAI has a statewide focus, as does Indiana University, Indiana University Bloomington is making a special effort to support, and positively impact, the eleven counties of the Southwest Central Indiana region in which our campus is located (Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington). Projects being pursued in this region are, like the Art with a Purpose: Brown County Baskets exhibition, intended to be partnerships between parts of the university (such as Traditional Arts Indiana/Mathers Museum of World Cutures) and local community organizations, such as the Brown County Art Gallery. In pursuing collaborations such as this one, we are happy to be advancing our campus’ goals while, we hope, also enhancing the quality of life and cultural richness in the region in which we live and work.

Jon Kay is Director of Traditional Arts Indiana and Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. At Indiana University, he is also a Professor of Practice in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. His most recent book is Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and their Makers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016). That book is a title in the Material Vernaculars series that the museum co-publishes with Indiana University Press. Jon’s studies of Brown County are reflected, for instance, in his article “A Picture of an Old Country Store“, published in Museum Anthropology Review.

Learn more about oak rod baskets in Annie Corrigan‘s 2015 radio story with Jon for WFIU (“Southern Indiana’s Lost Craft“).

MMWC Practicum Student Successes: Summer 2017

At the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, we are excited about the work that the museum’s first cohort of Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation interns are doing. You can read about their experiences in this June 2017 news story that Nicole Roales authored:  IU students learn many skills during Mathers Museum internship.

The internship program is new, but as each semester ends, we also experience a pleasure that is longstanding. For decades, the museum has been the home base for practicum students engaging in hands-on learning experiences in museums. Like Director emeritus Geoff Conrad before me, I coordinate practicum courses that provide the framework for student work not only at the MMWC but in other institutions as well. As each semester ends, I get to hear the stories of the work done by these practicum students. For those who have worked at the MMWC I will have seen them at work with their mentors throughout the semester, but for those who go off campus to museums in Chicago, Indianapolis, etc., I get to hear the end of year stories, not only from the students but from their mentors at other museums, large and small. This is an inspiring part of what I get to do.

You can learn more about the practicum courses that I oversee and our museum’s practicum program overall in the practicum guide that we make available on the museum’s webpage. Go here and look for “practicum” to get it. I coordinate graduate and undergraduate museum practicum courses for the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and the Department of Anthropology. Other practicum courses can be found in History, Information and Library Science, and other units.

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Strengthening our Practicum program as well as launching our Internship program are goals articulated in the Museum’s strategic plan. These goals also relate to ambitions articulated in the campus’ strategic plan.

On the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names; AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus

While some have a deep history (library classifications, for instance), controlled vocabularies of diverse sorts are relatively new and some play an increasingly important role in a range of domains relevant to my work. One vocabulary that I am especially appreciative of in the context of present work is the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN). In the preceding phase (2013-2016) of the joint project linking the China Folklore Society and American Folklore Society, the American participants in the museum-based sub-project visited a large number of rural communities in Southwest China. (We also hosted our Chinese colleagues in community visits in the United States.)

If one is visiting (being taken to) a lot of places quickly and one does not speak or read the local or national languages, it is easy to become unsure where you are and what communities you are visiting (or have visited). Sorting through this afterwards can be an added challenge if, after the fact, one realizes (as in rural China), there can be as many as ten or twenty villages or towns with the same name in the same province (hence the custom in Chinese contexts of referring to towns and their counties and/or in relationship to the administrative center of which it is a part). The Getty TGN helps by providing a unique identifier (a number) for places all around the world. Here is an example.

Shuanglang, a large village (now a town, really) on Erhai Lake, near Dali in Yunnan province is one of (at least) three Chinese places called Shuanglang appearing in the TGN. The other two are in Guangxi. It is 8471685. In addition to its ID number, the TGN provides latitude and longitude coordinates for it, the name in Chinese characters, its status in a place hierarchy from, the sources used and other useful information. The coordinates can be plugged into Google Maps and used in other ways.

The ID number can be used to tag or code images, such as the following photograph (Figure 1) taken when our group visited Shuanglang in December 2013 on a trip led by our hosts at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum.

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(Figure 1: 8471685 [i.e. Shuanglang] has become popular with urban Chinese tourists. Local restaurants compete for their business by showing off their freshest produce on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant proper. Potential patrons can ask proprietors about ingredients and the dishes that might be fashioned from them. )

In Shuanglang, I purchased some Chinese baskets for the first time for the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The Getty TGN ID can be added to the catalogue records for these baskets as a way of conveying the location from which they were obtained with precision (Figure 2).

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(Figure 2: These baskets were collected in 8471685 [i.e. Shuanglang]. The baskets on the left are now in the collection of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The pack basket and bassinet on the right were collected by a fellow project participant.)

Improving the accuracy of important records and enhancing their discoverability—in this case, tagging photographs and strengthening museum catalogue records are two of the kinds of uses that vocabularies such as the TGN are designed to facilitate. I appreciate the work that the Getty Institute invests in building, maintaining, and improving the TGN on behalf of the cultural heritage community.

Speaking of controlled vocabularies, close readers of Museum Anthropology Review may have noticed that several years ago we began working with authors of full articles to associate relevant terms from the American Folklore Society Ethnographic Thesaurus (AFS ET). As noted on its website, “the AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus is a vocabulary that can be used to improve access to information about folklore, ethnomusicology, ethnology, and related fields. The American Folklore Society developed the AFS ET in cooperation with the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress and supported by a generous grant from the Scholarly Communications Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.” The AFS ET is accessible from the Linked Data Service at the Library of Congress: http://id.loc.gov/vocabulary/ethnographicTerms.html

Having linked my two example photographs to their TGN ID, I should go ahead an close with some AFS ET terms.

Figure 1 can have: restaurants; marketing; vegetables
Figure 2 can have: basketscollection acquisitions (collection development); bamboo textiles

Congratulations to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on the Publication of Navajo Textiles Volume

Congratulations our colleagues at in the Department of Anthropology at the the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on the publication of the new volume Navajo Textiles: The Crane Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (Denver: Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2017). It is a beautiful volume contextualizing a beautiful collection of Navajo textiles. Kudos especially to the contributing authors, photographers, and everyone else who brought the project to life.

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Some Baskets at Work in Zanzibar

Marsha MacDowell and Kurt Dewhurst kindly shared these photographs of work baskets in Zanzibar. The images were taken while they were visiting Tanzania as part of a large Michigan State University project. The photographs were taken in July 2017 in the historic Stone Town area and were manufactured just outside the historic district. Kurt took the photographs. See below.

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A Mon Carrying Basket from Myanmar

Between November 1963 and August 1964, William C. Sturtevant and Theda Maw Sturtevant pursued ethnographic field research in Burma (now Myanmar) with support from the (U.S.) National Science Foundation. The Smithsonian Institution provided funds with which an ethnographic field collection could be assembled. This collection, comprising about 400 objects, was accessed in 1967 into the collections of what is now the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History.

Sturtevant summarized the scope of the collection in this way: “The majority of the items derive from the Burmese proper; small collections included derive from the following minority groups of Burma: Intha, Mon, Shan, Karen, Kayah, Pa-O, Bre, Padaung, Kachin, Thado Chin, Zomi Chin, Lahu Shi, Lahu Na, Lisu, Akha.” (NMNH Accession 273786)

Pictured below is one of fourteen objects attributed to the Mon people in Burma. It is a “carrying basket” (catalog number E408784).

I have written several essays [1, 2] on the career of William C. Sturtevant. In this context, it makes more sense to highlight here the life of Theda Maw Sturtevant, Bill Sturtevant’s then-wife and research collaborator. Legacy.com provides access to a Washington Post obituary that notes that Theda Maw Sturtevant (1931-2016) was:

Born in Rangoon, Burma, the daughter of Dr. Ba Maw, former Prime Minister of Burma, and Daw Kinmama Maw.” After noting her children, the obituary continues: “She loved her family, her parents, and her country. As a teenager she came to the United States to attend graduate school at Yale University where she received an MA in History. She later was the editor of her father”s book “Breakthrough in Burma: Memoirs of a Revolution 1939-1946”, published by Yale University Press. Beloved by all for her strong will and impish sense of humor, she lived her rich life with integrity and duty.

Here is the basket that I looked at last week.

NMNH E408784 Back A

Other posts in this series on Asian (pack and related) baskets in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History can be found here, here, and here.

A Dyak Carrying Basket

The Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution holds a large ethnographic collection from Maritime Southeast Asia. This Dyak basket was collected not long before 1906 by W. L. Abbott on the Landak River (a tributary of the Kapuas River) in present-day South Kalimantan, Indonesia on the island of Borneo. It is catalog number E244256.

Note the wood panel rim and the basketry-woven body. Abbott claimed that women produce the basketry sections with men doing the final woodwork.

A huge number of associated Dyak baskets collected by Abbott were exhibited by the Smithsonian at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, California in 1915, but this example appears to have been left behind (based on the published checklist for the exhibition published in The Exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915 (San Francisco, CA: Smithsonian Institution, 1915). (See page 95. This volume is available in the Internet Archive here.) The curator-author of the Panama-Pacific catalogue wrote of the exhibition’s “Arts of the Dyaks of Borneo” installation:

The basketry of the Dyaks is unrivalled for strength, fineness, variety and skill in construction. Rattan and bamboo, tough and resistant, are materials capable of being readily and evenly divided and splints of any length can be easily made. Many of the specimens combine joinery work with basket weaving and the knots, loops, windings, and other fastening off show marvelous ingenuity. (Smithsonian 1915, 93).

This description (my guess is that Otis T. Mason is its author) certainly is illustrated by the basket pictured here.

NMNH E244256 Side A

For earlier posts in this series on Asian packbaskets at the Smithsonian, see here (Japan) and here (Philippines).

A Japanese Packbasket

Here I present another of the Asian packbaskets that I examined in the ethnology collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. (See here for a previous post.) This example is catalogue number E402450. It was collected in the early 1960s in Koishiwara, Fukuoka Prefecture as part of a larger post-war systematic collecting effort that aimed to improve coverage of Japanese culture in the National Museum of Natural History’s collections overall.

As a tool of work, this example is exceptional. It is very sturdy and well-executed, with a range of impressive features, such as the strong-but-comfortable twined straps, the careful inner attachment bar for the straps, reinforcements in the inner bottom, finely executed rope, and a sturdy rim.

For an exceptional study of basketry from a different part of Japan—one that devotes significant attention to packbaskets, that is based on a different collection at the NMNH, and that is now accessible in a open access edition from the Internet Archive, see A Basketmaker in Rural Japan by Louise Allison Cort and Nakamura Kenji (Washington: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1994). This volume focuses on the life and entire basketry repertoire of Hiroshima Kazuo. It is an impressive exhibition catalogue evoking a rich cultural practice and a talented individual. I wish that we knew more about the maker of this basket from Koishiwara.

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An overall look at 402450.
NMNH E402450 Front A
The front of the basket.
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Top strap attachment inside the basket.
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Inside and bottom of the basket.
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The rope tied off at the front top of the basket.

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