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Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

Who Cares About Craft as Traditional Knowledge?

This fall has been a particularly busy season for research-based programs at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. An an outgrowth of our Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation exhibition and our participation in classes and programs for Themester, we will have hosted, by semester’s end, a very large number craftspeople or groups of craftspeople representative of a broad swath of vernacular making in Indiana. Because of our Themester mandate to focus on questions of Beauty in our engagements with these artist-craftspeople, our discussions with them have always had an aesthetic component. We have asked, for instance, questions like: “What characteristics do you associate with a beautiful weaving [or chair, or drum, or pottery bowl, or…]?” or “When producing for the marketplace, how do you balance functional use and aesthetic impact?” Art and aesthetics are a crucial part of the human experience and of what makes cultures distinctive and meaningful.

But the objects that we curate and interpret, and the makers of things with whom we engage, are not only about art. Even while many have both aesthetic and functional purposes, many others of our museum’s objects are not reasonably framed as art and some of our interlocutors are talented, knowledgeable makers and users of things, without being artists. Our work is bigger than art, as important as art is. Aesthetic values are part of larger cultural systems and those larger wholes are our focus. Whether in China or in Indiana, our work is about local knowledge, including traditional cultural knowledge. A big part of our engagements with makers focuses on the knowledge that goes into making–craft expertise along with local environmental and contextual knowledge concerned with uses, meanings, significances.

A detailed story in last Saturday’s Independent by Amalia Illgner is a good evocation of the kinds of concern we (particularly Traditional Arts Indiana, led ably by my colleague Jon Kay) try to bring to our work with craft objects, craft knowledge, and craftspeople. (I appreciate Matthew Bradley for sharing it with me.) Read the story (“Raiders of the Lost Crafts”) here. (I note here that, despite the declensionist hook and playful title, the author is not so obsessed with authenticity discourses that she disregards fruitful rediscovery of older craft knowledge through the study of museum collections and documentary materials. The story is a rare and rather sophisticated treatment of its subject.)

raiders-of-the-lost-crafts

Who cares about craft as traditional knowledge? My colleagues and I do. We also like art and we also love seeing where contemporary craftspeople, including studio craft, DIY craft, and many others, are taking their passions–but documenting what people know and have long known is important and helping foster environments where those who have traditional cultural knowledge are supported and encouraged is key part of our mission. If you care about such things, you still have lots of chances to engage your interests at the museum this year. This week we will host a wonderful group of African American quilters and a talented maker of African drums. In following weeks, we offer chances to connect with Indiana limestone carvers, a hoop-net maker, a rosemaler, a pysanky artist, a Native American potter, a Zapotec weaver, and an Orthodox iconographer. Learning from such craftspeople is something we intend to keep doing as along as we can.

Call for Applications: Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology

SIMAHere is a call for applications for next year’s Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, which will be held again at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC. I post it here on behalf of SIMA Director Candance Greene. This is a wonderful program that has made a big difference for the training of graduate students for collections research. Note that the program now includes Faculty Fellows as well as graduate student participants.

Dear Colleagues,

We are now recruiting prospective graduate student participants, as well as Faculty Fellows, for the 2016 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA). We hope you will forward this announcement to interested students and colleagues and re-post to relevant lists. SIMA is a graduate student summer training program in museum research methods offered through the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History with major funding from the Cultural Anthropology Program of the National Science Foundation. Summer 2016 dates are June 27-July 22. Student applications are not due until March 1, 2016, but now is the time for students to investigate the program and begin to formulate a research project to propose. Decisions on Faculty Fellows will be made in December.

During four weeks of intensive training in seminars and hands-on workshops in the research collections, students are introduced to the scope of collections and their potential as data. Students become acquainted with strategies for navigating museum systems, learn to select methods to examine and analyze museum specimens, and consider a range of theoretical issues that collections-based research may address. In consultation with faculty, each student carries out preliminary data collection on a topic of their own choice and develops a prospectus for research to be implemented upon return to their home university. Instruction will be provided by Dr. Joshua A. Bell, Dr. Candace Greene and other Smithsonian scholars, plus a series of visiting faculty.

Who should apply?: Graduate students preparing for research careers in cultural anthropology who are interested in using museum collections as a data source. The program is not designed to serve students seeking careers in museum management. Students at both the masters and doctoral level will be considered for acceptance. Students in related interdisciplinary programs (Indigenous Studies, Folklore, etc.) are welcome to apply if the proposed project is anthropological in nature. All U.S. students are eligible for acceptance, even if studying abroad. International students can be considered only if they are enrolled in a university in the U.S. Members of Canadian First Nations are eligible under treaty agreements.

Costs: The program covers students’ tuition and shared housing in local furnished apartments. A stipend will be provided to assist with the cost of food and other local expenses. Participants are individually responsible for the cost of travel to and from Washington, DC.

SIMA dates for 2016: June 27 – July 22
Application deadline – March 1, 2016

NEW opportunity for faculty: We are now also offering fellowships for faculty to develop courses in museum anthropology. Interested faculty members should see the information included on the SIMA website.

I will be at the AAA meetings in Denver from November 18-22 and would be glad to discuss and answer any questions about the program. Email me at greenec@si.edu if you would like to schedule time to meet.

Want to discuss a project proposal? We’d love to hear from you. Email SIMA@si.edu
For more information and to apply, please visit http://anthropology.si.edu/summerinstitute/

Regards,

Candace Greene

Vernacular Culture in Hands and Minds (The New Basketry Video)

The best places to preserve worthwhile vernacular cultural knowledge is in the hands and minds of talented and engaged people who carry it forward, making it their own and handing it on to still more people. Viki Graber of Goshen, Indiana comes from a long line of willow basketmakers. She has not only preserved the traditions of her family, she has built upon them in ways that curator Jon Kay has explored in the MMWC exhibition Willow Work: Viki Graber, Basketmaker. With Viki, Jon made a short documentary film showing steps that Viki uses in the production of a bail-handled work basket. Check it out on YouTube.

This basket is of the basic workbasket type that Viki learned from her father. If you visit the exhibition, you will see the great diversity of complex forms that Viki now creates.

Hopefully the film will inspire you to see the exhibition (through December 20, 2015) at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, to learn more about Viki’s basketwork, and to carry on or document the cultural practices of your family, community, or heritage. If you share a passion for vernacular culture—follow the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and Traditional Arts Indiana on social media or sign up for the museum’s email list.

Contemporary International Basketmaking by Mary Butcher

I mentioned in my previous post purchasing a number of basketry books in route to catching up on neglected topic of longstanding interest. Among those in my recent haul is Contemporary International Basketmaking by Mary Butcher, with contributions by Laurel Reuter and many artists contributing to the 1999-2000 UK exhibition for which this book was the catalog (London: Mary Holberton Publishers with the Crafts Council, 1999). I have not read it cover-to-cover yet, but I can note here that it is a fine publication–well produced and image/object rich. Along with a long essay on the past and present of international basketmaking and a collection of overviews of basketry techniques, the Artists’ Voices section is particularly compelling. It is useful as a research document because it presents individual artists’ answers to a range of fixed and compelling questions. While asked here of basketmakers active on the contemporary craft/studio craft/critical craft ends of the basketmaking spectrum, these questions (or a parallel set) could similarly be asked of basketmakers working less individualistically within particular vernacular/local/historical basketry “traditions.”

In the latest issue of Museum Anthropology Review, I published a review of Basketry: Making Human Nature. Readers of that review will notice that I gave special attention and praise to the long essay therein on East Anglia basketry written by Mary Butcher. It was wonderful and now I find that she is also the scholar-maker-curator behind the older catalogue being discussed here. It has been a pleasure to learn from, and engage her fine work as a basket scholar.

Mary Butcher’s website is here: http://www.marybutcher.net/
Her blog is here: http://marybutcher.wordpress.com/

Notes on an Eastern Cherokee Gathering Basket

For me, new light was just cast on a basket in the William C. Sturtevant Collection in the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. In the mail, I just received a slew of basketry books. This is a topic on which I need to get caught up for a number of interconnected purposes, including for the analysis and publication of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures basketry collections (especially the Eastern Cherokee baskets, which will be the focus of an exhibition that I will co-curate).

Among the used books that I just received is Baskets and Basket Makers in Southern Appalachia by John Rice Irwin (Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1982). In a chapter devoted to “The Indian Influence on Southern Appalachian Mountain Baskets” the author describes a relatively unfamiliar (to me, at this stage, at least) basket form on the basis of an example believed (to the author, at least) to be Cherokee and collected in Buncombe County, NC (p. 157). The basket discussed by Irwin is similarly shaped and similarly sized to a basket that I studied a few summers ago in the Sturtevant collection at NMNH. The splint basket that Sturtevant collected among the Eastern Cherokee is pictured here:

Eastern Cherokee Basket

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

Eastern Cherokee Gathering Basket

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

IMG_4760

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

It shares the same, flat on one side, curved on the other, shape as the basket pictured by Irwin. In a photo on p. 157, Irwin photographed a older boy holding the basket under his right arm, thereby illustrating how the shape of both baskets facilitates the collecting of berries, nuts, etc. with both hands. Prior to getting direct information from a Cherokee consultant who has made or used such a basket, this (that is, Irwin’s) is a much better account of this shape and its use that I had been speculating about.

 

A Chitimacha Basket

Here is an image of a double woven river cane basket with lid from the Chitimacha people of Louisiana. It was purchased at auction in 1972 by William C. Sturtevant and is now in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution (T070).

Baskets from Choctaw Fair, 1961

William C. Sturtevant’s collection includes a group of baskets purchased in 1961 at the Choctaw Indian Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi. This example (above) is part of this group. It is number 580 and I have not yet learned who the artist who made it is. This basket is made from rivercane, a plant related to bamboo that is indigenous to the Southeast of North America.

To gain a sense of native basket making in the South as a dynamic cultural activity, check out these photographs from the 1st Gathering of Southeastern Indian Basketweavers in 2002. This was an event organized by the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program and the Williamson Museum.

Here is another basket from this group. A rivercane tray, it is number 576. Both are in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

People Love Tiny Baskets

When wearing my curator hat, I have seen how ubiquitous love of tiny baskets seems to be, at least among fans of hand made objects. While I am sure that some engineer is doing nano-scale weaving already, tiny-scale seems good enough for fans of Native American basketry. The best known heroes in this area are the basket weavers of California, particularly the Pomo with their amazing feather covered baskets, but the art of the tiny basket has also been pursued in the native South. This impulse is reflected in this Choctaw basket by “Sweeny Willis” that was collected by John Mann Goggin among the Choctaw residing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Ms. Willis’s name is spelled “Sweenie” elsewhere, such as in the records associated with pottery that she made that is in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.

This single weave river cane basket is currently referred to as #494 in the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

For a bit of theorizing, look below the fold.

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Looplore: DIY/Crafts Summer Camp for Grownups

Folklorist Kelley Totten (MA, U Oregon) will soon join the Ph.D. program in folklore at Indiana University. (Welcome Kelley!)  Before arriving here, she and some colleagues are organizing the second Looplore event on July 22-24, 2011 at the Indian Henry Campground near Estacada, Oregon.  The first such gathering was held last year and it looks like it was a great success.  This DIY/crafts/music/food  summer camp for grownups looks to be even better this year.  To secure the longer term future of the gathering, the organizers have a Kickstarter campaign underway.  Even if you are unable to make a small donation to support them, seeing the excellent Kickstarter video that they made is a great way to learn both about the event and about what a wonderful resource Kickstarter is.  Check it out at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/looplore/the-looplore-experiment .  Learn everything you might wish to know about the Looplore event at their website:  http://thelooploreexperiment.wordpress.com/

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