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Posts from the ‘Heritage Policy’ Category

#AFSAM19: Material Culture and Heritage Studies in Northern Guangxi, China

Notes on Basketry among the Dong People of Sanjiang County E

A title slide showing key project sites in the Dong areas of Guangxi and Guizhou.

Shreds and Patches has been quieter than usual as I work my way through a really complicated semester. In the midst of the jumble of unforeseen circumstances, there are some good things actually happening according to plan. One of these was the most recent in a series of panels at the American Folklore Society Annual Meetings reporting on the work of the museum partners in the China-U.S. Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project. Earlier this month, at the start of the 2019 meeting in Baltimore, members of our group, presented a panel on “Material Culture and Heritage Studies in Northern Guangxi, China: Ethnographic Reports from the China-U.S. Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project.” This is the panel abstract:

In a three-year phase of the China-U.S. Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, researchers from six museums have collaborated in a bi-national program of ethnographic research in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. In this panel, project participants will report on the research, sometimes emphasizing textile practices such as embroidery and basketry, sometimes focusing on heritage issues, sometimes discussing the lessons of the collaboration. The presenters will share their findings in accessible ways but China specialists may wish to know that research has taken place among the Dong people of Sanjiang County and the Baiku Yao people living in Nandan County.

Carrie HERTZ (Museum of International Folk Art) presented on “The Fabric of Life: Baiku Yao Textiles in Huaili Village.”

Hertz - The Fabric of Life

A title slide related to the textile arts of the Baiku Yao people of Nandan County, Guangxi.

FAN Miaomiao (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi) presented in absentia on “Field Research on Dong Textiles in the Tongle Area of Sanjiang County.”

Micah J. LING (Indiana University) shared her paper “Mijiu and Mai Wup: Trilingual Fieldwork and an Indigo Dying Method.”

LIANG Ziaoyan (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), also presenting in absentia, shared her paper “Imagination and Enlargement: Daily Performance and Life History in Ethnographic Video.” Her paper focused on her experiences in our work in Sanjiang County.

C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum) presented a paper that he and I, with help from ZHANG Lijun (George Mason University), worked on together titled: “Notes on Basketry among the Dong People of Sanjiang County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.”

I (Jason Baird Jackson, Indiana University) presented a paper for which Lijun was co-author. It was about “Building a Museum Collection of Work Baskets in Northern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.” The paper focused on the collection of baskets assembled for the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

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A slide evoking in basketry collected for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

The session concluded with a presentation of a film by Jon Kay (Indiana University) titled “A Rice Basket: Basketmaking in a Baiku Yao Community” It is now viewable online on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/QrD_-lrB9UY

This session, and one that preceded it in 2018, will be a springboard for more sustained writing by many project participants. We have learned much during our collaborative work in Guangxi. I thank many the local people in Nandan and Sanjiang Counties who have taught us and our hosts and partners at the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum, and the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi. Special thanks also go to The Henry Luce Foundation, the China Folklore Society, and the American Folklore Society for their support of the broader projects of which ours museum and material culture efforts are just a part.

 

 

 

A Cooperative Craft Survey in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Part 1

A note on photographs. Here just a few photographs from the first day of our May 2019 travel in Yunnan are presented. It will take time to work through all of the images that were made during the travels described in this post. When a fuller report is ready, the team will share additional images.

In May, after the conclusion of the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage (where our focus was Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies), I was part of a group of American museum folklorists who traveled to the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Yunnan Province. A spin-off project from the China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, our group was very generously hosted by the Institute of National Culture Research at Dali University in the city of Dali (Figures 1-2). Together with members of the Institute’s faculty, we traveled throughout the prefecture meeting Bai craftspeople working in a range of material forms. From them, we learned about their craft disciplines and about their experiences participating in formal intangible cultural heritage initiatives. This opportunity to learn from talented makers in Yunnan offered a wonderful comparative experience, pointing to commonalities and differences with northern Guangxi, where our group has been pursuing collaborative studies with partners from the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum and the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum.

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Figure 1. Dr. CUN Yunji, leader of the Institute of National Culture Research at Dali University, hosts a discussion on heritage research. Participating were faculty, researchers, and students from the Institute and visitors from the three participating institutions in the United States (Michigan State University Museum, Museum of International Folk Art, and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University. May 23, 2019. Photograph courtesy of the Institute of National Culture Research.

A full account of the Dali-area craft survey is in preparation and I am hopeful that we can share it later. Here my aim is to thank our very generous hosts and interlocutors.

Dali University Institute of National Culture Research Group Photograph (Size Reduced)

Figure 2. Members of the Institute of National Culture Research, Dali University together with the visiting team from the United States. May 23, 2019. Photograph courtesy of the Institute of National Culture Research.

During our time in the Bai region, our bi-national team visited with a silversmith, a wood carver, a ceramicist, an embroiderer who also makes elaborate fabric figures and miniature dioramas on ethnographic topics, two tie-dye artists, and two basket makers. In each case, these craftspeople maintained active studios and most guided the work of many students, apprentices, and junior colleagues. Nearly all were recognized as masters on some formal level (national, prefectural, county, etc.) within China’s system of intangible cultural heritage recognition, promotion, and safeguarding. We also attended a key calendrical festival of regional importance and visited the Three Pagodas of the Chongsheng Temple near (old) Dali (Figures 3-5). While old Dali was our home base, we traveled to many towns and villages and spent one night in old Shaxi. We enjoyed traveling with our colleagues from Dali University and holding discussions with them on areas of shared research interest while visiting the university’s beautiful campus. Many layers of cultural history are evident when traveling in the Dali area. Long favorited by international and Chinese tourists, Dali and the whole region has an elaborate tourism economy and infrastructure, reflective of dramatic and constant change within the period of China’s “opening up” (see for instance, the research of Beth Notar). As throughout the country, one can also see Dali-specific evidence of older historical eras, from the time of the cultural revolution to the republican and imperial eras. In this region, particular emphasis is given (at present) to long-distance trade on the Tea Horse Road. Intercultural connectedness is a theme in tourism and historical consciousness that draws on the story of trade routes, the region’s religious complexity, and its distinctive place in the region’s long history.

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Figure 3. Erhai Lake and the Dali Basin as seen from the Dali University campus near Dali (Old Town). May 23, 2019. Photograph by C. Kurt Dewhurst.

I record here our deep appreciation for our generous and knowledgeable colleagues at Dali University and in Yunnan more broadly. Many friends in the Chinese folklore studies community assisted us making this journey. We look forward to sharing the fuller story of this trip and to thanking our partners by name in a more formal report. Special thanks go, of course, to the craftspeople who opened their studios, workshops, and homes to our team of Chinese and American scholars.

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Figure 4. A view of The Three Pagodas and the Cang Mountains. May 23, 2019. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

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Figure 5. A small glimpse of the very large Chongshen Temple and Monastery complex near (old) Dali.  May 23, 2019. Photograph by Carrie Hertz.

2019 Summer Folklore Institute: Building Capacity for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage

I have just returned from a second summer trip to China. This time I was part of an American delegation to one of the summer institutes jointly organized by the China Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society. Previous joint institutes were held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA at the School of Advanced Research (2018), in Hailar, Inner Mongolia, China at Hulunbiur University (2017), and in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China at Inner Mongolia Normal University (2016).  This year’s institute was hosted by The Institute of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. As in past years, the lead funder was the Henry Luce Foundation, which generously supports a broader program of work being pursued jointly by the AFS and CFS working together. As always, other funders and local organizations provided additional support for this institute.

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Figure 1. Participants in the 2019 Summer Folklore Institute: on “Building Capacity for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage” July 13, 2019. Photograph courtesy of The Institute of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage.

It was a great pleasure to participate in the institute, a gathering that offered a chance to connect with new American and Chinese colleagues while also reconnecting with colleagues whom I have ongoing ties (Figure 1). The institute not only strengthened ties with Chinese and American colleagues, it further helped me understand intangible cultural heritage work being pursued in China (and in the U.S.).

Staged for two days at the mid-point of the institute was a larger international conference on the same theme. This International Seminar on Building Capacity for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage included all of the American and Chinese institute participants, but added a significant additional group of Chinese participants as well as one colleague from Bangladesh and one from Japan (Figure 2). A few of the seminar participants were old friends, but most were new colleagues from whom I was thrilled to learn.

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Figure 2. Participants in the International Seminar on Building Capacity for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage. July 15, 2019. Photograph courtesy of The Institute of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage.

If you would like to learn more about the institute, there are (so far) two reports published on it (besides this one). The China Folklore Society published a report just after the institute got under way. If you do not read Chinese, you can open the link in Google Chrome and use Google Translate for a rough translation. This report is here: https://www.chinesefolklore.org.cn/web/index.php?NewsID=19023

The Institute of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage published a report at the conclusion of the institute. It can be found here. Again, Google Translate can provide a rough translation. https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/gk0KwKcHxq70ZHNXywo2Bw

The Institute of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage also published a report at the conclusion of the international seminar. It can be found here: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/eY-X2ATW7aUudqwTewXDSA

Thanks to all of the participants in these gatherings. Special thanks go to all of the organizers and faculty, to the leadership of the CFS and AFS, and to our generous hosts at Sun Yat-sen University, including Professor SONG Junhua, Director of The Institute of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies

The following is a report on The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies (第七届中美民俗学与非物质文化遗产论坛: 博物馆民俗与遗产研究的协作工作). The version of record appears on the website of the American Folklore Society. This version adds more images. You can find a copy of the conference program here. –Jason Baird Jackson (杰森. 拜尔德. 杰克逊)

During three beautiful spring days in Beijing, a group of Chinese and American scholars and cultural workers gathered to discuss practices of collaboration in folklore studies and intangible cultural heritage work, with a focus on collaborations between ethnographic museums and between such museums and other groups in society. Held on May 19-22, 2019, this was the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage, one of a long-running series of conferences organized cooperatively by the China Folklore Society (CFS) and the American Folklore Society (AFS), as part of a broader binational collaboration begun in 2007. These forums have explored various aspects of cultural heritage policy, practice, and theory, giving US and Chinese participants an opportunity to learn about the state of the field as pursued in the national context that is not their own (Lloyd 2017).

This Seventh Forum, focusing on Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies, was held at the Indiana University China Gateway office in Beijing. Meeting under the auspices of the CFS and the AFS, the conference’s program was organized by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi (Guangxi Museum of Nationalities), with extensive logistical and practical support provided by the two societies and the gateway office staff. Generous financial support was provided by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs at Indiana University.

Delegates to the forum came from a diversity of American and Chinese museums and universities. Chinese institutions represented included the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum, Beijing Normal University, the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum, East China Normal University, Fudan University, the Guizhou Nationalities Museum, Minzu University of China, Shandong University, and the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. American institutions represented included the Michigan State University Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, Texas Tech University, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (Indiana University), History Miami, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (University of Oklahoma), and the American Folklore Society (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage held at the Indiana University Gateway Office in Beijing, May 19, 2019. Shu Caiqian (Guizhou Nationalities Museum), Zhang Yibing (Guizhou Nationalities Museum, Zhu Gang (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Li Mingjie (East China Normal University), Wang Wei (Shandong University), Jessica Anderson Turner (American Folklore Society), An Deming (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Luo Wenhong (Fudan University), Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum), Surna (Minzu University of China), Kristin Otto (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Felicia Katz-Harris (Museum of International Folk Art), Sarah Hatcher (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Yang Lihui (Beijing Normal University), Lu Chaoming (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Jason Baird Jackson (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Chen Xi (Sun Yet-sen University), Carrie Hertz (Museum of International Folk Art), Chao Gejin (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Wuerxiya (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Fan Miaomiao (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum), Yang Quanzhong (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), He Chun (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Michael Paul Jordan (Texas Tech University), Wu Dawei (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), Ou Bo (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Michael Knoll (History Miami), Lan Yuanyuan (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), Gong Shiyang (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Jon Kay (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Luo Yong (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Mai Xi (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Zhao Fei (Yunnan Nationalities Museum), Wang Yucheng (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi).

On the afternoon of May 19, the conference began with warm words of welcome from AFS Executive Director Jessica Turner and CFS Past President Chao Gajin (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), standing in for current CFS President Ye Tao (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) who was unable to attend (Figure 2). Also offering brief opening remarks on behalf of the program committee were Jason Baird Jackson (Mathers Museum of World Cultures) and Gong Shiyang (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi) (Figure 3). These remarks preceded the forum’s keynote address by C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum). Extending an earlier discussion of principles for museum collaboration (Dewhurt and MacDowell 2015), Dewhurt reflected on a range of museum collaborations in which he and the MSU Museum have participated. Among the collaborations that Dewhurst addressed were earlier phases of the AFS-CFS partnership, which has included two museum sub-projects (2013-2016; 2017-2019). The first of these encompassed the Fifth and Sixth forum events, the traveling exhibition and bilingual catalogue Quilts of Southwest China (MacDowell and Zhang 2015), and numerous other elements (Lloyd 2017). In this phase, three Chinese museums and three US museums partnered together (Dewhurst and Lloyd 2019). In the more recent phase, collaborators from the three U.S. museums have joined with the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi for a program of joint research focused on textiles and intangible cultural heritage policy in two northern counties of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Central to this new phase of work are the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum and the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum. Thus, while Dewhurst’s keynote was a general reflection on museum collaboration, his presentation also served to orient conferees to the specific joint AFS-CFS supported projects that gave the forum its organizational context.

The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion in which representatives from the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum and Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum described their work and the community and organizational collaborations in which they participate (Figure 4). American participants appreciated this opportunity to learn about the innovative work of these ecomuseums first-hand and drew comparisons to various kind of community-based museums in the US. While Chinese delegates were more knowledgeable about the form that ecomuseums take in China, they also appreciated the chance to engage with the ecomuseum leaders directly in a comparative scholarly context.

It was an honor that many Beijing-based leaders in the CFS and in Chinese folklore studies overall could attend these opening events, which also included a welcoming banquet generously hosted by the CFS. This gathering was enlivened further when the leaders of the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum introduced both Dong flute music and toasting songs to the group. For many American delegates, this was a memorable first experience with the richness of Chinese banquet customs and the beauty of Dong music (Figure 5).

The second day of the conference was a full day featuring presentations from Chinese and American delegates. In line with the goals of the forum, the presenters described specific museum collaboration projects, using them as the basis for broader reflections on the work of museum ethnography and heritage studies today. Translation for most conference presentations was very ably done by Chen Xi (Sun Yat-sen University) and Luo Wenhong (Fudan University) (Figure 6). A number of themes emerged through the juxtaposition of presentations throughout the conference. These included: (1) the nature of museum-based ethnographic and exhibition projects in urban contexts, (2) the dynamics unique to heritage-oriented fieldwork pursued across differences of language, culture, and institutional context, (3) the place of objects and material culture studies within museum collaborations, (4) the use of exhibitions as catalysts for broader collaborations and relationship building, (5) the value of older museum collections for contemporary communities and craftspeople, (6) the place of documentary video in museum ethnography, and (7) the special importance that attaches to national folk costume in diverse museum and local cultural contexts in the current era (Figure 7).

The conference’s third day featured a morning of additional presentations followed by a special outing in which conferees visited Beijing’s Shichahai historic area to learn about cultural preservation and heritage tourism activities centered there (Figures 8-9). Participants enjoyed a hutong tour and a visit to the Drum Towner of Beijing (Gulou). While she could not attend the forum, this outing was curated by Zhang Lijun (George Mason University) and drew upon her folklore research interpreting the narrative performances of hutong tour guides (Zhang 2016, 2019). The conference concluded with a banquet, hosted by AFS and featuring Yunnan cuisine. Highpoints of this concluding gathering were many individual expressions of friendship and goodwill as well as a vigorous singing competition staged between the binational groups gathered around two large banquet tables. Heartfelt singing in Dong, Yao, Mandarin, Mongolian and English brought the seventh forum to a joyful close.

References Cited

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, and Timothy Lloyd. 2019. “The American Folklore Society-China Folklore Society Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, 2013-2016.” Museum Anthropology Review 13 (1): 59-68. https://doi.org/10.14434/mar.v13i1.25405

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, and Marsha MacDowell. 2015. “Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Museum-Based International Collaborative Partnerships.” Practicing Anthropology 37 (3): 54–55. https://doi.org/10.17730/0888-4552-37.3.54

Lloyd, Tim. 2017 “The Inside Story of the AFS China-US Project.” https://www.afsnet.org/news/349609/The-Inside-Story-of-the-AFS-China-US-Project.htm, accessed June 12, 2019.

MacDowell, Marsha, and Lijun Zhang, eds. 2016. 中国西南拼布 | Quilts of Southwest China. Nanning: Guangxi Museum of Nationalities. [Distributed in the United States by Indiana University Press.]

Zhang, Lijun. 2016. “Performing Locality and Identity: Rickshaw Driver, Narratives, and Tourism.” Cambridge Journal of China Studies 11 (1): 88-104. https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/260292

Zhang, Lijun. 2019. “A Brief Guide to Shichahai.” Video Presentation Prepared for The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies, Beijing, China.

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Figure 2. Figure 2. Chao Gajin welcomes delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 3. Figure 3. Gong Shiyang addresses delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 4. Wu Dawei offers remarks on the work of the Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum during the ecomuseum panel discussion. Left to Right: Lu Chaoming, He Chun, Lan Yuanyuan, Yang Quanzhong, Wu Dawei, Luo Wenhong (translating), Jason Baird Jackson. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 5. Wu Dawei performs Dong flute music at the opening banquet. May 19, 2019. Photograph by C. Kurt Dewhurst.

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Figure 6. Zhang Yibing discusses the work of the Guizhou Nationalities Museum with Luo Wenhong providing English translation.. May 20, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 7. Carrie Hertz discusses research related to the exhibition Dressing with Purpose. May 20, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 8. Surna discusses her research on Mongol national dress. May 21, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 9. Lan Yuanyuan and He Chun begin a rickshaw tour of the Shichahai neighborhood in Beijing. May 21, 2019. Photography by Jason Baird Jackson.

Make Time to Watch “The Flight of the Condor: A Letter, a Song and the Story of Intangible Cultural Heritage”

Don’t miss the recent documentary film “The Flight of the Condor: A Letter, a Song, and the Story of Intangible Cultural Heritage”. by Áslaug Einarsdóttir and Valdimar Tr. Hafstein. If you watch the film (30 minutes) above or via Vimeo, be sure to circle back to the projexct website http://flightofthecondorfilm.com/ and take note of Valdimar’s new book from Indiana University Press: Making Intangible Heritage: El Condor Pasa and Other Stories from UNESCO.

Valdimar is an innovative researcher and a leading scholar in folklore studies and European ethnology. His writings on heritage policy and practice are essential contributions to the field and the new film does an outstanding job of telling a complex and compelling story in an engaging way that, in doing so, illuminates a global phenomena of importance.

While you are still feeling warm feelings about UNESCO’s recent inscription of reggae and dry stone walls on the world heritage list, watch The Flight of the Condor and think more deeply with Valdimar about the work of heritage, the circulation of cultural forms, and the ways that the contexts of our understanding can change so wildly across time, space, and social position.

The University of Tartu, Appreciated

#fulbrightspecialist #fulbright #exchangeourworld

I recently spent an extended time in Tartu, Estonia. I had the wonderful opportunity to be a Fulbright Specialist visiting the Departments of: (1) Estonian and Comparative Folklore, (2) Ethnology, and (3) Estonian Native Craft at the University of Tartu. My visit also provided rich opportunities to learn about the work of the Estonian National Museum, with which these departments collaborate closely. Visiting Estonia was a transformational experience for me and I am very grateful for my generous hosts in Estonia and for the continued work of the [U.S. Department of State’s] Fulbright Program. Here I reflect briefly on the work of my fields at the University of Tartu. In a later post, I will evoke the courses that I taught and the students I met while in Tartu. In a final post, I will touch on the Estonian National Museum and the rich International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography (ICME) conference that it recently hosted.

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On the left, with the mural on its end, is Ülikooli 16 in Tartu on the University of Tartu campus. It is today home to the Institute for Cultural Research, which includes the Departments of Ethnology and of Estonian and Comparative Folklore.

The twinned disciplines in which I work–folkloristics (folklore studies) and ethnology–have a deep and important history in Estonia. So too do the practice of, and the study of, the nation’s rich craft traditions. For my interests, it would really be difficult to think of a richer and more rewarding place to make an in-depth, scholarly visit. The University of Tartu is almost two centuries older than Indiana University where I work. It was founded in 1632 under the auspices of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Through Swedish, Russian, and Soviet rule as well as in independent Estonia, the University of Tartu has been a major world academic center. This is reflected in the fame and impact of its academic programs and in the scholars and students who continue to gather there from around the world. (For those interested in Indiana University connections, the university is strong not only in folklore studies and ethnology, but in the neighboring field of semiotics, another field of special interest to Indiana University scholars. Semiotician and IU Distinguished Professor Thomas Sebeok’s library can be found there (See: Thomas A. Sebeok Memorial Library. As noted here, Sebeok was a Fellow of the IU Folklore Institute and a Professor of Anthropology among his many IU roles.)

The Departments that hosted me have longstanding and strong undergraduate and graduate programs, but a new joint MA program was one catalyst for my visit. Having just welcomed its second cohort of students, the Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies program is an English-language masters degree program attracting strong students from around the world (including the United States). It is taught and managed in partnership between these units.

I taught two short-term courses while visiting campus (see later post) and met with colleagues and students both in Tartu and in the city of Viljandi, where the Department of Estonian Native Craft is based. It and other arts programs are located in the Viljandi Culture Academy. Viljandi–about an hour east of Tartu–is a strong hub for the arts in general and for Estonian vernacular and folk arts in particular. For example, near Viljandi is a great satellite museum of the Estonian National Museum that is focused on handicraft and rural life (Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life) and Viljandi is home to the major Viljandi Folk Music Festival.

Both in Viljandi and in Tartu, UT faculty were very generous and taught me much about their work and its contexts. As someone who teaches the history (and present status) of folklore studies, anthropology, and ethnology, it was extremely valuable to have a close encounter with the past and present of these fields in a national context that is inflected in both Northern European ways and in the Russian, Soviet, Post-Soviet ways. As throughout the region, issues of nationalism and national identity are a central theme, but colonialisms and their afterlives are also woven throughout the disciplinary histories. Estonia offers much to think about.

This is not just a historical matter, as changes and innovations in Estonia society also offer many lessons. For instance, life at the University of Tartu is now heavily impacted by programs and initiatives of the European Union and technological mediation is a constantly present dynamic in the university’s educational work. While I am quite accustomed now with online and distance education, I was struck by the extensive role that these techniques play not only word-heavy curriculums such as in ethnology and folklore studies, but in the university’s native craft curriculum. Most students in this later department are older students (older, that is, than recent high school graduates) and they are learning advanced textile, metalwork, and building techniques as well as heritage studies methods and theories through a combination of intense-but-brief in-person work on campus and online education activities.

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My course on “Getting the Most Out of Peer-Review” was generously supported by the European Union, thus this sign was posted during class sessions.

From colleagues in these departments, I also gained a deeper understanding of their impressive publishing work. Highlights include the Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics (which I have long admired) and Studia Vernacula and a great diversity of monographs and edited volumes. Publication work in my fields is very advanced in the UT departments. The well-researched and beautiful books being produced related to Estonian craft techniques and histories are a marvel–little work of this quality is found in the United States.

I could continue at near endless length, but this is enough for now. I close for the moment with warm appreciation for all of the staff, faculty, and students who worked hard to make my visit possible and who shared so much of their work and passion with me. Thanks also go to the Fulbright Specialist Program and to the European Union, the University of Tartu, and other funding agencies that supported my activities.

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In downtown Tartu.

Fieldwork: Highlights from the Textile Group

This post in the recent series on December 2017 research and travel in Guangxi, China was written by Carrie Hertz, who also provided the photographs.

In this post, I complement Jason’s series of field reports (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) on our December 2017 trip to China with some highlights from the research team focused on Baiku (White Trouser) Yao textiles.

The textiles most visible in daily life are traditional baby carriers and women’s dress. December 15, 2017.

Textile making traditions are extraordinarily strong in Huaili village. In most households you can find a floor loom, an indigo dye pot, and a cache of tiny silkworm eggs. Because of the damp climate, most families hang their laundry out to dry. Strung out like banners across rooftops, balconies, pathways, and side yards, the clotheslines offer a visual inventory of typical wardrobes.

Daily dress combines traditionally made and mass-produced garments. Most women have several sets of indigo-dyed skirts, aprons, jackets, and tunics in regular rotation, the finest serving as festival dress when new, and as daily wear when faded. With age, the natural red dyes of embroidered skirt hems bleed, creating a beautiful ombre effect, and the appliqued silk felt disintegrates, taking on a feathery appearance.

A beautifully aged skirt hung out to dry. December 17, 2017.

Each garment represents countless hours of skilled labor, spread out throughout the year. Winter, while fields lie untended, is a busy time for textile production. Throughout the village, small groups of women huddle around fires on their front stoops, busy with embroidery or winding spools of cotton.

Lu Xiao Mei works on her embroidery while visiting with Li Xiu Ying and Wang Lian Mei holding her baby. December 15, 2017.

Winter is also a good time for warping looms. Women help each other, taking over the village courtyard. It takes the better part of a day to set up warp poles and wind the approximately 80 meters of thread in a spiral pattern around them.

The tree sap used to draw intricate resist patterns on clothing is harvested in winter. The bark is scarred and glistening where people have gouged it with their knife blades.

December 14, 2017.

We had the great fortune to spend two days with a recognized master textile artist, He Jinxiu. She is considered the most skilled and knowledgeable needleworker in Huaili village and teaches embroidery and resist dyeing to all of the girls attending the local primary school. At her home, she brought out stacks of textiles that she was currently working on as part of a yearly cycle of production. Together we inventoried these materials, along with the tools, techniques, and terminology important to their creation. We diagrammed garment patterns. We filled notebooks with the local names for various motifs and their significance.

The home production of textiles is supplemented with supplies and finished goods purchased in the Lihu Town market. Alongside the many stalls stuffed with factory clothes and accessories, vendors sell silk embroidery thread, stylus for batik, and bolts of undecorated, hand woven cloth. A large area is devoted to selling indigo. One half kilogram costs about 6 RMB. In addition to being an important venue for textile sellers and makers, market days are for dressing up, for looking and being seen.

 

We also had opportunity to interview Li Xiu Ying, the primary textile producer in her family. For most of her life, her mother made her clothes, but now she makes clothes for her mother, using the skills her mother imparted.

Li Xiu Ying wears a handmade needle case hanging from her belt. Her nail beds are ringed with blue from indigo dye. December 15, 2017.

With Mrs. Li, the textile team examined a traditional burial cloth, part of the ecomuseum’s permanent collection. Every household hopes to always have a few of these on hand. When villagers die, the cloth is laid over the body and a series of smaller cloths, thirteen layers for men and fourteen for women, cover the face.

A woman’s burial face cloth made by He Jinxiu is now in the collections of the Museum of International Folk Art.

 

He Jinxiu holding up a woman’s burial face cloth that she made, now in the collections of the Museum of International Folk Art. December 17, 2017.

The textile research team feels incredibly grateful to those who shared their time and knowledge with us. These brief highlights merely touch upon what we learned and experienced during our visit.

Carrie Hertz is Curator of Textiles and Dress at the Museum of International Folk Art and a participant in the China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project.

The Temple of Heaven | 天壇 (12/8)

This briefer note is the second on our recent trip to China. The context for this travel will come (I hope) a few posts down the road. For now, perhaps you can just go with it. For the first post in the series, see The IU Gateway Office and Tsinghua University Art Museum (12/8).

After our group’s visit to the Tsinghua University Art Museum we ended the day with a visit to the Temple of Heaven (天壇). Wikipedia’s account (or whatever you can access) is probably sufficient for those who are curious about what the Temple of Heaven is about. In a nutshell, it is an impressive temple complex dating back to the early 1400s and was a key site for imperial sacrificial rituals. It is comprised numerous surviving buildings and beautiful grounds. For our interest as museum-types, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (number 881, to be exact). While it clearly attracts a significant number of visitors, visiting it (late in the day, in winter?) was certainly different from visiting the Forbidden City, where one typically becomes one tiny fish in a single vast, densely packed school of fish swimming straight through the complex from one end to another.

As earlier in the day, the companions were Jon Kay, Carrie Hertz, and Jason Jackson. At the Temple of Heaven we arrived too late in the day to enter any buildings, but we were able to stroll the grounds and see some of the buildings from the outside. Like so many monumental sites in China, one rarely has enough time to see the whole destination properly. Visiting when we did though, we really enjoyed the quiet contemplative nature of the experience. Many of those at the site were, like us, having a park visit experience as much or more than they were having a historical buildings experience. Of course, our state of reverie did not keep us from attending to the buildings, which were great. (A bit more text follows the images.)

Carrie and I, on an earlier trip’s visit to the Forbidden City, had noticed the English language signs pleading for no scratching. At the time, this had not made full sense to us, although we of course understood the impulse to protect these ancient monuments. At the Temple of Heaven, we were able wander without rushing or bumping into other people and thereby got a close look at the problem these signs work to prevent. You can see both the signs and some scratches in the images here.

We figured it out with some smart phone help, but one of the reasons that we were late in the day getting to the Temple of Heaven is that our taxi driver delivered us to the Temple of Heaven Holiday Inn (not yet a UNESCO World Heritage site), which it turns out is not exactly right by the Temple of Heaven itself. This meant that what we lost in terms of time spent at the site, we gained in terms of a walk through a not particularly touristy but elder-rich Beijing neighborhood. Posted here are some pictures for our families, friends, and other interested folks.

Thanks as always to my great travel companions. For deciding on the Temple of Heaven, thanks go especially to Carrie.

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.

Value, Ownership, and Cultural Goods: Regina F. Bendix to Deliver 2016 Richard M. Dorson Memorial Lecture

This is the season’s big lecture. With many heritage studies projects underway, it is a perfect time to welcome Regina back to Bloomington. Here are the details:

2016 Richard M. Dorson Memorial Folklore Lecture
Join us for the 6th Annual Richard M. Dorson Memorial Folklore Lecture.

“Value, Ownership, and Cultural Goods”

Regina F. Bendix, University of Gottingen, Germany

Monday, March 21, 2016
6:00-8:00 pm
800 N Indiana Ave

A reception will follow the lecture.

Abstract:

Since the mid-1990s, scholarship on heritage has blossomed – some might say boomed – and brought forth a plethora of new journals and studies in many languages, not least due to the vigorous work and impact of UNESCO’s heritage programs. UNESCO’s work on behalf of “cultural goods” reaches back roughly sixty years and has yielded many policy suggestions, conventions and programs. UNESCO’s activities in turn mobilized other international agencies concerned less with safeguarding valuables and more with ownership and group rights. They point toward ways in which different groups of actors harness the notions of tradition, folklore, culture or heritage to improve their lot on this earth. In their efforts, such groups are likely assisted more by experts in international law and economics than by students of culture.

For scholars in folklore and related fields, at least two tasks present themselves. One entails a continuation of a by now “traditional” task: understanding how excerpts from cultural scholarship, in their transfer and implementation in the public sphere transform, the practices, people and places we tend to study. A second task builds on this first one: we need to find avenues to communicate better with disciplines and practitioners engaged in establishing the legal norms and the economic projections concerning the fate of culture turned resource.

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