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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.)

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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.

Get Oriented to Themester 2016: Beauty

Reviewing the Mathers Museum of World Cultures events and exhibitions pages is probably the only way to get a full sense of all that we are doing for 2016 Themester, but for an overview of Themester as a whole and its focus on Beauty, I recommend checking out yesterday’s kickoff press release (Figure 1). In addition to the MMWC pages, it would also be great to see the Themester website. For MMWC, Themester boils down to three great classes [A400, E460, F360] taught at the museum, three great beauty-focused exhibitions [Costume, Hózhó, Siyazama], plus a lot of programming, including folk artists residencies throughout the semester, as well as films, lectures, and hands-on activities. Check out the full list here. Thanks go to the College of Arts and Sciences for including the museum in an impressive roster of Themester activities. Thanks too go to the students who are helping us organize our Themester activities and to the artists and tradition bearers whose work we are highlighting. Please join it this remarkable exploration of beauty around the world.

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Figure 1: The Themester 2016 press release, which leads off with a photography b MMWC Consulting Curator Pravina Shukla, from her exhibition Costume.

Material Vernaculars: Institutional Role, Review, Authors, and Genres

The new Material Vernaculars series is co-published by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures with a huge amount of heavy lifting from our partner, the Indiana University Press. The first two volumes in the series are Folk Art and Aging by Jon Kay and the eponymous edited volume Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds. Jon Kay is the author of the first of these and I am the editor of the second. Jon and I are both on the IU faculty (in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology) and in the MMWC, where Jon is Director of Traditional Arts Indiana and Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage and I am the museum’s director. As the new series becomes known, it is reasonable to ask—is it just a publishing venue for the museum and its associates and partners?

MW Website

The answer here is no, but as you might guess, the series is intended to be the go to place when the museum does have its own publishing projects. This answer prompts then a couple of more points needing to be made. Peer-review for the series is fully managed by the IU Press and editorial review is a joint matter, thus it is quite conceivable that a museum project might be passed on by the press either at the early editorial review stage or at the peer-review stage. (I note that the press has already passed on one possible project, to illustrate this point tangibly.) Thus the series will hopefully be the home for additional MMWC authors and projects, but this is not guaranteed—and should not be.

The other side of this is that the series will hopefully come to publish authors without ties to museum, including colleagues not yet known to me. As the series homepage presently notes, “Potential authors interested in the Material Vernaculars series should contact the series editor Jason Baird Jackson via mvseries [at] indiana.edu and Aquisitions Editor Janice Frisch at frischj [at] indiana.edu.” That phrase, and the series overview, are available here.

As noted there, a new series also poses genre questions. Here, my intentions as editor are broad. “The series accommodates a diversity of types of work, including catalogues and collections studies, monographs, edited volumes, and multimedia works.” To me, these are the key genres of relevance for research museum practice in ethnography, ethnology, and cultural history (our museum’s fields), but it could be that new, as yet not fully recognized genres could also find a home in the series. While the forthcoming edited volume is something of a sampler, future edited volumes will likely have a strong thematic focus. Stand alone essays will continue to find a home in the museum’s journal, Museum Anthropology Review.

I hope to hear from potential authors and editors interested in learning more about the series. Thanks to all who have supported this new effort.

 

Plethora of Patrons and Programs Prompts Parking Progress

(Sorry about that headline. I could not control myself.) This fall there will be an extraordinary number of programs at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. We hope to see you here for many of them. The wave begins in the week ahead. Before we get there, I want to reach out especially to Bloomington and Indiana friends who do not work at Indiana University and who sometimes find visiting the museum difficult for lack of close-to-the-museum parking. This is especially a concern for those with mobility issues. The museum has consistently advocated for increased near-museum visitor parking and I am happy to note that–with quite engaged support from the relevant university offices–we have recently made some solid progress forward.

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Until recently, the museum and the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology shared five visitors spaces on the west side of the lab and museum, on the circular drive that is entered northbound on Indiana Avenue (and that one exits westbound on 9th Street). There were five IU staff spaces also located on this drive. Those staff spaces have been moved a bit north to the McCalla School lot (between 9th and 10th, off Indiana) and converted to five more Museum/Lab visitor spaces. In addition to doubling the near-museum parking, happily all of the metered visitor spaces at the McCalla School lot remain in service.

The number of events that we are hosting–especially since the move of Traditional Arts Indiana–to the museum and the increased numbers of people who are joining us (or who express a desire to join us, if they could just park more easily)–is a key factor in the addition of these spaces, but I note quickly here that work is underway to make the museum building more accessible and that the increased parking is part of a larger effort in that realm. More on that asap.

Of course, we would love for you to walk, bus, bike, skateboard, etc. to the museum. That is great for the earth and great for you and for the museum too. When you take a scooter to the museum instead of driving, you are freeing up one of those spaces for a person who can only get here by car. Even if they do not know to appreciate your effort, I appreciate it on their behalf. Carpooling helps too for the same reason. And if you are an IU person with an IU parking pass, you can help as well by parking in staff spaces around the museum rather than taking one of the visitor spots.

We are going to continue working to make the museum easier to visit. You can help us by spreading the word. It is sad when people say to me that they have never come to the museum because they just don’t want to fool with the parking issues. If you know someone who says such things, tell them the good news and encourage them to make their first visit. We’ll be glad to see them–and you.

Improving Access to Scholarship: Material Vernaculars as Milestone and Experiment

First the take away, then the story. While produced in very nice and reasonably priced hardback, paperback, and ebook editions, works in the new Material Vernaculars series are also being made available in free-to-the-reader PDF versions. This is a great thing and, if you agree with me about that, and can afford to do so, I really hope that you will purchase the edition of your choice, thereby signaling your support for making such works freely accessible to those who cannot afford to purchase them. If this seems strange to you, its a lot like community and public radio in the United States. Those who can support these services help make them accessible to those who cannot afford to make their own donations. We all gently nudge those who use them and could, but don’t, support them. (Called free riders.) Its not utopia, but its what we have and its better than the vast majority of people being locked out of non-commercial arts and education programming (and scholarly books). Now you can skip to the end for the link if you are in a rush.

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Those who know about my work know that I have been focused on promoting free and open access to scholarly work for a relatively long time. My advocacy efforts followed soon after I began work as a scholarly journal editor. At that time, I was drawn into a diverse range of problems, opportunities, and paradoxes that the transformation of scholarly communication was (and is still) engendering. Probably the best place to find the things that I have written on this theme is to look at the interview that I did with Ryan Anderson (published in Cultural Anthropology in 2014)

In 2015, my focus in this work shifted to books when I was a participant in a project funded by the Mellon Foundation. The results of that project were reported in: A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Indiana University and University of Michigan.

Concurrent with such advocacy work, I have tried to build real-world projects that could advance scholarship while testing strategies for increasing public access to research. Now in its tenth year, Museum Anthropology Review (now the journal of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) is the best example of this. On the book side, there is now the Material Vernaculars series co-published by the museum and the Indiana University Press. In my previous post, I highlighted the series first title—Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and their Makers by Jon Kay and the series’ scholarly mandate. Here I am flagging the series’ relationship to free and open access movements.

Books cost a lot of money to make. In a peer-reviewed article, based on our humanities book research studying publishing work of the Indiana University Press and University of Michigan Press, my colleagues report that the zero copy cost for a typical humanities book is about $27,000. Efforts to increase access to scholarship have to find ways to confront these costs from all sides—finding ways to lower prices but also new ways of funding the professional work that it takes to make a quality book.

For me, for the museum, and especially for the IU Press, the Material Vernaculars series is an experiment. If we get past talking about it and actually begin doing it, what can we learn that will, we hope, help us learn to do it more and better? This is part of what is at stake for IU Press and for the whole world of university press humanities book publishing. I am thrilled to be a part of a new series that has a secondary role (beyond its primarily scholarly one) of finding ways to make scholarly books more widely and openly accessible.

So paradoxically, if you believe (for example) that the communities about whom ethnographers write should have access to what they write, then I call on you, paradoxically, to purchase a copy of Folk Art and Aging and the other other books that are in the pipeline. Your purchase helps support the goals of the series and it demonstrates that paid-for print editions or e-book editions are not mutually exclusive of free-to-readers electronic editions. If it helps, think of the print edition as a thank you gift for your donation to this cause rather than as a commodity that you are purchasing in the marketplace. You can feel particularly good about it if you purchase it directly from the Indiana University Press, thereby cutting out one or more commercial intermediaries.

It (PDF) won’t always be the file format of choice, but for now the free editions of Material Vernaculars titles will be circulated in PDF form via the IUScholarWorks Repository. When people download the books from IUScholarWorks, there is a download count, which helps us learn how many people, over what time period, showed interest in the book(s). (So, send your friends to the link rather than passing around the PDF…)

If you are wondering how to download the book, see the picture above for the place to click.

Here is the link. Two actually. The first is durable but enigmatic. The second is more human readable, but potentially less permanent.

http://hdl.handle.net/2022/20906
https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20906

Happy reading.

Material Vernaculars Series Launches with Jon Kay’s Folk Art and Aging

This fall I will be talking a lot about the new book series that the Indiana University Press and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures are jointly publishing. I am the series’ editor and my friend and colleague Jon Kay is its first author. I will frame the series here, before I conclude this post, but I do not want to bury the lead, which is that there is a great new book in the world and you should buy and learn from it.

Jon Kay is Director of Traditional Arts Indiana, Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, and Professor of Practice in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University. His book is Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and Their Makers. (Jon’s content rich book website is here.) It is the fruit of many years of work exploring the creative lives of older adults in Indiana and in other parts of the United States. Jon has much to say about the ways that material culture and narrative come together in social encounters and in unfolding lives, as well as about about the ways that more attentive scholarship on the verbal and material life, as well as the memory, work, of elders can shape more humane and sensible approaches to what is increasingly referred to as creative aging, as well as to social gerontology more generally. The book is a folklorist’s book, but it also speaks very generatively to a range of neighboring disciplines. Written in a very clear and engaging style, it is the kind of book that lots of people (not just scholars) can read and both enjoy and learn from. At its center are profiles of five incredibly interesting creators of objects, stories, and lives. Jon helps share their stories and their creations in a really engaging way. The book has many beautiful color images and at 133 pages, it never gets bogged down.

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The hardback, paperback, and ebook editions are beautiful and they can be purchased from the Indiana University Press, from Amazon, from Google, and from many other retailers. I’ll tell you next time where to get the free PDF edition, but here I want to urge everyone who can to purchase one of the paper or ebook editions. Why? Paradoxically, because I believe in open access. If those who can do so purchase the modestly priced print or e-book editions, the IU Press will secure the revenue that it needs to produce more books such as Folk Art and Aging and to make them freely available to those who otherwise could not afford to purchase them. More on such questions next time.

Having introduced Folk Art and Aging to you, let me introduce the series quickly. The series précis reads:

The Material Vernaculars series presents ethnographic, historical, and comparative accounts of material and visual culture manifest in both the everyday and extraordinary lives of individuals and communities, nations and networks. While advancing a venerable scholarly tradition focused on the makers and users of hand-made objects, the series also addresses contemporary practices of mediation, refashioning, recycling, assemblage, and collecting in global and local contexts. Indiana University Press publishes the Material Vernaculars series in partnership with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures at Indiana University. The series accommodates a diversity of types of work, including catalogues and collections studies, monographs, edited volumes, and multimedia works. The series will pursue innovative publishing strategies intended to maximize access to published titles and will advance works that take fullest advantage of the affordances provided by digital technologies.

The series second title is an eponymous edited volume—Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds. That collection is due out in a few days (September 5, 2016). In its introduction, I characterize in more detail the goals of the series as well as situate its disciplinary (cultural anthropology, folklore studies, ethnology, culture history) engagements as well as its place in the larger research work of the MMWC. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Congratulations to Jon Kay on his second book of the summer (see Indiana Folk Art) and to all of our friends at the Indiana University Press.

WAWV Profiles Two Indiana Craftspeople; Draws Content and Inspiration from Indiana Folk Arts Catalogue

A local ABC affiliate profiled two Indiana craftspeople in a recent local news segment. These makers–blacksmith John Bennett and bowl hewer Keith Ruble–are featured in the exhibition and catalogue Indiana Folk Art: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation. The WAWV story weaves together content from the catalogue with interviews with these two artists. The reporter also announces upcoming presentations of the exhibition around the state. It is great to see mainstream local media covering Indiana traditional artists/craftspeople and passing on news of the exhibition. See the video here and download and read the catalogue for yourself here.

Thanks to reporter Rebecca Brumfield for her story. (Excerpts from the catalogue for the two artists featured in the story are posted below.)

Bennett Page

Rubble Page

Open Access Book: Indiana Folk Arts

IFA CoverThis year is a big year for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in a number of respects. Two of these weave together. Its the state bicentennial for Indiana and we are engaging with it in a big way through the exhibition Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation. That exhibition is now traveling across Indiana along with with a deep roster of presenting artists and craftspeople. The exhibition and associated in-person demonstrations are happening at state parks and festivals around Indiana and the exhibition will also be presented at the Indiana State Fair, later this summer. The exhibition brings together more than a decade of research by Traditional Arts Indiana and was also an project worked on by the Laboratory in Public Folklore graduate course taught in the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Working with TAI Director and MMWC Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage Jon Kay, a large number of students have been involved in all aspects of the exhibition and associated programs, products, and events.

2016 is also slated to be a big year for book publishing at MMWC. We have a number of books in the cue for fall. The first to become available is the catalogue for Indiana Folk Arts. Edited by Jon Kay with chapters authored by a large and talented group of graduate students, the volume enriches the exhibition while also standing alone as a contribution to scholarship on Indiana craft and art. At exhibition events and here at the MMWC, the book is being distributed for free in a beautiful full-color print edition. In keeping with our institutional commitment to increased and open access to scholarship, the volume is also available electronically and permanently via the IUScholarWorks Respository. Licensed under a CC-BY license, it can be found online here: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20893. Its the first MMWC publication for which we obtained an ISBN number (two actually, one for the print edition and one for the PDF edition), which is also pretty neat.IFA Front Page

Congratulations to Jon Kay, the volume’s editor, to all of its contributors, and to the talented artists, craftspeople, and tradition bearers featured in the book. Welcome readers–72 beautiful pages await you, wherever in the world you live. If you like the book and support the work behind it, spread it widely. Tell your friends and colleagues so that they can enjoy it too.

Basketmaker Viki Graber on The Weekly Special

Last year, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures presented the exhibition Willow Work: Viki Graber, Basketmaker to great success. Happily we are staying connected with Viki in many ways, including her participation in the Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation exhibition and associated Traditional Arts Indiana programs around the state. The public television station here at Indiana University, WTIU has just posted a beautiful video, from their show The Weekly Special, in which Viki Graber talks about and demonstrates her work. Check it out here.

Weekly Special

 

 

Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation

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Please come out to the Mathers Museum of World Cultures this Sunday afternoon to celebrate the vernacular arts of Indiana and to help launch our state bicentennial exhibition. Root beer floats! Bluegrass music from Hamilton Creek! Artists demonstrations! The new exhibition, plus the students, staff, faculty, and artists who made it. We hope to see you this weekend.

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