Meet TAUNY’s newest folklorist

This blog post is courtesy of Mathilde (Tilly) Frances Lind. Director of Programs and Research at Traditional Arts of Upstate New York. Tilly is a PhD candidate in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University Bloomington and a fiber artist who teaches spinning and weaving. Her research utilizes practice-led and multispecies methodologies. She will defend her dissertation, Entangled Wool: Handwork, Heritage, and Ecology in Estonia this spring.

At the beginning of August, I moved to Northern New York from Estonia, a small country in northeastern Europe where I had been doing PhD research on wool production for traditional crafts. I came to New York to start work as the Director of Programs and Research at Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) – a dream job for me! As a folklorist, my favorite methods of teaching and learning involve hands-on creative practice, and I had been searching for a position as a public folklorist that would allow me to apply my artistic skills along with my passion for public arts education and research. TAUNY was the perfect match. Even better, it was in exactly the kind of place where I was hoping to live: a northern rural area with lots of wide-open spaces and access to rivers, forests, and mountains. In 2018, I attended weaving school in Marshfield, Vermont and fell in love with the region, so Vermont and New York were on my short list of places where I’d like to live. European friends thought I was going to live in the heart of Manhattan (New York is only the city to them!), but the North Country is not so different from Estonia with its cold winters and low population density. It’s a great place to follow my research interests about the entanglement of ecology and traditional crafts through how people produce and process materials for making, but it also gives me the opportunity to engage with the full range of traditional arts and rural skills.

Headshot of Tilly. She is wearing a green sweater and large glasses

Photo Courtesy of the Author

 What I have found so far is a place in transition, much like other rural communities where I’ve lived and worked. The rural economy is hard for families, just as it is all over the US and in other parts of the world. Some traditional skills are waning as practitioners age out and are not replaced by the younger generation. Local people are acutely aware of the situation, and in our conversations, they have been welcoming and encouraging of my interest in finding ways to support these skills through educational opportunities and to think about what impact our programs will have in a year, five years, or for the next generation. I frequently have community members tell me that they are thinking the same way and asking themselves how they can create fertile ground for the future of traditional arts in our area. Through TAUNY, I have started a series of programs related to fiber arts, my personal passion as an artist and an area that local artists have identified as declining. As the workshops fill up with enthusiastic learners, experienced textile makers and sheep growers have contacted me to tell me about what they do and to offer supplies, ideas, and support. One of the best connections to come out of the fiber arts workshops is with a local farmer who raises Icelandic sheep and who hosted me for a farm visit where I got to meet her very friendly animals, talk to her about her work and art, and check out her beautiful wool. My understanding of the fiber arts community in this area is still in its early stages, but I hope that this effort leads me to more and deeper relationships in it and more opportunities to connect learners with experienced makers.

Women at a fiber arts workshop

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Perhaps my favorite event so far has been our community dance in mid-January. The winters are long in the North Country, and live old-time music and dance are traditional forms of entertainment that still feel relevant. However, there are far fewer community dances and instrumental jams than there used to be, especially after the massive disruption of the first couple of years of the pandemic. I have been hearing from people since I started work at TAUNY that there is a lot of enthusiasm in the community to get these activities going again. Starting in the fall, I hatched a plan with Dan Duggan, one of the artists we employ through Creatives Rebuild New York, to create a “Cabin Fever” series of concerts and a dance to help people socialize and enjoy some music in the dark of winter. We had the band High on the Hog provide old-time string band music, and Dan called the dances. We didn’t know how many people would show up, but The TAUNY Center was packed with people ranging from toddlers all the way to elders in the 80s. Farm families came with all their kids, and many people said that it was their first time at a TAUNY event. Several of my fiber arts students showed up as well! We also ran four workshops that day, and all in all, our small traditional arts center hosted about 100 people throughout the day to dance, learn, make, and play.

I love how traditional arts programs create opportunities for people to meet each other, recognize each other’s work, gain direct (preferably, hands-on) experience with creative skills and practices, and develop stronger connections with the natural and cultural environments in which they live. All this relies on facilitating sociability and learning. At TAUNY, I get to build relationships, identify where and what kinds of support can help the vitality of the arts by listening to the concerns of local folk, and provide a place where people can come together and understand each other’s lives and work a bit better. As the winter gives way to spring, our prime season for events will end, and I will get out into the field much more to explore the many connections I have made through our programs and find new ones. I am looking forward to spending more time exploring the rich landscape and traditions of Northern New York!

From the Field: Flower City Folk Digs into Inner Loop Redevelopment

From the Field: Flower City Folk Digs into Inner Loop Redevelopment

This From the Field Feature is courtesy of Hannah Davis, the founding director of Flower City Folk and a professor of practice in the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Individualized Study. Learn more about this project’s progress on Instagram at @flowercityfolk and Facebook at www.facebook.com/flowercityfolk.

Downtown Rochester is undergoing major changes, and Monroe County’s new folklife program, Flower City Folk, is documenting the process.

Since 2014, local government has worked towards removing the Inner Loop, a sunken highway encircling our urban center. When it was constructed, this roadway created a physical divide between bustling residential neighborhoods and the stores, businesses, restaurants, and schools that local community members relied on. Now, community members are working to reunite those spaces.

The development is happening slowly, quadrant by quadrant. Its southernmost quadrant, where ground broke in 2014, now features a major expansion of the Strong Museum, several new apartment buildings, and improved infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. These changes bring a mix of praise and ire from community members. Some appreciate these glossy updates; others are dismayed by their exclusivity. The apartments are too expensive for the people who most need additional housing options, they say. “Who asked for that?,” someone wondered out loud to me.

The next stage of redevelopment will happen in nearby South Marketview Heights. Hinge Neighbors, an organization founded by artist Shawn Dunwoody and activist Suzanne Mayer, is trying to ensure that this stage is more collaborative and community-oriented. To document community members’ experiences and desires, as well as the neighborhood itself, Hinge Neighbors contracted a cultural resource survey from The Landmark Society of Western New York and Flower City Folk. We’ve been specifically tasked with conducting oral history interviews.

In the year and a half that’s passed since we began this work, I’ve met with dozens of people to discuss their experiences. Opinions differ, but everyone speaks with fondness about this special place. They recall growing up with yards full of fruit trees, working and going to school with close friends and family, and delighting in the small joys that a close community offers its members, like congregating at a local bakery’s backdoor with friends in hopes of getting a free cookie. They also agree that construction of the Inner Loop, compounded by economic decline in the ‘70s and ‘80s, changed the neighborhood. This redevelopment, they say, is an opportunity to make things right.

Official plans for redevelopment are still in flux, but we’re honored to collaborate with community members to bring about positive change.

Featured Photo : Hannah Davis interviews Tony Apollonio, a longtime resident of South Marketview Heights, as a part of an ongoing effort to document the stories and experiences of community members affected by the development of the Inner Loop. Photo by Arturo Hoyte.

New York Folklore helps secure $225,000 for folk arts

New York Folklore helps secure $225,000 for folk arts

Artists and organizations in New York State will receive a combined total of $225,000 in grants thanks to assistance from New York Folklore. These funds come from 21 successful applications submitted to the New York State Council on the Arts – more than triple the number of sponsored applications by New York Folklore in 2022. The support is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.  Artists and organizations were funded in three categories this year: Apprenticeship Grants, Support for Artists, and Support for Organizations.  

“Apprenticeship Grants” through the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) are one of the foundational tools in the field of folklore and folk arts in New York State.  Through this program, “master” artists take on one or more apprentices to pass on their skills and knowledge. Apprentices can be other community members or a member of their own family. “Support for Artists” funds creative commissions to individual artists, this relatively new category has allowed a greater number of artists access to NYSCA funding. 

As a support and service organization, fiscal sponsorship and grant assistance are a large part of the work we do at New York Folklore. We are thrilled to support this cohort of artists and organizations in 2023.  If you are an artist or tradition bearer who is interested in learning about these and other opportunities, please contact our office. 

New York Folklore looks forward to celebrating with this group in 2023.

Congratulations to the supported artists and artists and organizations across the state! 

New York Folklore Supported Applications 

Apprenticeships  

Devesh Chandra, Master; Saurav Bavdekar, Apprentice. Indian Classical Music 

Efthimios (Altin) Stoja and Jorida Laraku, Apprentice. Greek Iconography 

Tashi Sharzur, Master; Tenzin Norbu, Apprentice. Tibetan Traditional Music. 

Veena Chandra, Master; Vibhava Ranade and Anshu Chandra, Apprentices. Indian Classical Music 

Zorkie Nelson, master artist; Elizabeth Fo Fo Niiquaye and Patience Lamptey, Apprentices 

 Master; 2 Apprentices. Kochi Dress Making 

Support for Organizations 

Guyana Cultural Association of New York 

West Hill Refugee Welcome Center 

Support for Artists 

Aurelius John, Pakistani Music: Bansuri, Dholak, Dhol and Tabla 

Daniel Walayat, Pakistani Music: Vocal  

Devesh Chandra, Indian Classical Music 

Dvonne Faulks, African American Hairbraiding 

Latifa Ali Muhammad: Afghan Embroidery 

Ehsue Aung: Karen Dance 

Pamela Badila: African Folktales & Stories 

Pinya Aung: Karen Tenaku Harp 

Shaman Raphael: Pakistani Music: Ghazal and Harmonium 

Veena Chandra: Indian Classical Music Sitar 

Zelda Hotaling: Native American Healing Arts 

Zorkie Nelson: Ghanaian musician 

Chloe Harrison: Solo exhibition and public mural 

These funds are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.   

New York Folklore Supported Applications

Apprenticeships 

Devesh Chandra, Master; Saurav Bavdekar, Apprentice. Indian Classical Music

Efthimios (Altin) Stoja and Jorida Laraku, Apprentice. Greek Iconography

Tashi Sharzur, Master; Tenzin Norbu, Apprentice. Tibetan Traditional Music.

Veena Chandra, Master; Vibhava Ranade and Anshu Chandra, Apprentices. Indian Classical Music

Zorkie Nelson, master artist; Elizabeth Fo Fo Niiquaye and Patience Lamptey, Apprentices

Belgess Enayatullah, Master; Aqsa Ahmad Shah and Abida Sa, Apprentices. Kochi Dress Making

Support for Organizations

Guyana Cultural Association of New York

West Hill Refugee Welcome Center

Support for Artists

Aurelius John, Pakistani Music: Bansuri, Dholak, Dhol and Tabla

Daniel Walayat, Pakistani Music: Vocal

Devesh Chandra, Indian Classical Music

Dvonne Faulks, African American Hairbraiding

Latifa Ali Muhammad: Afghan Embroidery

Ehsue Aung: Karen Dance

Pamela Badila: African Folktales & Stories

Pinya Aung: Karen Tenaku Harp

Shaman Raphael: Pakistani Music: Ghazal and Harmonium

Veena Chandra: Indian Classical Music Sitar

Zelda Hotaling: Native American Healing Arts

Zorkie Nelson: Ghanaian musician

Chloe Harrison: Solo exhibition and public mural

From the Field: Blues in Brooklyn

From the Field: Blues in Brooklyn

This From the Field Feature is courtesy of Beareather Reddy, Founder/Ex. Director of the Brooklyn Blues Society. Find more info about them at https://brooklynbluessociety.org

The Blues is Alive and living in Brooklyn! 

Being a Black woman raised in the south, I was exposed to a lot of spirituals, gospel music and the Blues. I witnessed that these were the kinds of music that brought comfort to my ancestors in one form or another.  I became very fond of the Blues. When I moved to New York after college, I realized that the music that moved and soothed my loved ones, were not widely played in Brooklyn.  It seemed that it was a dying art form.

Keith Gamble and Michael Hill. Photo courtesy of Arnie Goodman

Long gone were the golden days of the Harlem Renaissance when jazz and blues were deeply rooted in New York City’s cultural tapestry.  I wasn’t entirely right, it wasn’t completely gone. Yet, out of thousands upon thousands of radio stations in the United States, I’m willing to bet, there were less than 30 Blues stations.  I felt I had to do something about it.  I wanted to be one of those people who would help revive and sustain the blues.  So I did!  In 2006 the 1st Big Eyed Blues Festival was presented in the borough of Brooklyn.  Our special guest was 2004 Indy Award Music Winner, Mr. Bobby Hinton from Raleigh Durham, N.C., and of course, little o’ me!

September 22, 24 & 25th, 2022 marked the 12th Big Eyed Blues Festival – Rebirth!  After being on hiatus for three years, it was back with a bang!

Set up for the Big Eyed Blues Festival. Photo by Tanja Hayes

This year’s festival, presented by the Brooklyn Blues Society, included an evening of “The Acoustics”, with dynamic performances by guitarist/vocalist Jr Mack The Michael Hill Blue Duo with Pete Cummings on bass, and 18 year old Mimi Block with Keith “The Captain” Gamble on guitar; the main event on Saturday evening at the BKLYN COMMONS, with soul stirring performances by Clarence Spady, Beareather & The Brown Liquor Sounds, The Antoinette Montague Experience and The Alexis P. Suter Band.  The final day of the festival was the topper!  “A Day in The Park” with the Tilden Senior Drama Club.  The drama club performed a short play I wrote called “The Classic Blues Women”. They were sensational and had a joyful experience. It was such a joy to watch them sing, dance and tell the story.  One of the most cantankerous member of the drama club called me aside and said “Miss Beareather, thank you so much for bringing this to us and having us perform in the festival. I was so scared, but it was so much fun.  I wanted you to be proud of me!”

The 18 year old violinist/vocalist/composer/virtuoso Mimi Block wrote:

“Dear Ms. Reddy, Thank you for the kind words you said to me. I learned last night that real blues is totally different from jazz, and has a different attitude and spirit. It was an amazing night. Thank you so much for the learning opportunity. I won’t mix jazz attitudes for blues songs next time”.

A good time was had by all and a lot of souls were moved and soothed!  It is this kind of reinforcement that lets me know that I am right where I need to be.  I am among the folk who strive to keep a legacy going strong.  A legacy of a people of which an entire genre of music was born out of their work songs, field hollers, chants, tears and laughter. The Blues is Alive and Living in Brooklyn!

Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to be featured.

From the Field: Foraged Fruit

From the Field: Foraged Fruit

This From the Field Feature is courtesy of Dr. Maria Kennedy,  a folklorist and faculty member at Rutgers University. She is a member of the New York Folklore board. You can follow her Foraged Fruit project at https://foragedfruitproject.com or on Instagram @ciderwithmaria

Some folklorists collect songs. Some collect stories. Some collect quilts or pottery. Our discipline has been defined from its beginning by the fieldwork practice of collecting examples of the artistic expressions that characterize everyday life.

I collect apples. While apples might not seem like an obvious object or art or culture, plants are highly influenced by the aesthetic, culinary, and practical choices of people. My research project with my colleague Dr. Gregory Peck, a plant scientist at Cornell University, seeks to understand a dynamic area of plant-human interactions on the fringe of agriculture. We are looking for foraged fruit.

Walking through an apple forest near Mexico, New York at Peaceful Acres Farm with owner Dan Shutt

This summer, I spent a month on the road, travelling all around New York State to meet with foragers during the month of August, before the beginning of harvest season. I interviewed them about their foraging practice, and then, if possible, would go out to see the spots where their wild apple trees grew. Foragers have favorite trees, and it is these ones we are searching for. Good things to bring for apple fieldwork: rubber boots, a raincoat, a hat, and a willingness to go bushwacking. I’ve driven in pickup trucks, in gator utility vehicles. I’ve tromped through weeds and meadow as high as my head. To get to the wild trees is often an encounter with succession forests rather than farm fields.

There are many abandoned orchards in the Northeast on land that was formerly farmed, but which has become economically marginal. People still harvest some of these abandoned and wild orchards. And increasingly, this foraged fruit has become a small but salient part of the commercial hard cider industry.

Our research project asks questions like: Does the unique genetic profile of the wild apples provide potential new alternatives to commercially grown apples, with increased disease resistance and enhanced fermenting qualities?

The trees that survive have selected themselves. And the ones that end up in cider have been selected by cider makers. To me, each of these apples represents a unique artifact of these ecologies of selection: some of them biological and environmental, and some of them culinary and occupational. They are intensely personal and local. Each represents relationships to land, property, and knowledge of seasonal cycles of harvest.

Fruit samples in the lab ready for analysis

Now that it is harvest time, I’m going back to revisit the people I interviewed earlier. Their predictions about harvest are now immediate, and profoundly influenced by the weather. A heat wave can accelerate the harvest date. The rain might delay it. But when the fruit is ready, it is ready, and you have to get to it quickly, before the deer or the mice do, or before it turns to a rotting but fragrant mush on the ground.

When I collect the fruit, it gets meticulously labeled. I give each batch ID numbers and enter all the collection data into my data base. Next I will pass the fruit on to my colleague Greg’s lab team, and from there the processes of

lab science will begin to reveal the essential properties of the plant itself, such as the sugars, acids, and tannins. We will send leaf samples for genetic analysis. I return to my fieldnotes, my interviews, and my database to fill out the story of each apple specimen that is now on a journey through the lab.

As a folklorist, I get to chart the story of the fruit – how it relates to complex webs of culture and nature. And as I look at my collection of apples, with the different colors and flavors and aromas lined up next to each other, I see the apple as beautiful as any work of art, and a foraged apple as one particularly influenced by the hands of people working closely with their natural environments.

Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to be featured.