Early Twentieth Century Craftwork and Artisans Featured at Historic Deerfield

Early Twentieth Century Craftwork and Artisans Featured at Historic Deerfield

Sarah Cowles (1845-1922), a member of the Pocumtuck Basket Makers, wove an image of Deerfield’s iconic c. 1699 Old Indian House in her basket. Cowles was one of a number of women who was swept up by the William Morris craze for making handmade goods. Founded in 1902 by Madeline Yale Wynne, the group made baskets principally of raffia, a product of Madagascar, and used natural dyes to color their work. Wynne chose the name Pocumtuck to reference the Native Americans who first lived in Deerfield.

The early 1900s sparked a renewed interest in the materials and craftsmanship roughly associated with the colonial period in the United States.  Known in the US as the “American Craftsman” school of thought or as the “Arts & Crafts Movement,” this interest in traditional methods, materials, and styles of craftwork was part of an international design revolution against the mass-production that new industry and machinery had made possible.  The movement, which began in the British Isles in the late 1890s, was initially a socialist rejection of the mechanized, assembly-line-style work that had all but eliminated the creativity and skill that craftsmen (and women) had demonstrated prior to the rise of industry. By elevating the aesthetic significance of these unique, unassuming, artisan-made objects, the Arts & Crafts movement created a new niche for craftworkers and pushed back against the increasing sense of excess in the design world. Ironically, these humble objects inspired by craftsmen of old were not accessible to everyone. Because the materials, time, and skill needed to create high-quality, authentic arts & crafts objects were harder to come by than what the factories produced, each object was competitively priced.

Artists in New England were particularly drawn to the resurgence of traditional handicrafts, and many joined the arts and crafts community that had sprung up in Deerfield.  These artists – ranging from metalsmiths, potters, and furniture makers, to photographers, embroiderers, and basket makers – were heavily inspired by the history of the Deerfield area, and incorporated references to the town’s history in their work.  Several Deerfield artists even achieved national recognition for their crafts.  It is these artists and their work that Historic Deerfield celebrates in their current exhibition, “A Community of Craftwork,” on view now through February 2015.   Read the rest of this entry »

Contemporary Islamic Art & Events in the Berkshires

Contemporary Islamic Art & Events in the Berkshires
Art Exhibit, Documentary, Music & Eid Celebration

The art exhibit, Islam Contemporary, is just one of several featured events in August that celebrate Islamic art and culture. Over the course of the month, there will be a community Eid celebration, a documentary screening and discussion with the directors, and a concert of classical Middle Eastern music. Find out more about these events!

The Lichtenstein Center for the Arts and the Whitney Center for the Arts in Pittsfield are holding a joint art show, Islam Contemporary, for the month of August, opening on Friday, August 2nd in conjunction with the Pittsfield First Friday Artswalk in the Cultural District. The exhibition features twenty-five artists who hail from around the world, some Muslim, some non-Muslim; some emerging artists, some well-established. Included in the exhibition are works by the Berkshires’ own local artist Daisy Rockwell, granddaughter of Norman Rockwell, and Boston-based Pakistani artist Ambreen Butt. The works on display range from reinterpretations of traditional South Asian art, to critiques of the Western media’s portrayal of women, to statements about multidimensional cultural and gender identities, to attempts to use art to connect communities during times of crisis.

This exhibition offers contemporary and varied perspectives on Islamic art, history, and culture. Students of Middle Eastern studies may find this particularly informative, though families are likely to also learn much from the ideas and images on display. Aziz Sohail, the curator of the exhibition, says, “…this exhibit provides a platform for authentic and diverse voices that grapple with an ever-changing heritage. We hope that the show dispels stereotypes and sparks discussion by facilitating a complex and nuanced look at Islamic heritage and culture.” After (or during) your visit, ask your family to think about the works on display and compare the people and lives that they represent to their own lives. What is similar? What is different? What were they surprised by? What new information were they able to absorb/digest over the course of their visit?

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Westfield State Students Demonstrate the Importance of Kindness and Compassion

Cranes for Compassion

Westfield State students create a visual tribute that expresses beauty and addresses violence.

Most professors assign a final paper or exam to end the semester, but Andriana Foiles, adjunct professor of Ethnic and Gender Studies at Westfield State University, had her students conduct a campus-wide presentation on the importance of kindness.

Called Cranes for Compassion, Foiles’s Intro to Women’s Studies students spent weeks collecting stories of random acts of kindness and documented the stories on papers that were folded into paper cranes. The more than 700 stories folded into cranes were on display against a clothesline of statistics on violence.

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Remarkable Women of the Pioneer Valley: Local History Resource

Remarkable Women of the Pioneer Valley
A Pioneer Valley History Network Resource

Pioneer Valley History Network: Remarkable WomenMost Western MA kids probably know that Theodore Seuss Geisel is from Springfield and that Norman Rockwell lived in Stockbridge.  But do they know about Catherine Howard Mary Dole?  Probably not.  The Pioneer Valley History Network has established “Remarkable Women of the Pioneer Valley,” a website that offers biographical information on local important women.  This page is a great resource for students learning about local history, as it describes the establishment of many places that continue to be important today (Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges, for example) and teaches children about the important role that women have played within the development of local industry and culture.  The page is located at pvhn2.wordpress.com.  Check it out!

Video Review: 500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

My 4yo daughter and I have watched this video a couple dozen times. She is fascinated by it. I love it. The first time she saw it she asked, “Mommy, are they angels?”

The video is truly other-worldly.  Cello music by Bach plays while portraits of women painted over the past 500 years by many great painters are morphed from one into the other:

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