Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Just folks (Smithsonian Folklife Festival)

Decided to shuffle on over to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival today, if for no other reason that this will probably be the most reasonable day to attend, weatherwise, because it was not exhaustingly hot, as is usual this time of year.

There were various aspects of different cultures emphasized (although foods from each culture are available, the common cultural feature), which made for quite the experience.

At the Central and South American pavilions, Las Americas, the exhibitions tended to be mini-concerts of one type or other, which seemed to have enthusiastic participation from people of all ages.

children dancing at folklife festival
people of all ages dancing
more people dancing at festival It was cute enough, until one of the musicians announced that upcoming music would include a polka, which was my signal to leave.

Naturally, my interest was piqued when I spied this sign:

Las Americas music schedule at folklife festival A harp? Except for Jeff Majors, I didn't know that anyone played one anymore, and certainly not at a fast clip.
elderly lady dancing to band with harpist Yet, here's someone playing a full size harp (in the center), accompanied by a guitar, making dance music. Talk about there being a first time for everything!

That's when I knew it was time to mozie over to the Wales pavilion, which specialized in arts and crafts, and probably has the most varied exhibitions. However, at least on this first afternoon of the festival, there was not as much music as I would have thought from the land of Tom Jones.

The craftspeople work in media as varied as slate, intricately wrought cast iron, and sculpted wood, but the one that intrigued me most was the fabric arts, as there were a couple of makers of woolen goods giving spinning demonstrations and displaying their wares.

the poor mans wool spinning machine The "poor man's" wool spinning contraption, which is used while standing.

the rich mans wool spinning machineThe "rich man's" wool spinning contraption, which is used sitting down, and has more intricate controls (such as a foot pedal).

I was tickled to see colorful, stylish, and soft woolen and woven goods which hail from Pembrokeshire, the origin of my favorite type of dog--one of the companies is even named Corgi [Hosiery Ltd.)!

wool socks from Corgi Hosiery Extremely soft cotton socks from Corgi Hosiery Limited.

soft scarf from Corgi knitwearPerhaps the softest wool scarf I've ever handled. If it only were not so hot today...

The most surprising part of this exhibition was at the "Energy" exhibit, which concentrated on the historic struggles of Welsh coal miners. There was a corner with information on Paul Robeson's solidarity with Welsh coal miners. For some reason, I never knew that Paul Robeson performed in Wales (several times) in sympathy with the coal miners. (Then again, you never hear about Paul Robeson unless you seek it out anyway.)

poster advertising Paul Robeson appearance in Wales
At the other end of the Welsh energy spectrum, there was a demonstration house put up by Ty-Mawr, which uses native Welsh materials to achieve significant energy savings. The gentleman there confirmed that the woolen part of the insulation provides acoustic insulation as well, and that its type of construction also was efficient in wicking away moisture from the home (which would be a good thing for the humid Washington area as well).

energy conserving insulation for humid climatesExample of the layers of Ty-Mawr insulation, including the wool. The literature claimed that its insulation is more fire-resistant than most commercial insulation.

Last, but certainly not least--because I was there almost two hours, listening spellbound to some of the storytellers--was the Giving Voice exhibit, which specialized in the relationship of African Americans to the spoken word.

There was a session on the development of black radio, hosted by veteran radio host Lorne Cress Love, who was speaking with Deborah Smith Pollard, about the struggles of women in radio. Love, one of the founders of WPFW FM, revealed that most of the other founders of that station were women, which surprised me.

Also, there were storytellers aplenty at Giving Voice. Not surprisingly, the children's storytellers exhibits were well attended.

More confusing (perhaps in a good way?) was that a couple of the other storytelling sessions, Hair Stories and Beauty Tales, were attended mostly by white adults, with a few black women and other people present. Who knew that other people would be so interested in black women's hair tales?

three raconteurs telling hair stories Storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston emphasizing a point, with singer and storyteller Branice McKenzie on the right.

The world is changing faster than I thought.

1 comment:

Mike Licht said...

One mind-boggling element at this year's festival: people from the Welsh community of Argentina. They've been in Patagonia for over a century. Globalization is not a new phenomenon.

WPFW-FM is a great local institution but hardly typical of black radio -- it is a Pacifica station, a pacifist nonprofit. More signigficant in the history of African American broadcasting is WWOL-AM, home of the legendary Petey Greene when it was DC's top R n' B station in the 60s and 70s. Owner Kathy Hughes (a good friend of Jeff Majors, btw) parlayed the station into the Radio One corporation.