Keepers of Tradition

Last Chance to See "Keepers of Tradition"--Closing June 7

Ortiz, Vejigante mask, 2-10 Don't miss "Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts," our very popular special exhibition! It closes on June 7. This colorful and beautiful show features more than 100 works by 70 Massachusetts artists who preserve and revitalize deeply rooted traditions. Reflecting the populace of Massachusetts, their art takes many expressive forms—from Native American basketry to Yankee wooden boats, Armenian lace, Chinese seals, Puerto Rican santos, and Irish music and dance.  Passed down from person to person within both long-settled and new immigrant communities, traditional art involves the shaping of deeply held cultural values into meaningful artistic forms.

These keepers of tradition are recognized in their communities as outstanding practitioners of craft, music, dance, and sacred arts. Yet much of this work is hidden to the public at large, remaining essentially unknown beyond the local community in which it flourishes. Don't miss the work of these master craftsman! Admission is free.

Funding for Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts is provided by Bank of America, an anonymous local foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the National Heritage Museum, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Photo caption:
Large vejigante mascara, 2007. Angel Sánchez Ortiz, Holyoke, Massachusetts. Courtesy of National Heritage Museum and Massachusetts Cultural Council. Photography by Jason Dowdle

January at the Museum! From Antique Valentines to the Politics of Immigration. It's All Here and More!

The New Year brings fresh programming and two new exhibitions opening in the Van Gorden-Williams Library! Here's what's coming up. Remember, the Museum offers free admission and parking!

Cambodian_ElephantPot Cambodian Ceramics Demonstration
Saturday, January 17
12-2 PM

Yari Livan will demonstrate his talents as a Cambodian master ceramicist.  The sole survivor of his generation of artists trained in traditional Khmer ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, he came to Massachusetts in 2001. His work is featured in the current exhibition, “Keepers of Tradition.” Free. Snow date: Sunday, January 18.

Borjas George J. Borjas of the Kennedy School on Immigration and Economics
Saturday, January 17
2 pm

George J. Borjas, of the Kennedy School of Government, will speak on immigration policy and economics. Borjas, a Cuban immigrant and preeminent scholar in his field, examines the controversial idea that more job seekers from abroad means fewer opportunities or lower wages for native workers. This issue lies at the heart of national debate over immigration policy. Funded by the Lowell Institute. The lecture is presented in conjunction with the current exhibition "Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits, 1905-1920." Free.

 NativeAmerican_TwndBasktry Native American Twined Basketry Demonstration
Saturday, January 24
1-3 pm
Julia Marden will demonstrate the Native American art of twined basketry, or soft-form baskets made out of natural materials such as corn husks and grasses. An Aquinnah Wampanoag who learned her craft while working at Plimoth Plantation, Marden is featured in the current exhibition, "Keepers of Tradition." Free. Snow date: Sunday, January 25.

Valentine Valentines from the Kalman Collection, 1910-1920
January 31 through March 8, 2009
Romantic Valentine greetings have been popular as far back as the Middle Ages, when lovers said or sang their verses to their sweeties. Today we are most familiar with the pretty paper variety. Each year, the Van Gorden-Williams Library presents a delightful display of antique Valentines from its collection. Smiling puppies and impish cherubs, lovely maidens and heartsick gentlemen, the characters on these charming cards convey their messages of love to sweethearts of long ago. Many of the 25 cards on view stand up or feature moving parts, showing an inventiveness rarely seen in cards today.

This antique valentine collection originally belonged to Albert Kalman, who owned and managed Kimbal's Camera and Card shop in downtown Boston for 35 years. His wife, Vivienne, donated the collection in his memory. Each year, Mr. Kalman decorated his shop with these vintage cards to celebrate Valentine's Day. Visit us and carry on the tradition!

Postcard_Tunnel "A Penny for Your Thoughts: Postcards from the Golden Age, 1898-1918"
Opens January 31, 2009
In the early 1900s, when telephones and cameras were few and automobiles were limited to the well-to-do, the postcard filled a necessary and appreciated role. Costing only a penny each to send, postcards were an inexpensive way to convey short messages. Images on the cards showed American pursuits and pastimes, customs, costumes, morals, and manners. Sold everywhere--in drug stores, souvenir shops, dime stores, specialty shops and even on street corners--many postcards from this age still exist today.

In "A Penny for Your Thoughts," on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, more than 100 examples from the Golden Age will be shown, along with postcard scrapbooks. The images capture the optimism, the people, the industrialism, and the transportation of the period from 1898-1918. Visitors will see favorite tourist destinations, cityscapes, and period automobiles. They will also be able read the messages on these antique postcards. A variety of styles and subject matter will be shown, including color lithographic, photographic, novelty, and fraternal postcards.

The exhibition is drawn from gifts from Martin A. and Mildred H. Gilman and various museum purchases. Bertha Petersen, Martin A. Gilman's mother, collected many of the postcards when she lived in New Jersey and Connecticut from 1904-1917.

Postcard, 1906.  O. & W. Ry, New York. Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives. Gift of Martin A. and Mildred H. Gilman

Valentine Greetings, 1910.  Sam Gabriel, New York, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, Gift of Vivienne Kalman in memory of Albert L. Kalman

"Keepers of Tradition" Comes Alive In New Audio Tour. Tour is FREE to All

Tin_men_smaller “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts” now offers an Acoustiguide audio tour for visitors. The tour features the voices, sounds and music of 18 keepers of tradition who have been documented by Massachusetts Cultural Council folklorists in years past. The audio tour, available to visitors for FREE, highlights artists such as accordion player Joe Derrane, sheet metal workers from Boston Local 17, ship’s wheel builder Bob Fuller, duck caller and hunter Jonathan Detwiler, tap dancer Jimmy Slyde and his apprentice, Rocky Mendes, as well as master icon writer Ksenia Pokrovsky and her student, Sister Faith Riccio, along with others. Exhibition curator and Massachusetts State Folklorist Maggie Holzberg is also featured.

“Keepers of Tradition” draws on eight years of fieldwork by folklorists at the Massachusetts Cultural Council. This investigation took researchers into homes, dance halls, boat yards, places of worship, and festival sites--places where folk art is produced and valued. These folklorists talked with, and recorded people practicing folk art traditions, with the goal of understanding these practices from an insider’s point of view. Now this first person viewpoint is available to museum visitors. The audio tour offers visitors a personal and lively take on what motivates and interests some of the commonwealth’s own keepers of tradition.

“Keepers of Tradition" is on view through June 7, 2009. Find out more at or at the Museum's web site.  Funding for the exhibition is provided by Bank of America, an anonymous local foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the National Heritage Museum, and the National Endowment for the Arts.