The State Library in Concord has completed renovations in its second floor Map Room and, this summer the public will find an exhibit there called “Shaping our Heritage: Celebrating Traditional Arts Apprenticeships in New Hampshire.”
The first thing you notice when you walk into the State Library’s map room is the natural light. It pours in from the white laminate skylights of the arched coffered ceiling. Every item on display, lining the perimeter walls and the center installations, is accompanied by photographs of the artists always in pairs.
“We’ve got a lovely rug here with New Hampshire birds. We’ve got one that has some emblems of New Hampshire’s heritage that was woven by a woman who lives way up in Intervale…”
That’s project director and curator Lynn Martin Graton. We’re looking at the handiwork of both masters and apprentices who have received apprenticeship grants from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.
Hooked rugs hang on the western wall with compositions ranging from farm scenes to outer space. While the content of the artwork may change with the times, the old-world methods through which these items are created, passed down from master to apprentice, are what’s really on display here.
“The exhibit itself is a, I like to think of it as a retrospective celebration looking back on 16 years of public investment in the preservation of traditional culture, arts, crafts, music and dance in our communities across the state.”
Over the years, the arts council has funded apprenticeships for things as diverse as basket weaving, blacksmithing, decoy carving, bonsai tree cultivation, Russian orthodox iconography and more.
“And then we have a number of traditions that are related to outdoor activities. We have a beautiful cavalry saddle here and a dogsled and fishing flies. But we’ve also funded over the years a number of dance traditions from the Asian communities.”
But what makes a traditional art form traditional? Is it just the deep historical roots and their strong links to cultural identity? According to Graton, it’s more than that.
“One of the primary characteristics of a traditional art-form is that the aesthetics, the sense of what’s beautiful, what works right, what suits the need of the activity—that sense of beauty is something that’s defined and developed through community input and often reflects the community.”
One of the art forms that best reflects the traditions of a community is music. And some of the immigrant communities from New Hampshire’s past brought with them many traditional music styles.
“In the area of music, New Hampshire has quite a range of cultural influences that have come to bear on traditional music here. It’s by and large fiddle-based.”
In the corner of the room, a tablet computer has been set up on a desk with headphones and a playlist of local musicians.
You can hear Scottish highland bagpipes and accordion music, contra dance music, French Canadian folk songs and Celtic folk music. And while some of these songs are new, their distinctive character and technique is still intact.
The exhibit will be open to the public every weekday through July 20th.
Every Wednesday through the 18th of July between 11 and 2 there will be craft demonstrations, with artisans showing the public how they weave baskets, carve decoys, paint Russian icons and more.
As ancillary events to the exhibit, the Concord Community Music School will host a fiddling concert on July 22nd and a Celtic music concert on July 29th.
There is an upcoming deadline in July for apprenticeship grants. Applicants are encouraged to visit the New Hampshire arts council website: nh.gov/nharts.