Friday, February 16, 2018

Sea Shanties

Songs Aboard Ships

Folk songs reflect the lives of those singing them. Sea shanties were popular among sailors from the 18th to the 20th century. This style of work song could be heard in American merchant vessels prior to the Civil War.

These tunes could be heard while men adjusted the rig or raised the anchor. They were also sung when other tasks required the men to work together in rhythm, such as rowing. 
About these team songs, experts say their rhythms were precise and often used call-and-response elements. African Americans who sang while loading these ships, stoking steamboat furnaces and other tasks are credited with influencing these work songs that were belted out by all.

Freedom To Sing

In some instances, the lyrics, which were easily adapted, allowing sailors and slaves alike to sing about what they might not otherwise be able to talk about.

The range of music also included elements of minstrel music, popular marches and regional folk songs. Traditionally, they are grouped into three primary types: short haul shanties for shorter trips; halyard shanties for heavier work and capstan shanties for long, repetitive tasks.


One classic sea shanty example was a popular American folk song that had Irish roots.  “Poor Paddy Works on the Railway" while being a song about the railroad was adapted to be a work tune about working on a boat on Erie.

Other memorable sea shanties included “Blow the Man Down” and “Drunken Sailor”.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Healing Charms and Medicine

The Folklore of Healing Rituals

If you are interested in learning about the ways healing charms and medicine are being study, then you’ll want to know about this upcoming folklore event:

Interdisciplinary Approaches to the 
Study of Healing Charms and Medicine
Harvard University, April 6-8, 2018

 According to the conference sponsors, charms are understood as a ritual means of addressing situations of sickness, stress, and anxiety by way of a combination of special language and special actions.  They are also universal across human societies. For example, early Latin manuscripts and various other vernacular languages contain several examples of healing charms that blur the lines between magic and science. The link between them has not been severed. It has been noted that today, people routinely consult specialists in naturopathy, Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine alongside, or in preference to, modern, scientific medicine.

Not only does the study of healing charms and other medical beliefs and practices have the potential to yield insight into traditional and historical systems of knowledge, but such study often has major implications for modern medicine. 

Charms can lead to the development of new medication and procedures, as when researchers from the University of Nottingham discovered that a charm from the 9th century Anglo Saxon manuscript “Bald’s Leechbook” proved effective in eradicating strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

Pharmaceutical companies spend significant amount of money on researching the pharmocopiae of indigenous cultures across the planet in order to develop new drugs.

Because of the broad nature of this topic, this conference aims to bring together researchers whose work spans a broad range of areas, time periods, and disciplinary approaches. 

This event brings together the study of medicine, science, and religion, thereby bridging gaps between disciplines and uncovering connections between the traditions of various cultures.

Presentation themes will range from verbal magic in the Middle Ages, quarantines as magic, and women and childbirth.

Featured Speakers

Dr. Jacqueline Borsje, University of Amsterdam. She is a specialist in the study of Religion and in Celtic Studies and is currently leading a project called "The power of words in medieval Ireland."

Professor Richard Kieckheffer of Northwestern University, is one of the most prominent scholars of magic and religion in the late Middle Ages. He has a special interest in church architecture, and the history of witchcraft and magic. 

To learn more about the conference schedule click here. 

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Black American Folk Hero

Carter Godwin Woodson

December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950

This American folk hero, credited with being the “father of black history” was a first on many fronts. He founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. This historian, author, and journalist also founded The Journal of Negro History in 1915 and launched the celebration of "Negro History Week" in 1926 which is the precursor of Black History Month.

Born in December 1875 he was the son of former slaves. His father, James Woodson helped Union soldiers during the Civil War and later moved his family to Virginia where a high school for black students was being built.

Early Years

Woodson earned his living as a coal miner and attended school irregularly until he entered Douglass High School. At the age of 20 he earned his high school diploma and went on to teach school in Fayette County. By 1900 he was appointed the high school principal and managed to continue his own education until he earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in Kentucky and later graduated from the University of  Chicago with both a Bachelors and Master’s Degree. He followed that with a docatorate degree from Harvard University and a faculty member at Howard University where he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

He felt the role of African-American history and the history of other cultures was being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, and later published with Alexander L. Jackson, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 in 1915.

Reducing Racism

The Association for the Study of Negro Life an
d History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History), ran conferences, published The Journal of Negro History, and focused on those responsible for the education of black children. He believed that education was a key to reducing racism as were increasing social and professional contacts.

His first book, A Century of Negro Migration, continues to be published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He also studied many aspects of African-American history, including publishing the first survey of free black slaveowners in the United States in 1930.

He once wrote: "If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one."

His tireless effort has created a legacy that lives on. To learn more about him, click here

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Folk Couture

Folk Art Inspires High Fashion

Folk art has inspired today’s fashions. As a record of time and place, folk art is, essentially, functional art that has been made beautiful. The American Folk Art Museum is hosting a traveling exhibit that bridges the gap between the two. The final installation of Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art runs from February 4 to April 29, 2018.

The exhibit, which has already been shown at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Huntsvilles Museum of Art in Alabama and the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Florida, features the work of more than a dozen designers who were inspired by folkart.

The Artists

The designers include Catherine Malandrino and Bibhu Mohapatra, among many others.

Malandrino’s designs bring together her native French couture with what has been called the street style of New York. Her iconic Flag Dress that features the American flag and is a statement about freedom, individuality, risk, fun, and open space, according to Malandrino.

She has designed a handkerchief dress that takes turn-of-the-century papercut with Odd Fellows symbols to a whole new level. Like the symbols, it too is meant to be a statement of fellowship and love.

A hand-held book of tattoo patterns gave Mohapatra insights into the stories tattoos can tell. Imagining a sailor at sea, he envisioned the body of water around the sailor to be like a woman. The result is a dress with suggestive tattoo designs beneath the garment’s watery organza surface. “She looks as if she has tattoos all over her body and this wave of organza is floating over. It is a dream, it is a reality, and it is also a fantasy,” said the Indian designer.

Special Program

Part of this unique exhibit includes a series of free talks by the designers who will give presentations on their respective folk art influences and artistic processes. For a complete schedule click here.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

African Orishas

Yoruba Mythology Bridging Generations with Color

According to Yoruba cosmology all human beings possess a destiny or fate that will ultimately become one in spirit with Olodumare.  Olodumare, one of the three manifestations of the Supreme Creator in this rich pantheon, carries the responsibility of coordinating the Universe and can be found in Orishas. These deities possess the ability to embody aspects of Olodumare and serve as intermediaries between humans and the supernatural.

To illustrate, literally, how some of these male and female appearances have shown up in physical world, Nzinga-Christina Reid has recently created the easy to understand Yoruba Mythology Coloring Book: The Gods and Goddesses of Yorubaland. The book honors African spirituality and the celebrates its ancient history which is rooted in West Africa’s Nigeria.

Crossing the Atlantic

Basic characteristics and traits of the Orishas crossed the Atlantic with the Africans during their force migration passage, according to the Reid. The author, a licensed master social worker is also founder of Black Diaries, Inc. This non-profit was established to share the personal narratives of people of color. She also serves as Associate Adjunct faculty at Columbia University School of Professional Studies.

 “I wanted something people could easily access, do something to relax, and (be) kind of carefree,” in learning, said Reid, of the soft cover 24-page book that is designed to encourage discussion and conversation.

It is also meant to be a missing link for those of all ages who seek to know their pre-slavery ancestry. According to her formal education in the United States “normally includes Greek Mythology, whereby students are taught Zeus, Apollo, and others, yet information about African mythology is omitted.”

Yoruba Mythology Coloring Book: The Gods and Goddesses of Yorubaland is available on Amazon ($8.99) and is an affordable and practical gift-giving idea for Black History Month as well as birthdays and holidays.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Winter Deities

Each season comes with its own deities. These supernatural beings bring both blessings and curses. Like us, they can also fall to temptation and vices. They can also be pure enough to lead the way for human beings who heed their example and advice.

The Queen of Winter in Scotland is Beira. The gifts of this mother of all gods and goddesses include the creation of numerous mountains and large hills, which are said to have been formed when she was striding across the land and accidentally dropped rocks from her wicker basket. She also built the mountains to serve as her stepping stones and reportedly shapes hills and valleys with a hammer.

According to legend, she can herd deer, fight spring and freeze the ground. Beira was a one-eyed giantess with white hair, dark blue skin, and rust-colored teeth. She turned her negligent maid Nessa into the river Loch Ness.

Her reign occurs during the winter months November 1 to May 1.

Other Deities of Winter 

The North Wind which does not disturb evergreen trees in winter because they shelter wounded birds.

The Norse Goddess Skadi who brought skis and snowshoes to her people.

The Aztec god of frost Itzlfaeoliuhqui came into being when the dawn god was struck by one of his own arrows.

Credit for the first winter solstice goes to Louhi, Mistress of the North who battled Finnish heroes and then stole the sun and moon from the sky.

Bulgarian winter spirit Koleda gave people the knowledge of the universe and the celestial bodies. He gave them a book about the stars.

There are many more winter spirits, such as Jack Frost and the Snow Queen.

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About Fairies


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Unexplained Death Exhibit

When does unexplained death become a museum topic? 

Apparently when displays and exhibits about the subject are so artistically produced that they actually re-create in miniature mock scenes that could offer forensic clues about what happened.

Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is designed to explore the surprising intersection between craft and forensic science, according to Smithsonian spokespeople. Currently on exhibit through January 28 in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum in New York, it also reveals the journey of a female investigator who made her way through the male-dominated field of police investigation in order to establish herself as one of the field’s leading experts.

“Lee (1878-1962) crafted her extraordinary “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”—exquisitely detailed miniature crime scenes—to train homicide investigators to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” These dollhouse-sized dioramas of true crimes, created in the first half of the 20th century and still used in forensic training today, helped to revolutionize the emerging field of homicide investigation,” wrote the museum staff.

The first female police captain in the country, she has been recognized as the “mother of forensic science” and helped to set up the first-of-its kind Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University when the field of forensics was in its infancy.  A gifted artist as well as a criminologist, she used the craft of miniature-making that she had learned as a young girl to create the Nutshells that were the “virtual reality” of their day (starting in the 1940s).

Every element of the dioramas—from the angle of miniscule bullet holes, the placement of latches on widows, the patterns of blood splatters, and the discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses—challenges trainees’ powers of observation and deduction. The Nutshells are so effective that they are still used in training seminars today at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

This exhibit represents composites of 19 real and extremely challenging cases featuring homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths.  And she did so, according to the exhibit’s curator, with an eye towards recognizing victims such as women, the poor, and people living on the fringes of society, whose cases might be overlooked or tainted with prejudice on the part of the investigator. She wanted trainees to recognize and overcome any unconscious biases and to treat each case with rigor, regardless of the victim.

For more details, click here