National Heritage Museum Premieres "Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts" May 18, 2008 through February 8, 2009

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"Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts" is a major new exhibition featuring over 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.

Preening Black Duck

Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts

The National Heritage Museum and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) proudly announce "Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts," a major new exhibition opening May 18, 2008 in Lexington. The exhibition will feature over 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.

"Keepers of Tradition" draws upon eight years of field research by MCC folklorists. "This documentary fieldwork has taken us into the homes, kitchens, workshops, dance halls, places of worship, parade routes, and other gathering places where traditional art is produced, used, valued, and displayed," says curator Maggie Holtzberg.

"Providing access to the arts - particularly to underserved populations - is a high priority both locally and nationally for Bank of America," said Robert E. Gallery, president, Bank of America Massachusetts. "Bank of America traces its own lineage back to the opening of the Massachusetts Bank in 1784. With that in mind, we appreciate the importance of preserving and celebrating the Commonwealth's heritage."

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue celebrate the work of a wide array of living artists. It also tells their stories. Visitors will meet Anahid Kazazian, an embroiderer in the Marash tradition, who first learned her skill as a young girl in Syria because, "A trade is like a gold bracelet on your arm, because when you are in need you can sell it." Visitors will also be introduced to legendary rhythm tap dancer Jimmy Slyde, who in speaking about tap dance and hip-hop identifies a central truth of all the featured traditions in the exhibition: "Everything has roots. Ain't nothing new babe."

"Keepers of Tradition" showcases mastery and passion in diverse media, from the uniformity and handiness of a Nantucket Lightship basket, to the Native quill work on a tobacco pouch, to the vibrant colors and textures of a Caribbean Carnival costume. Drawing on interviews with practitioners, masters and apprentices, the exhibition explores the deeply personal and cultural context for each piece of work. Through the objects, catalogue, and audio tour, visitors will learn how some of these traditional artists developed their skills, what fuels their passion, and how they have practiced and shared their work over the years.

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.

An ambitious series of performing arts programs will also be presented in conjunction with the exhibition. A schedule will be available at http://www.nationalheritagemuseum.org in advance of the opening.

A new website, featuring images, sounds, an audio guide and interactive opportunities to complement the experience of the exhibition, will launch in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition at http://www.massfolkarts.org.

"Keepers of Tradition" is organized by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts. Maggie Holtzberg, manager of the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, curated the exhibition and authored the accompanying book. The 200-page volume, published in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Press, features 160 color and 10 black-and-white illustrations. It will be available in the Museum's Heritage Shop for $24.95 in mid-May, as well as on the University of Massachusetts Press website http://www.umass.edu/umpress/

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is a state agency that promotes excellence, access, education and diversity in the arts, humanities and interpretive sciences, in order to improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts residents and contribute to the economic vitality of our communities.

The National Heritage Museum is dedicated to presenting exhibitions and programs on a wide variety of topics in American history and popular culture. The Museum is supported by the Scottish Rite Freemasons in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States. The National Heritage Museum is located at 33 Marrett Road in Lexington, at the corner of Route 2A and Massachusetts Avenue. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 am-5 pm, and Sunday, noon-5 pm. Admission and parking are free. Heritage Shop and Courtyard Café on site. For further information contact the Museum at (781) 861 6559 or visit the web site at http://www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Bank of America and the Arts
Bank of America is a leading supporter of arts and culture in the United States. Through a wide variety of programs, Bank of America works to strengthen artistic institutions and provide greater access to treasured works of art for both its customers and those who might not otherwise experience them. Each year the company provides millions of dollars in grants to a wide range of arts organizations, supporting education and access programs and enabling institutions to expand their scope, and underwrites national and local performances, arts programs, and exhibitions. Through its unique loaned exhibition program, the bank offers its art collection to museums throughout the country, free of charge, so they may expand their offerings for the benefit of their communities.

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Linda Patch

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