Friday, March 25, 2011

April Fools Day Folklore

April Fools Day – April 1 – is right around the corner. Although it is not a legal holiday it is a day of jokes, pranks and foolish merriment. Celebrated around the world, its actual origins aren’t clear. Some say that the initial Julian (Roman) calendar marked March 25-April 1 as the first week of the new year, in keeping with the arrival of spring. The Gregorian calendar rearranged the starting point of the new year and those who continued to observe the Julian new year were, it was said, fools.

Historically, April Fools’ Day is referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392) story, “Nuns Priest’s Tale”. It was on the 32nd day of March (April 1) that a fox tricked Chauntecleer. The Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote in 1539 of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April1. During the Middle Ages, the week long extravaganza of tom foolery was still observed in many European countries.

In New Zealand, UK, Australia and South Africa the jokes and pranks stop at noon. Those who continue to play jokes and pull pranks are called April Fools. In fact, it is common for newspapers in the UK to run an April Fool front page in the morning edition only. Elsewhere, the jesting lasts all day.

For fun, here is a partial list of how/when other countries celebrate foolishness.

· Iran: On Norwez (Persian New Year) which falls on the first or second day of April people play jokes on each other on the 13th day of celebration which is known as Sizdah Bedar and dates back to 536 B.C.

· Korea: The first snowy day of the year was a time for the royal family and their attendants to fool one another regardless of their status. The pranks were benevolent.

· Scotland: Hunt-the-Gowk Day ("gowk" is Gaelic for a foolish person) took place on April 1. The game involved the delivery of a message requesting help. The recipient would explain he can only help if he first contacts another person, and sends the victim to this person with an identical message, with the same result.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Folk Music: Mandolin

The mandolin is a mainstay in many folk music circles. Originally a single-stringed instrument depicted in cave paintings and murals 15,000 to 8000 BC, it is closely affiliated with the lute family. The word lute is derived from the Arabic al‘ud (العود and literally means "the wood".

Designed to be plucked, struck or bowed the lute can be traced back to Mesopotamia and records indicate it appeared in Spain, ala the Moors around 711 AD.

As we know it today, the mandolin of Italy evolved from the 14th century mandora, a miniature lute that had frets. The mandora – also known as mandolina- was often referred to as the Baroque mandoline or cat-banjo (strung with cat guts). Over time the instrument spread around Europe and continued to be modified, as is the nature of folklore that is adapted by the folk who use it.

The Neapolitan mandolin which originated in Naples, for example was distinguished by an almond-shaped body with a bowled back constructed from curved strips of wood and often bore a tortoise shell strike plate. The Neapolitan style of mandolin construction was adopted and developed by others, notably in Rome, giving two distinct but similar types of mandolin — Neapolitan and Roman.

By the twentieth century the mandolin was a staple of Celtic, bluegrass and jazz. In fact, in America it was thought to be a fad instrument from the turn of the 20th century to the mid-1920s, and was marketed by music teacher-dealers as featured in the popular musical “The Music Man.”

In the United Kingdom it has been a cornerstone of traditional English and Scottish music and has found its way into the British Rock music scene.

The mandolin, now the center of select orchestras that play bluegrass as well as light classical music, has found its place on the folk music landscape and continues to increase in popularity.

Want to hear some mandolin music?

Magical Mandolins

Vivaldi Concerto for 2 Mandolins

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Folklore of March Madness

So what exactly is March Madness and how is that folklore?

March Madness is a basketball championship that is held each spring in the United States. 68 college teams participate in this fast paced elimination tournament that was created in 1939 by Phog Allen, a Kansas coach. With most of the games held in March, it has become one of this country’s most prominent sporting events.

Overall, sports are competitive games that have their roots in specific communities of origin. As community folklore many of them have been modified to suit their new environment. For example bowling which can be traced back to ancient Egypt. By the 14th century it had become popular in England. In Italy the same game of rolling a ball and knocking down pins was known as bocci.

Now, back to basketball. It was developed in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith who was charged with creating a new indoor sports activity. According to NBC.Com, the activity was designed as a physical education class at the international YMCA training school in Massachusetts. Originally the hoop was a peach basket that hung ten feet above the floor.

March Madness is an off-shoot that developed only decades after the game itself came into being. It was a way to spotlight college basketball (which is where many professional basketball players are drafted from). Remember, too, that college basketball players are still considered 'amateur' so they are not measured against their professional counterparts.

In general, folklore sports are a very vibrant category of folklore; always present in most cultures it is a physical example of several key social values: sportsmanship, ability to compete and working with others as a team.

All sports also produce sports heroes - men and women - who achieve through skill and applied determination a standard of excellence. These athletes represent the best of the best, so to speak. In turn these figures become folk heroes/heroines; people who are admired for their talents and leadership. Because many athletes come from adverse circumstances, they also represent what is possible for others who may also be in less than fortunate circumstances. They also serve as a rally cry for people who might not otherwise not come together as a larger community; one that can provide hometown, college, statewide and/or national pride.

An interesting twist in our American cultural values is the addition of wealth as another element of heroic success that many sports folk heroes/heroines gain during their careers. Unfortunately, sports fans can, and often do, forget about the other values that contribute to being a sports folk hero/heroine. It will be very interesting to see how sports as an element of community folklore continues to evolve.

Here are some basketball folk heroes/heroines:
Gene Englund
Nate Thurmond
Nikki Caldwell
Magic Johnson

Friday, March 4, 2011

Nestle and Soar: Fiber FolkArts

Folk art is as time honored as any other folk lore tradition. Utilizing common, every day materials, folk artists make everyday items beautiful. Unlike ‘fine art’ folk art is not confined to just being ‘a thing of beauty’. It is also practice and useful with designs that are meaningful to the community where the items will be used. Think scarecrows, quilts and hand-painted plates.
Treasured by generations long after a folk art item has ceased to be functional, it still continues to tell a story about a time, a place and/or a person. Visually, it represents a local expression of a universal theme. An example of this can be found in the work Folk Artist Georgianne Holland, owner of Nestle and Soar Studio in Colorado. She infuses the centuries' old tradition of needlework with her own unique perspective of the natural world. Here is what she has to say about her folk art:

A member of the fiber art community for over 20 years, my current contemporary folk art is a reflection of my love for natural science, along with a touch of whimsy. I use folk art as a way to express a passion for designs found in nature.

Birds and trees are often featured in my work. I feel a kinship to those who work toward preserving and celebrating animal and plant life, many who also use nature as the reference in their home décor and lifestyle. Through my folk art I promote organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation.*

I work primarily with wool fiber and the ancient craft of needle felting by hand involves the repetitive stabbing motion of a single barbed needle through many layers of wool roving onto a foundational fabric. This repetitive up and down needle motion causes the wool roving to adhere to itself (and eventually, to the foundational fabric), which is also called dry felting. In this artistic process, dozens of colors of wool are used to create a single bird or tree design. Added to this is the embellishment of my folk art using wool crewel yarn, beads, and buttons, making my fiber art original, sturdy, textured, and full of personality.

I chose my studio’s name because of my love of the energy in both nesting and gliding…everyone deserves the chance to nestle and soar!

Like countless other folk artists before me, I do not have a formal art education. When it comes to the idea that folk art is “naïve art” this suggests that the untrained artist did the best he or she could with the materials and supplies at hand. I can relate to this as my fiber art background includes my family’s involvement with the quilt making community since 1969. Over the years, I watched many quilters practice techniques that they learned at the knee of their grandmother or favorite aunt, or, they even made up themselves as they went along! It has been my pleasure to learn the needle arts by watching hundreds of talented artists flourish and create. What a wonderful educational path!

Folk art has been described as both utilitarian and decorative and can utilize countless mediums. This free-form path seems to unite those who love it, as a folk art community, we appreciate the effort involved---such as the long hours involved in the creation of handmade needle work. I also love the “Make-Do” attitude of folk artists, for when traditional materials are unavailable, new materials are often substituted, resulting in contemporary expressions of traditional folk art forms. Folk artists traditionally learn skills and techniques through apprenticeships in informal community settings, like I did, but they can also be formally educated or even self-taught. When it comes to dry felting, I am self-taught, and it was a series of trial and error experiences that has brought me to what you now see in my Nestle and Soar Studio. In the coming year I have determined I should spend time in other fiber folk artist’s studios. It would do my heart and my art good to learn more about wool and felt from other passionate artists.

*NOTE: Whenever you order an item of folk art from Nestle and Soar, a tree will be planted in your honor in our National Forests through the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Weatherlore of March

Weather has long been a popular folklore subject. So popular, in fact, that people have created songs, rhymes and games to explain or expel weather conditions. Over time scientific observations have proven these evaluations/explanations to be pretty accurate. Here are a few fun sayings:

If a circle forms ‘round the moon, ‘twill rain or snow soon.
The undesirable weather fronts that punctuate March can make for agricultural crises. For generations, people have been watching the moon for signs of what will be. For example, the ring that sometimes circles the moon is caused by high-level clouds that are made of ice crystals. This ring can often be a predictor for upcoming low pressure systems. This means wet weather.

Cold is the night . . .When the stars shine bright.
Stars and other celestial bodies appear brighter in clear skies. Moisture in the air will dim these heavenly bodies because it tends to hold in the day's heat. This, of course, means warmer temperatures. In reverse, the drier the colder the temperatures and the brighter the stars.

“If birds fly low, then rain we shall know.”
Birds fly at lower altitudes when there is a drop in air pressure. The heavier air is more difficult to fly through. A drop in air pressure causes air to become “heavier,” making it harder for birds to fly at higher altitudes. People pay attention to this because could mean bad weather (storms, rain, etc.)