Friday, June 29, 2012

A New Arts and Crafts Movement


Gourd bowl with pyrographic design by Georgianne Jackofsky

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century a movement, led by English writer and artist William Morris, sought to restore the glory and appreciation of traditional craftsmanship. The movement took place at a time when the industrial revolution and machine-made products were devaluing skills that had been refined by artists and craftsmen throughout the course of human history. Once again we find ourselves at a crossroads in human history; where artists and designers with unique and valuable skills are being replaced by machines. This time the machines are not the steam, coal, and electric powered inventions of the nineteenth century, but the digitally controlled computer programs of the twenty-first century. There is a New Arts and Crafts movement taking place right now and it is happening on a global scale. In the last century, the movement was centered around schools, communities, and individuals dedicated to preserving traditional art forms. This time around the movement has no clear leader or epicenters of activity. One reason for the difference between the twentieth century movement and the twenty-first century movement is that the same technology that is creating the need for the movement is also aiding the movement by providing easy availability of tools and the rapid dissemination of the information needed to learn the practice, as well as the appreciation, of traditional art forms. The digital genie is out of the bottle and there is no turning back to the age of analog technology, but we should follow the advice of William Morris by recognizing the talents of traditional artists and craftsmen, giving the simple beauty of traditional folk art the respect it deserves.

Now for some shameless self promotion. The Homegrown String Band not only creates homegrown and handmade acoustic music, we are also practitioners of traditional arts and crafts. Annalee has created her own line of handmade soaps and lotions, Erica is a well known knitter and designer who creates original knitting and crochet patterns as well as a line of hand dyed yarn. Georgianne is an amazing artist who creates incredible works of beauty using pyrography (drawing with fire) on wood and gourds, as well as fashioning copper, brass, and aluminum wire jewelry. I work in copper, silver, pewter, wood, and fiber to create jewelry, decorative art, spoons, bowls, buttons, and Navajo spindles.

You can find us hawking our wares, every Sunday (if we are not doing a show) through November, at The Rocky Point Farmers Market located on Prince Road just east of Broadway (Old Depot Park) in Rocky Point, NY. We put up two tents and several tables displaying soaps, sundries, jewelry, gourd art, copper bowls, knitwear, and hand dyed yarn. Stop by and support the New American Arts and Crafts Movement. While you're there you can also stock up on organic produce, nursery stock, eggs, grass fed beef, free range chickens, and maybe catch a few tunes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Homegrown Two - The Edison Sessions


On Saturday, June 2, Georgianne and I had the pleasure of taking part in an Edison wax cylinder recording session on the grounds of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ. The machine used for the session was over a hundred years old, using technology from the late nineteenth century. This acoustic recording technology was the industry standard up until the electric microphone was invented in 1925. The sonic vibrations were picked up by a large horn with a diaphragm attached to a needle at the narrow end. The sound waves cause the diaphragm to vibrate as the needle engraves a groove on a wax cylinder being turned by a wind-up motor. As the recording was taking place, the recording engineer, museum curator Jerry Fabris, was constantly blowing wax debris away from the engraver. The recording time limit was two minutes. We recorded three tracks; one solo banjo and vocal track that didn't come out due to a defect in the cylinder, and two tracks with guitar, banjo-uke, harmonica, and vocals. Here is the digitized version of our take on the ever popular Doctor Humphrey Bates and the Possum Hunters classic "How Many Biscuits."




All the other bands that took part in the session were loud instrumental brass bands who were able to be picked up while performing about six to ten feet away from the sound gathering horn. Because we played quieter stringed instruments, we had to move right up to the horn. I actually stuck my head into the horn while singing. Now we have first hand experience that taught us why the golden age of string band recording took place in the mid to late 1920s, after the invention of the electric microphone made it possible to record vocals and stringed instruments with improved fidelity.