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October 15, 2021

West Hartford artist awarded grant to mentor apprentice

HARTFORD — In an effort to support and encourage the preservation of skilled traditional arts and crafts, the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program at the Connecticut Historical Society announces its 2018-2019 grant recipients. These awards are given to mentor artists in the Southern New England Apprenticeship Program who intensively teach their expertise to student apprentices and help sustain cultural expressions that are important to their ethnic and occupational communities. Additionally, the grants allow artists’ work to be shown publicly at local and regional festivals, arts activities, and events.

This year’s grant winners are:

Lithuanian straw art master artist Aldona Saimininkas of West Hartford, and apprentice Philitha Stemplys-Cowdrey of Granby, Connecticut. This team hand picks rye straw from farm fields and prepares it to form ribbons that become intricate scenes. Saimininkas has taught Lithuanian straw art workshops to Scout groups, Lithuanian gatherings and cultural schools, and adult classes throughout the U.S. and Canada. She created an official gift for the 600th anniversary of Lithuanian Christianity and has a straw picture in the Vatican’s art collection (a gift to Pope John Paul II).

Master Tibetan folk musician and dancer Lakedhen Shingsur of Clinton, and apprentice students of the Tibetan Association of Connecticut. This team studies traditional songs and dances from central, northeastern, and southern Tibet, and will perform at the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration this summer. Originally from Sikkim, India, a center of Tibetan Buddhist culture, Shingsur taught himself to play flute while at the Indo-Tibet Buddhist Cultural Institute in West Bengal and learned Tibetan songs from elders in Sikkim. He was a member of the Sikkim National Performing Arts Troupe for 10 years, performing throughout the world.

Master artist Elizabeth James-Perry of Dartmouth, Mass., is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head-Aquinnah, and apprentice Leah Hopkins, of North Providence, R.I., is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Nation. This team studies Native American porcupine quillwork to embellish clothing and other objects. Using dye recipes passed down through family lines or from Algonquian quillworkers’ guilds, these artists create embellishments of geometric designs and shapes of creatures or plants. James-Perry is considered an expert in Northeastern Woodlands Native American art including finger weaving, painted and quilled regalia and accessories, and wampum. She learned her art forms through family and tribal mentors and is deeply involved in conserving Northeastern Woodlands culture.

Master Celtic harp musician Mary King of Smithfield, R.I., and apprentice Elaine Killough of North Attleboro, Mass., study fingering techniques and musical interpretation. King and Killough share their Irish heritage and appreciation for traditional Irish music, dance, and culture. King, well-versed in fiddle, vocal performance, and harp, founded the Celebrating Ireland program in 1999 to invigorate and teach Irish culture and music in the region. Killough is working to play some of the iconic Irish songs by harpist Turlough O’Carolan.

Master scrimshaw artist Patricia James-Perry of North Dartmouth, Mass., and apprentice Jonathan James-Perry of North Providence, R.I., are a mother-son team who are both part of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe and descendants of whalers. They will build on their shared expertise in raw materials, scale, etching within negative space, composition, placement, and space filling to create larger, more polished scrimshaw featuring hand-processed yellow and red pigments. The James-Perry family has preserved knowledge and tools needed to make Aquinnah Wampanoag scrimshaw carved into baleen, whale bone, whale ivory teeth, and other polished materials. They will exhibit their work and demonstrate scrimshanding at the Wampanoag Cultural Festival in May.

Master musician Torrin Ryan of Attleboro, Mass., will work with a group of apprentices including Christopher Ryan (Providence, R.I.), Steve Bliven (South Dartmouth, Mass.), Vasily Kondrashov (Providence, R.I.), and Barry Wenskowicz (Smithfield, R.I.) to learn Irish session etiquette and repertoire. Following the style of traditional Irish musicians, the team works to play the same tunes on different instruments, learn new tunes by ear, and gain a sense of what music fits well with each instrument, different styles of playing the same tunes, as well as different musicians’ personal styles and preferences. Ryan is an accomplished player of Uilleann bagpipes and the Irish whistle, who learned from musicians at friends’ homes and at local pubs. The team will perform in Providence, Rhode Island, next summer to demonstrate their skills.

Established in 1991, CCHAP partners with local cultural groups to locate and interview artists from their communities, photograph or record their work, and learn from them about their heritage arts. The program also helps preserve and present these cultural traditions through public exhibits, performances, and other demonstrations. The apprenticeship program is managed in collaboration with the Folk Arts Program at the Massachusetts Cultural Council and independent folklorist Winifred Lambrecht from Rhode Island. The CCHAP and its Southern New England Apprenticeship Program are funded primarily through the National Endowment for the Arts. For more details, visit https://chs.org/2018/12/2018-2019-southern-new-england-apprenticeship-program/.

The Connecticut Historical Society (www.CHS.org) is a private, not-for-profit educational organization that includes a museum, library, and the Edgar F. Waterman Research Center. Founded in 1825, the CHS is the state’s official historical society and one of the oldest in the nation. The CHS, a Smithsonian Affiliate, works to connect visitors to the story of Connecticut, and to help create a society that values historical perspective and understanding as essential tools in shaping communities and making informed decisions. To accomplish that, the CHS has collected more than 4 million manuscripts, graphics, books, artifacts, and other historical materials related to Connecticut’s social, cultural, and family history, which are available to the public on site at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford, off-site at other locations, and online.

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