Grantee Spotlight: Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, Lewiston, N.Y.

The Folk Arts Program at Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum is a unique resource, working with regional ethnic and minority communities to preserve, present, and support their traditional arts.

Driven by the work of folklorist Kate Koperski, The Folk Arts program became a permanent fixture of the Castellani Art Museum in 1991. Its work—exhibitions, publications, demonstrations, performances—and its archives of regional folk arts documentation are informed by ongoing ethnographic research of the Niagara Falls area.

With support from NYSCA, the Folk Arts program partners with regional communities to bring greater awareness to the traditional arts practiced within Western New York. No work was more evocative than Made of Thunder, Made of Glass II (why II), a vibrant 2016 exhibit of Tuscarora raised beadwork, a traditional art with a historic connection to the region. It continues to be practiced today.

“That was a really fun one. It was a real synthesis of the traditional and contemporary focus of the museum,” said the Castellani’s Curator of Folk Arts, Edward Millar. He said the exhibit drew on two private collections of historic beadwork from Niagara Falls—some of which dates to the 1800s —and surrounding regions, combining it with fine art portraits of contemporary bead workers throughout the Northeast, along with examples of their work.

Castellani art museum marble painting
Demonstration of gel-git technique by İpek Saraçoğlu.
Ebru – Turkish paper marbling – is the traditional art of floating paint and creating designs on water, and then transferring it to paper. Gel-git (come-and-go) patterns in ebru are made when the artist uses a bız (metal rod) to pull the paint in alternating rows.

A local artist from Tuscarora nation, Erwin Printup Jr., designed and installed a temporary mural throughout the gallery based off a mixture of two traditional Haudenosaunee stories and incorporated some traditional motifs.

“It was a very popular exhibit,” Millar said. It brought back historic Tuscarora beadwork, with a mixture of Haudenosaunee artists with some select Wabanaki beadwork, which is more flat than raised.

The Made of Thunder exhibit followed Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois Life, a major exhibit organized in 2000 by the Castellani and the McCord Museum of Canadian History in collaboration with the Kanien’kehá:ka Raotitióhkwa Cultural Center in Kahnawake, Tuscarora Nation community beadworkers in New York State, and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Castellani museum workshop
Tuscarora raised beadwork workshop (Spring 2016) led by Rosemary Rickard Hill.

Millar said more recently the Folk Arts program has been focused on developing relationships with newcomer communities in Western New York, extending the Castellani Art Museum and Niagara University’s commitment to accessibility, arts engagement, and outreach.

“Through NYSCA’s support, the Folk Arts Program at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University has been able to uniquely engage visitors in exploring local, underrepresented traditional arts alongside contemporary fine arts, encouraging visitors to grapple with the multitude of ways we pursue and make meaning through aesthetic expression,” said Millar.

An upcoming calligraphy exhibit, Appealing Words: Calligraphy Traditions in Western New York, explores five different calligraphy traditions practiced locally, including Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Western. It also features two contemporary interpretations of traditional calligraphy.

—Dade Hayes

Cover image: Appealing Words: Calligraphy Traditions in Western New York (Fall 2017 – Spring 2018) brings together five different forms of calligraphy practiced locally into one exhibit, exploring the common intersections of art and language across different traditions.