Street Talk: 58th Art in the Park

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Allan Sackey, Pittsford, Massachusetts

I’m not originally from Massachusetts, I’m from West Africa, Ghana. I learned this weaving baskets at age of 7 years, and my grandfather taught me. My grandfather is 125 years old now. He’s still alive in West Africa, Ghana. He taught me how to weave this basket. I use fiber grass. It’s natural fiber grass, and the dye that we use are vegetable fiber dyes. So we use the straw — we twist them to make it double. Some people don’t like weaving double basket because they think it wastes material, but I need the quality of my product. So I always weave double weaving just to make it strong for my customers.

Barbara Mitchell, Guilderland, New York

I wanted to do a mindless hobby. I was teaching and had five kids at home, and I needed something to just relax and be mindless and I found out it’s anything but mindless — but you have to concentrate so hard on it. It’s very relaxing. It was about 30 years ago I started doing it, and then I started taking a couple of classes, too, and I had to sell it in order to make room to make more, so I started doing craft fairs. You’re not going to make a million dollars doing it, but it’s a lot of fun. You’re lucky if you break even, but it’s a lot of fun, yeah.

Sharon Herrmann

I’m a silversmith, only silver, and I’ve been doing this for 36 years. What I work with is wire and plate, everything is crafted from that by soldering and hammering and cutting. It’s all basic, everyday wear jewelry. The story of how I started — I had a job, and a silversmith in Manchester called me up and said, “Want a job?” And I said, “I have one,” but I gave notice and started working for her and apprenticed for three years. She said, “Go out on your own, and I did, and here I am, 35 years later. Apprenticing, that’s my education, actually hands on. It’s a full-time business, and I love creating.

Caitlin Gates, Hubbardton

It’s watercolor, and I did like a zentangle background — it’s really just Sharpie, but it started out as kind of a project I was doing for a children’s book. It’s sort of at a standstill for the moment, but it’s these really fun illustrations. It’s all about collective nouns, so the parliament of owls, the walk of snails, tribe of goats, colony of bats, that kind of stuff.

RH: Pride of lions, a murder of crows.

CG: Yes! An unkindness of ravens!

RH: “Un-kind-ness!”

CG: Yes.

RH: That’s harsh on the raven!

CG: I know! They kind of got demoted from the crows, I feel like.

RH: Well, “murder” is not so great either.

Jameelia Abdullah, Amherst, Massachusetts

We do handmade jewelry, and we pretty much make jewelry out of anything we can find. We do wire-wrapping, beading, weaving. We use lightweight nickel-free products so that we can make really ornate pieces that are good for sensitive skin, and everybody can wear. It wearable art. We’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, and it just came out of need after economic change. My mom actually started, and I came on after my master’s program. I just look young.

RH: So it’s a family tradition. You learned from your mother.

JA: Yeah.

RH: How’s it going for you?

JA: Great. It’s very busy.

RH: Tell me a little about technique. Do you make drawings first? How do you do it?

JA: No, we don’t do drawings. We pretty much have the sketch in mind, and then we lay it out. With our necklaces we lay it out before we do it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And we just see what happens.

Peter Huntoon, Poultney

Nature will do remarkable things if I just have the sense to get out of the way. I do invite the universe to conspire with me, and by that I mean encourage accidents, so I have a variety of tools that manipulate paint in certain ways and many ways out of my control. So when I make a mark it’s at best hopeful and at worst damaging, but I try my best to judge what I put down, make the most of it and most importantly, leave alone the marks that could always be slightly better, but the more you monkey with it, the more the integrity of the paint already on there is compromised. If you look at it in its early stages right now, you can see all the individual marks there. They have integrity, they have personality, they have identity, you know, this one’s green, this one’s orange, this one’s opaque, this one’s transparent. So the more I can leave that integrity intact, i.e., don’t take my brush and smush ’em all together, that just destroys the inherent beauty of this thing. So as the painting progresses, it’s more a job of leaving things alone and gently, gradually building up the surface until it’s a whole painting and things are in their appropriate, organized position, and it works as a whole, and that’s called unity, the most important element of painting in my opinion.

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