Every summer, the Smithsonian hosts a Folklife Festival to celebrate cultures from around the globe. This year we’re celebrating Sounds of California and Basque country.
A section of the National Mall grass has transformed into a melting pot of colorful traditions from these two fascinating and resilient cultures. As you wander through the festival, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the multitude of art workshops, performances, cooking demonstrations, delicious food stands, language lessons, and more. I loved the festival so much that I’ve been 4 times already, and I’ve learned something new each visit.
This blog post will focus on— surprise, surprise—snap shots of the studio arts at the festival!
Sounds of California – Kumeyaay Artists
Meet Ana Gloria Rodriguez, aka Martha, and her granddaughter, Mari Rodrigues. They explained to me a bit about the art of Kumeyaay.
The craft is a fundamental part of their culture. Traditionally, mothers teach their daughters. Martha learned from her mother when she was 6 years old, and now she independently creates and sells her pieces. Mari is 18 years old and is currently learning the craft. When I asked her if she liked it, she nodded and said, “it’s cool,” although she prefers to make pieces from the soft grass rather than the dry (pictured below). The grass is called Joncus. It grows in abundance in rivers in Southern California.
Joncus grass plant, pre-drying process
Dried Joncus grass fiber
The grass is used to make various pieces, and each has a design that represents something from nature – stars, plants, wind, animals, flowers, etc. Here is a picture of a Sawil plate and a Hilu basket with a top. The plate takes Martha a few months to make, and the Hilu basket takes just about a day. This little basket holds small seeds. It also comes in larger sizes to hold acorns and other nuts.
She also makes earrings and necklaces!
Her art is available for sale at the Folklife Festival Marketplace in the Arts and Industries Building. Check it out before the festival ends!
Photos by Haley Moen
Basque Country – Bernat Vidal, Stone Artist
Bernat Vidal carves sandstone, or harri lanak in the traditional Basque language. He has been working with stone for 30 years. He makes various pieces that are usually placed on walls in houses. For example, here is a piece with the words “Ongi Etorri,” which means welcome.
Also featured at this stand are smaller, circular stone designs (pictured below). When I asked him what the design meant, he says it’s an ancient symbol that contains so many meanings in so many cultures around the world that he couldn’t say the one true meaning. “No tiene un significado, pero es importante. Es importante” – it doesn’t have one meaning, but it’s important. He explained that it could represent cosmic forces, compasses, life and death, etc.
Here’s more of his work displayed at the festival:
At the festival, he is currently carving the Basque crest that represents the different parts of the region. Check out his website here.
Jesus Mari Lazkano paints incredible, gigantic acrylic murals. His work is a combination of realistic renderings of imaginary landscapes. For example, he is currently working on a painting of a boulder floating above a vast ocean. Below are pictures of his smaller painting plans and the big painting-in-process at the festival.
If you’re impressed by his unfinished work, you’ll be blown away by his finished pieces. Here’s an image of an acrylic mural landscape on view at the festival:
Photos by Haley Moen
I was lucky enough to meet and speak with Lazkano at the Market Place, where posters of his work are for sale. He’s a pretty awesome guy. He received his Ph.D. in fine arts from the University of the Basque Country. He speaks 5 languages and has been teaching painting since 1985. His work investigates the ways that natural and constructed environments shape human culture and intellect.
These are just a few of the studio artists at the festival. You’ll have to go to see the rest, along with a ton of other exciting music and dance performances, sports, and cooking demonstrations.
The last day is Sunday, July 10th! Whether you’ve already been or not, it’s definitely worth at least one visit. I will probably visit a fifth time before it ends. See you there!
It’s also worth noting that the artisanal gelato is a work of art itself, and just one more reason to enjoy the festival this weekend.
Photo by Haley Moen