Exhibit showcases handmade creations of folk art school

The whole idea of the Crandall Library Folklife Center’s latest exhibition is to show visitors what

Most times, when you go to a gallery exhibition, the work might awe and inspire, but seldom do you leave thinking, “I could do that, too.”

That is not the case with the Crandall Library Folklife Center’s latest exhibition, “Inspiring Hands, Hearts & Mind: The Arts & Crafts of the Adirondack Folk School,” on display through June 30. The whole idea of the exhibition is to show visitors what they can create themselves, from canoes to felt art pieces and everything in between, when they take a class at the Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne.

Jim Mandle, a New Jersey native who spent summers in the Adirondacks while growing up, founded AFS in 2010 to promote the teaching of the arts, crafts and culture of the Adirondack region. All classes are hands-on, and they are taught by instructors from the region as well as neighboring states.

On Main Street in Lake Luzerne, the school occupies the former town hall building. Course offerings have grown each year — last year, AFS offered more than 200 classes and added 25 new instructors. This year, students have a choice of more than 250 classes. “Inspiring Hands, Hearts & Mind” gives people the opportunity to see the different kinds of crafts and skills offered by AFS.

‘Inspiring Hands, Hearts & Mind’

WHERE: The Folklife Center at the Crandall Library, 251 Glen St., Glens Falls

WHEN: Through June 30, Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


MORE INFO: Visit www.crandallibrary.org/folklife or call 792-6508, x239

Even though the school is just over the mountain from Glens Falls, there are still many who don’t know about it, said Todd DeGarmo, founding director of The Folklife Center who curates the exhibition. He hopes that this exhibition will help create awareness of the school.

Eve Wenger, executive director of AFS, knows the high level of craftsmanship the school’s instructors offer, but seeing the work of 42 of the school’s instructors all together makes an impact. There are lifelike carved wooden birds, photographs, woven textiles, traditional Appalachian brooms, Shaker-style boxes, iron tools, tin work, baskets, painted floorcloths, a toboggan, felt art, botanical lampshades, feather and floral arrangements, quilts, handmade lace, wood items, book art, fly fishing lures, paintings, birdhouses, knitted items, glass beads and furniture. “When you put it all together in one place, you just realize how amazing the work is, the level of craft, and it’s really so impressive,” she said.

Canoe and chair

Larry Benjamin of Tobyhanna, Pa., who spends his summers in the Adirondacks, has a canoe, paddle and chair on exhibition. The chair came about when a neighbor had purchased some chairs that were said to be old lawn chairs from the Sagamore Hotel. They were in disrepair, and Benjamin said he would fix them if he could take a pattern from the chairs. He crafted them from strips of red oak harvested from a tree destroyed in a storm in Lake Luzerne. The were molded into their gently sloping shape using a cold bending technique and then laminated together with epoxy resin.

The canoe, just under 12 feet long and 20 pounds, is made from a Wee Lassie pattern, one designed by J. Henry Rushton of Canton in 1863. It became a classic Adirondack style for canoes. Benjamin bent strips of eastern red cedar around a form and fastened them together with fiberglass fabric and then with epoxy.

Benjamin will be teaching the 12-day canoe making class twice this season, with one class beginning on June 19. “Each person walks out with a boat,” he said.

Carol Maher of Lake Luzerne teaches tole painting and gourd art at AFS. Not only does she teach the craft, but she teaches the history of the craft and how it came to be in the Adirondacks. “We always try to connect what we’re teaching at the folk school with the culture of the region,” she said.

Gourds were readily available and considered very practical, Maher said. Her gourds in the exhibition are simple drinking gourds that she made by cleaning out the insides and rubbing them with beeswax mixed with mineral oil. During her classes, she brings a variety of gourds as well as tools such as saws, sandpaper, paint and woodburning tools, and lets students envision what they would like to create.

Also from Maher is a wooden box that has been painted black and then tole painted with hearts, flowers, vines, a house and borders. She explains that Germans brought the art form with them when they settled in the United States.

Birch table

On exhibition from Jim Schreiner of Day is a yellow birch stump base table with a carved top of bird’s-eye maple. Schreiner teaches rustic furniture building at AFS. He spends about a year prepping materials for his classes. To save time, he collects and dries the pieces of wood and bark so that he has materials ready for students to use to construct an end table, coffee table, chair, coat rack or rustic frame.

Even with the ready-to-work materials, Schreiner walks his students through the whole process so that they go home with the knowledge of how to do it on their own.

He keeps his classes small so that he can spend time with each of the students as they’re working. “You can come in as a total beginner and go away with a rustic frame or nice end table or coffee table,” said Schreiner, who also serves on the board of directors of AFS.

Linda Van Alstyne of Middle Grove has taught wet and dry felt sculpture classes at the school. The process she uses, which involves no machines, piecing together or sewing, is one that goes back to before the Common Era. People took the fibers from their animals and made things.

Van Alstyne has four pieces in the exhibition. One is a pair of European-inspired house shoes she made by adding soap to soft fibers, agitating them and molding them by hand. Two other pieces were inspired by hornets’ nests, and the artwork that resulted is what she imagined the nest would look like inside if opened up. Another felt sculpture leaves interpretation up to the viewer. It could be “anything from plant life to a sea creature because things are constantly evolving and opening up,” she said.

Basket creations

Basketmaking is another craft offered at AFS. Beverly Cornelius of Guilderland showcases five baskets in the exhibition. “I started weaving in 1996 and it just became sort of an obsession, just a really serious study of basketmaking,” said Cornelius, who adds that she never settled into just making one type of basket, drawing her inspiration from Shaker and Native American designs.

In the show is a big, round basket in a triaxial weave pattern called “Shaker Star,” modeled after a cheese basket made by the Shakers. Another basket with handles has a patterned weave reminiscent of Cherokee weaving. She also exhibits a tiny ash basket small enough to wear around one’s neck and a large ash blueberry picking basket.

Cornelius prefers to work with ash, but because of its cost, she often weaves in reed, which is what she uses with students in her AFS classes.

A beaded embroidery necklace by Susan Havens of Fort Edward is one of the first items that visitors will see when they walk into the gallery. Her process is largely intuitive, and she doesn’t pre-design her work. She’ll find inspiration in a stone or color, and then begin working on a design. A jasper stone provides the focal point for this intricately beaded piece in blues, white and brown.

Havens said that she can teach students a technique with needle, thread and fabric, but she wants the inspiration to be theirs. “I would rather have a student bring to me a piece of broken jewelry or a stone that they found or a crystal and say, ‘I want to make something out of this.’ That’s telling me that the student is inspired to make a creation of their own,” Havens said.

The AFS wants to impress upon visitors to the exhibition that what they see in the show they can learn to make themselves. “These are classes that they can take,” Wenger said. “We’re a teaching institution, and we really want people to try their hand. Don’t admire from afar.”

Copies of the 2013 AFS course catalog are available in the gallery. For more information visit www.adirondackfolkschool.org.

Categories: Life and Arts

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