Jay Street has experienced plenty of change in the past few years, with businesses and organizations coming and going. This week, one of its longtime residents, New York Folklore, is adding a bit to the landscape by installing the New York Folklore Exhibition Gallery.
The exhibition space is located at the front of NYF and is dedicated to showcasing folk art by New York state-based artists.
If New York Folklore doesn’t ring a bell, it could be because the organization recently changed its name.
“We [were] founded as an academic society, as the New York Folklore Society, and that’s a very old-fashioned idea. We wanted to make it more inclusive,” said executive director Ellen McHale. This year, the 75-year-old organization adopted the name New York Folklore.
The art gallery and the name change are part of a rebranding effort for NYF and an effort to connect with people, especially those who might not even understand what folk art is or what folklorists do.
“There [are] about 45 folklorists that are working in the state. They’re working in arts agencies in libraries, in health care and they’re on the ground, documenting the traditional culture that’s in their communities,” McHale said.
These folklorists help to identify cultural traditions happening in their communities, and to document them through written and film interviews and photos.
“It’s really about what’s happening in our communities. Often there’s a historical dimension, but there doesn’t have to be,” McHale said.
Folklorists go beyond identifying by organizing community workshops or festivals and, of course, exhibitions. One of the challenges in putting exhibitions together is that the art form is changing, said McHale. Many artists don’t identify as folk artists, because with that phrase comes the connotation of preserving the past.
“Visual artists may want to identify themselves as contemporary artists. But the idea is that you have learned what you’re doing through word of mouth and example. Sometimes there’s a long tutelage with another artist. It’s not always going to art school and getting an MFA,” McHale said, “That’s how we define folk artists.”
Another challenge is getting the exhibitions together and ready to be hung.
“A lot of traditional artists are not used to [having] their work shown outside their communities, so things like framing and matting is something that has to be accomplished,” McHale said.
But with the new space that was renovated through funding from the William Gundry Broughton Charitable Foundation, McHale is excited to take on those challenges and hopefully expand New York Folklore’s presence in the Capital Region.
The first exhibition, “Ebru,” features the art of Turkish paper marbling by Hatice Erbas-Sorkunlu.
The art form is thousands of years old and requires an involved process. First, the artist fills a tray with water, paint/ink and chemicals that make the paint float. The artist can then use a brush or other tool to create a design on the surface of the mixture, then lay paper on it, which the design adheres to.
“To me, it looks like magic,” McHale said.
“Ebru,” which opens March 30 and runs through Aug. 31, is a traveling show curated by Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University. Each piece is intricately designed, whether with flowers or more abstract designs, some of which can be seen while looking through New York Folklore’s front window.
While in previous years a gift gallery was featured in the front of NYF’s office, the gifts have been moved to the back of the space to make room for the visual arts gallery, which is the only one on Jay Street, according to McHale.
“We are a statewide organization, and besides our presence here we don’t really do so much in Schenectady on a day-to-day basis,” McHale said. While artist Hatice Erbas-Sorkunlu isn’t local, McHale said the gallery space will be dedicated to more local artists in the future.
On Saturday, Erbas-Sorkunlu will be giving a workshop on Turkish paper marbling from 3-4 p.m. Registration is required, and tuition is $5 for NYF members and $10 for nonmembers. Then on Saturday, April 6, New York Folklore will host an origami workshop with Yoshimi Arai from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-4 p.m. Registration is required, and tuition is $10 for NYF members and $15 for nonmembers.
To register and for more information, visit nyfolklore.org.