Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Red Dragon!

Red Dragon Boat Shed on the Delaware

Actually, there's no real dragon living along the Delaware River.  But the Red Dragon Canoe Club, housed within the stately Shipman Mansion, does indeed exist.  Organized more (much more, in fact) than one hundred years ago, the club continues to thrive, though amidst the challenges and transformations of the kind that affect many social organizations formed with a dedicated purpose in mind, in a previous and very different time.  For many years located on the Delaware River in Edgewater Park, more or less tucked within the geographical slot formed between Beverly and Burlington, the club has an active membership, provides regular local-interest programming for members, neighbors, and the general public, and perhaps most especially, has a wonderful collection of boats, paintings and prints, and other river-related artifacts commemorating the history of the organization and illustrating life along the river -- from the boater's perspective, for the most part.  Here is a description of the club, lifted directly from the home page of their website:

The venerable Red Dragon Canoe Club, founded in 1883, is one of the oldest boating clubs in the United States. Sailing, paddling, dinners and picnics round out an active social calendar, with something for the everyone in the family!
The Red Dragon is housed in the Shipman Mansion, a Second Empire style mansion dating from the Civil War. The Red Dragon Canoe Club is a member run, not for profit club. It is situated on six acres of beautiful waterfront in Edgewater Park, New Jersey.  

Racing Canoe on Display at the Red Dragon Canoe Club

For those interested in learning more, the Red Dragon's (the club, not the mythical beast) website can be found here.

The Shipman Mansion, Home of Red Dragon Canoe Club

I mentioned events and programming.  These can be explored on the club's website, but include an annual club Mess, an annual shad roast, music and speaker programs, and more.  The shad roast is schedules in spring, during the annual shad run up the Delaware.  I attended the club's shad roast this year, hanging out with members who built and tended the fire, and roasted the shad, and staying on for dinner later.

Roasting Shad at Red Dragon Canoe Club, 2015

For my purposes now, however, I want to touch very briefly on yet another feature of the Red Dragon -- the skill and creativity of its members.  Clubs like this seem to inspire new as well as established forms of artistic expression, or attract people with special interests, knowledge, and skills who then continue to do their work, but now focusing on the more specialized context offered by the club.  The Red Dragon Canoe Club is no exception.  There are skilled canoeists among the membership, some canoe builders and boat builders and boat restorers, a handful of artists and model builders, among others.  Ed Leaf, past commodore of the club, is a dedicated ship model builder with a vast and detailed knowledge of ships and ship models.  Among his many models is a passenger boat that at one time plied the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Burlington.  His work is finely and intricately detailed, and historically accurate.

Boat Model by Ed Leaf, Edgewater Park
      More later...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Back in the Blogger's Chair

Whew!  It's been a very long time since my last post to this blog -- way, way back in September 2014, in fact.  I confess to having an ambivalent relationship to blogging; while I enjoy writing and sharing ideas and fieldwork, I'd much rather actually be doing fieldwork than writing.  At this point in my work, it seems that that's my priority.  But beneath that simple preference, I sometimes wonder about the continuing relevance of blogs -- especially the lengthier posts that try to dig a little deeper -- in an era of targeted text messaging and tweeting, not to mention social media such as FaceBook and the posts of that sort, which tend to be highly personal.  It seems as though the more personal vehicles -- I'm thinking of StoryCorps, Moth Radio Hour, and First Person Arts among others -- tend to emphasize personal experience over communal experience.  Or as a colleague has expressed it, the various social media and related phenomena emphasize "me stories" rather than "we stories".  Based on my own experience, I'd say that fieldwork is pointedly about the latter, not the former.

Let me try to say what I mean in a different way that may be more appropriate in this context, in any case.  I recently wrote a short blurb about folk art for a local arts organization who are planning a workshop series on the traditional arts.  Here's part of what I wrote:

The stakes can be especially high for folk artists.  While their work may develop from a private motivation, it also implicates the artist’s community, whose collective understanding of history and tradition are absorbed into folk art, and find expression there. It follows that rather than indulge a personal aesthetic, folk artists mindfully incorporate recognizable materials, processes, and practices, which in turn situate their work within the public sphere they occupy with other community members.  This twinning of artist and community is an especially important feature of folk art, which suggests an abiding intimacy between making, using, and sharing.  

Having been involved with the traditional arts for a number of years, though working almost exclusively as a field folklorist, my understanding is that folklorists are wary, and perhaps also a bit weary, of efforts to "define" what folk art, or folklore in general, actually is, though of course, many still make the attempt, as I was asked to do in this case.      

Moving on, in my last post I shared some thoughts about upcoming projects in FY 15 and beyond, and wrote the following:

Looking ahead, though too soon to discuss FY15 projects in detail, I can say that in addition to our continuing work with NJ350, we'll be back in the schools with another artist residency program, yet to be identified.  We've also begun planning for a larger initiative, with a possible focus on river-related culture and history, to be explored and presented through the rich array of artifacts and narratives associated with the Delaware River and tributary creeks.  Beyond that, and in keeping with past practice, I'll continue to do general fieldwork in the region, to identify traditional artists, explore local and community history, and document aspects of South Jersey history and culture. 

Since writing those words, I have indeed been conducting general fieldwork in the region, but all the while gradually narrowing the scope of that work to focus on what I now think of as the "waterways project", but which Perkins Center is tentatively calling "The Tides that Bind".  I began fieldwork on that project in FY15, and am devoting myself almost exclusively to that work during the current fiscal year, FY16, leading to an exhibit and related programming that's scheduled to open in June 2016.  In posts to follow soon on the heels of this one, I'll provide details, though meanwhile, I'll note that I've already covered some of this work in previous posts, especially "River Rats", "Flood Gates", and "Ray Miller's Root-head Decoy".  

Keep reading...

Plein Air Workshop near Rancocas Creek