Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Wales Smithsonian Cymru

I've just come back from a two-day induction which has finally given me some idea of the personality of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It was brilliant. Totally informative with very little faffing about.

Aside from a series of lectures and Q&A sessions to cover practicalities, it was a fantastic chance to meet participants from all the other sections so that I now have a far better understanding of who will be there and what they'll be doing.

A whole host of musicians will be going over with a fair proportion devoted to the kind of Welsh folk music that I absolutely adore. We were treated to a sample in the evening as the result of a spontaneous jamming session in the hotel bar. I don't understand any of the words in the songs they sang, but the whole atmosphere was very moving with musicians and non-musicians alike joining in on harmonies and choruses on a fair few songs.

There's also an army of craftspeople preparing to share their skills in everything from pottery and basketry to dry stone-walling and clog making. I'm really looking forward to the summer and a chance to see what they can do.

The opportunities for collaboration between sections is also tremendous. A number of story tellers are on board and they'll be going round the site and telling stories in different places. They'll be coming to us to tell the story of the Lady from Llyn-Y-Fan-Fach who is at the heart of the legend of the Physicians of Myddfai. They'll also be doing a couple of other Mabinogion stories that I'm not familiar with - one which features Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

Our section (covering Welsh folk medicine & Ethnomedica, Physicians of Myddfai, turn of the century pharmacy practice and modern biochemistry) will include a small herb garden designed to evoke something of a traditional Welsh cottage garden, a small glasshouse without the glass (too hot) to feature biochemistry and a tent where we can do pharmacy and natural dyeing demonstrations as well as a few experiments in ointment making and suchlike.

We're also situated right next to the Welsh food demonstration area (unless plans change) so the chefs involved in that came over to us and asked if we could join forces at all. It seems one of the chefs is very interested in functional foods and is particularly focused on women's health issues so we got chatting about how she might include that in some of her demonstrations. We even wondered if we might find somewhere to forage for a few things whilst in the US and she had some ideas about how we might obtain some more interesting edibles when we're there.

Overall the experience was a very beneficial one and I'm almost feeling excited about the festival now rather than just daunted. On the down side, I'm suddenly beginning to comprehend the sheer quantity of work I have to do before then and each bit just as urgent as the next so I have no idea where to start.

All in a good cause though and we may have a visit from some of the American curatorial staff this week to visit our dear old village of Myddfai and as many other Welsh features as we can tempt them to. So that might provide a pleasant break from glaring at the computer.

For an entertaining little film about the festival click here:

And for more info about Wales Smithsonian Cymru visit...
...more info to be added shortly apparently.

Oh, and the Smithsonian Institution's own details for this year here:

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