14 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Woolcraft to Pottery. Falcons to Food Trucks.
Community events to choose from this week will connect those of us who feel at home in a crowd of fellow enthusiasts, as well as those of us who prefer a more intimate gathering, with our local resources and opportunities. Engage with others interested in woolcraft, arts, and pop-up food culture at weekend festivals happening throughout the region. Then feed your quieter side with a poetry reading for life-long learners, an intergenerational wildflower hike through a wildlife sanctuary, or have a once in a lifetime opportunity experiencing a falcon return to your gloved hand after a local ornithology talk.
Whatever your interests, Western MA has learning opportunities for you. Check out our list of Weekly Suggested Events and let Hilltown Families show you what’s out there and how to make the most of it. We’re the place where you and your family’s interests and values intersect with the bountiful resources in Western MA.
Sheep have been an important part of New England life since the English settlers arrived more than 300 years ago. At the time, sheep were imported for meat and wool and over time became a vital part of the local economy. The renowned Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Festival started in 1974 as an idea that came up at a potluck dinner. The original idea was to host a statewide sheep show, celebrating the importance of the local sheep industry. Since then the festival has grown and expanded to include sheep dog trials, local vendors, and workshops focusing on various woolen crafts. If you’ve got a crafter in your family, this is an opportunity to pick up lots of new skills, from natural dyeing to knitting Latvian fingerless mitts to felting. This is an amazing local tradition you won’t want to miss! For a complete list of all the events during this two day festival, please visit the Festival schedule. Cummington Fairgrounds. 97 Fairgrounds Road, Cummington, MA (FREE; $> Parking)
SHOP LOCAL: FIBER ARTS
In the 19th century, Western Massachusetts saw a huge merino sheep boom when many farms purchased Australian sheep for their incredibly soft fleece to produce wool for textiles. The Hilltowns’ landscape provided ideal pasture for livestock grazing.The benefit of purchasing local yarn is that you are more involved in and aware of the entire process of producing your wool. Often, the wool is processed locally and requires many hands to create it: from the farmer that cares for the animals to the sheep shearer, spinners, and hand-dyers, locally grown yarn offer the hand knitter a deeper connection to our community’s agricultural roots. It also supports the local economy and helps foster collaboration and sustainable consumption. In addition to purchasing local fiber from annual community events, like the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Festival, a few local independent shops to help you with your knitting adventures: Sheep to Shawl (Deerfield, MA) carries a variety of local yarns produced in the Pioneer Valley and Northern Berkshires, offering knitters a great introduction to yarns from our region. Northampton Wools (Northampton, MA) is an independent yarn store offers knitting classes for both experienced and beginner knitters.
INTEREST: FIBER ARTS/COLONIAL HISTORY
Take your learning to the next step and discover how wool and other fibers were made into fine textiles and garments in the Colonial Era. Compare and contrast wool textiles to silk, cotton and linen, and how these textiles change in quality as technology improves. Make a visit to see Celebrating the Fiber Arts at the Helen Geier Flynt Textile Gallery at Historic Deerfield to see examples of clothing and textiles from as early as the 17th century. Examples include a well-tailored wool coat and a vibrant red wool quilt from the early 19th-century. How was wool dyed such a vibrant color? How was wool woven to make the cloth for fine wool coats, and what details are present that demonstrate the talent of a skilled tailor. Come curious and ready to tour Historic Deerfield to learn about Colonial history of textiles and fashion.
The Paradise City Arts Festival is one of the areas most beloved annual events. For the past 23 years, Paradise City has been bringing more than two hundred of the very best artists and craftspeople from all over the country to the Three County Fairgrounds for a celebration of art, featuring live music and delicious food. If you are an aspiring artist, this three day event is a great opportunity to see the kinds of work that others are doing. Meet with artists, discuss their process, and maybe you’ll get inspired! Three County Fairgrounds. 54 Old Ferry Road, Northampton, MA ($)
INTEREST: POTTERY HISTORY/CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
Pottery has been a part of human civilizations around the world ever since the Neolithic era – which was over 10,000 years ago! Much more than just a means of making dishes, pottery serves as a creative outlet for many artists, and the slow development of the art and technology surrounding pottery speaks volumes to the changes that human civilization has undergone, both long ago and more recently. Additionally, while pottery can be found in countless cultures all around the world, techniques, styles, and uses vary between cultures, and close study of various pieces of pottery can speak to the similarities and differences between cultures near and far. Exploring pottery through children’s literature provides a means for exploring culture and history. Rins Swentzell’s Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters spotlights a Tewa Indian family in New Mexico, who tell the story of their family’s and community’s history through a series of clay objects – allowing readers to learn about Tewa history and culture. Laban Carrick Hill’s Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave tells the true story of an enslaved man living in South Carolina during the early 1800’s. Readers learn about 19th-century pottery techniques while also learning about the experience of slavery.
Another great way to learn through pottery is by making your own! There are several pottery studios in Western MA where families can sign up for classes, including CyclePottery in Florence. Potter Kathryn Kothe Roszko teaches both kids and adults how to throw on the potters’ wheel! Families can learn how to make their own mugs, bowls, and plates and get a better understanding of how pottery might have been made in the Colonial Era and how modern day potters create both functional and creative pieces.
While the modern food truck finds its historical antecedent in the rustic ‘chuckwagon,’ which provided simple food to Texas ranchers while herding cattle for months at a time, food trucks have now become a cultural phenomenon. Effective utilizing social media by informing customers precisely where the trucks are going to be at any given moment, the food truck movement is enormously popular. The prestigious “Zagat Survey” has even started rating food trucks. Part of the popularity of food trucks is due to the innovative menus they tend to feature, the Los Angeles Korean-Taco fusion trend being perhaps the most famous example. Now for the second year, Pittsfield is hosting its own Food Truck Festival! Try some new and delicious foods and enjoy the festive atmosphere, with fun activities for the whole family. Wahconah Park. 105 Wahconah Street, Pittsfield, MA (FREE)
Did you know that the longest continuously running Memorial Day parade in the country takes place right here in Northampton? The first parade was held in 1868, after the end of the Civil War. As the Gazette newspaper reported at the time: “The weather was bad, rain falling during the forenoon and at the hour of assembly but not-withstanding, a large number of people were on hand to participate in the exercises.” And 150 years later, this tradition is still going strong. With hundreds of participants and crowds of thousands, this parade is a true local institution. For more information visit Memorial Day Parade. Northampton, MA (FREE)
INTEREST: AMERICAN HISTORY
Many of us may be familiar with William Wordsworth’s famous definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” American modernist poet T.S. Eliot, however, had a very different view, writing: “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” Eliot’s irony notwithstanding, there is an important point to be made here about the nature of poetry as a way of distancing oneself while simultaneously being intimate and vulnerable. RebeccaLynn is a young poet from Boston, whose work has been influenced by Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, among others. She will be performing her work at Northampton Poetry this Tuesday. 50 Conz Street, Northampton, MA ($)
NATIONAL OBSERVATION: POETRY MONTH
Western Massachusetts has been home to many poets and writers who were inspired by this region’s remarkable landscape. April was National Poetry Month. As nature begins to come to life in blossoms and buds, National Poetry Month is the perfect catalyst for exploring the outdoor spaces and places that inspired great writers of the past and present through some of the many local trails found in the region. Read more in our post, Learning Ahead: National Poetry Month.
Wednesday, May 30, 9am-12pm
As Japanese haiku master Basho once wrote: “Ah, it is spring, / Great spring it is now, / Great, great spring – / Ah, Great -.” Indeed, as Basho’s verses perfectly express, the joy that spring brings is beyond words. Nothing speaks the wordless language of spring better than blooming wildflowers. The High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary is home to some of the region’s most spectacular wildflowers, as well as amazing views of the Deerfield River Valley and Mount Greylock. Azaleas, Columbines, and other gorgeous wildflowers will be in bloom during this bracing hike. High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary. Shelburne Falls, MA ($)
SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: BOTANICAL ILLUSTRATION
Taking a class with an artist that specializes in botanical illustration provides the scientific and artistic instruction needed to learn how to create botanical drawings. Botanical illustrations are not just limited to painting flowers, but also include sketching trees and other plant specimens. Not only is botanical illustration a creative outlet, but also a scientific one that lets you explore a plant species at an observational and focused level! The American Society of Botanical Illustrators provides different resources and tools to help students locate classes in their area or informational books on doing an individual study of botanical illustration. Gardens and wayside growing flowers offer an opportunity to engage with the landscape through art, literature, and community. Whether it’s botanical watercolors, illustrations, photography, or a relaxed visit to your local public garden, flowers blooming in a community support interests and connect residents to their public parks and the patterns of the seasons.
The Peregrine falcon, or ‘wandering’ falcon, is the fastest animal on earth, with recorded speeds of up to 242 miles per hour. This amazing bird is one of the most widespread and can be found nearly everywhere on earth. It is also one of the most common birds used in the ancient art of falconry. It’s “equitable disposition” makes it particularly easy to train. If you would like to learn more about falcons and birds of prey, you won’t want to miss this incredible opportunity to try your hand (pun intended) at falconry. This Wednesday, New England Falconry will be discussing the history and ecological role of hawks and raptors. Participants will also have the once in a lifetime opportunity to actually have a falcon return to their gloved hand. New England Falconry. 115 River Drive, Hadley, MA ($$)
RESOURCE: WEB CAM
Did you know that UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois Library is home to a pair of Peregrine falcons? You might think that’s an odd place to live, but Peregrines love to nest on tall buildings! The nest box was installed in 2003 on top of the Library and has drawn the once-federally endangered Peregrine falcons to the Library each year since then. Find out more in our post, WebCam Catches Peregrine Falcons Nesting Atop UMass Amherst.
Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Ashfield, Bernardston, Chester, Chesterfield, Conway, Erving, Heath, Holyoke, Montgomery, Pelham, Rowe, Russell, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and Springfield Cultural Councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.