Gallery of African Art offers cultural experience, brings interest to small town

The Baga Nimba Headdress at the Gallery of African Art in Clinton, Mass.

The Baga Nimba Headdress at the Gallery of African Art in Clinton, Mass.

Nimba Headdress Info.

Headdress information

Leopard figure at the Gallery of African Art.

Leopard figure at the Gallery of African Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon entering, a metal leopard figure, its body now dark-bronze colored and its swirled spots turquoise-tinged, stands out proudly in a glass case with other leopards against the earthy pearl right-hand wall.

“The Leopard motif is repeated throughout Baule art as a symbol of leadership,” reads an informational sign in the Gallery of African Art in Clinton, Mass.

The gallery is the second art museum begun by Gordon Lankton, retired president and now chairman of Nypro Inc. and founder of the Museum of Russian Icons, also in Clinton.  Accessible through Sunrise Boutique, 62 High St., the Gallery of African Art opened in July 2011 and reopened in October 2012 following an expansion that has made it four times its original size.

Grown to 3,000 square feet, the gallery has helped put Clinton on the map, according to Sunrise Boutique Owner Cynthia Cannon.  It now has approximately 200 out of 800 pieces on display and offers weekly tours, as well as African drumming and now dance classes.

At a small table in the Russian Tea Room of the Museum of Russian Icons, just a block away from the Gallery of African Art, Lankton explained, “I’m basically a collector.”

When he was 8 years old, he collected pennies, then Boy Scout World War II posters.  Once he began to travel to such places as India and Bali, he started collecting wooden carvings.

While he didn’t find wooden carvings the one time he went to Africa, Lankton said he first started collecting African art 15 years ago, after visiting a gallery in western Massachusetts, where his daughter lives.

“It wasn’t anything serious until two years ago,” he said.

Steve Humble of Kentucky, who had 220 African carvings in his house, contacted Lankton.

“He said there were only ever 10 people who came to his house each year, and thought there should be a special space for them.  And I was interested in having that space in Clinton,” said Lankton.

Humble gradually sold all of the carvings to Lankton and helped him find more through connections he had in Africa, said Lankton.

Sitting on a square brown leather-cushioned bench in the Museum of Russian Icons, Education and Outreach Manager Julia Metzidakis said because Lankton is collecting African art at such a rapid rate, she and the museum staff are exploring how to make use of his whole collection.

Displaying some pieces at the Fitchburg Art Museum is one possibility, she said, as is the EcoTarium in Worcester, which currently has an African exhibit.

The gallery also has a partnership with African Community Education (ACE) in Worcester, a non-profit community-based organization that grew out of a four-year-old tutoring program run by the medical students of the University of Massachusetts to help refugee children from Liberia.  The program now serves children from all African countries.

“We hope to use a lot of the African objects we have in storage to spread awareness about the gallery,” said Metzidakis.

The gallery boasts an intriguing collection of figures, jewelry, headdresses and masks, crafted, according to the galleryofafricanart.org, in “stone, wood, clay and bronze, spanning 32 tribes, including Dogon, Baule, and Bamana art.”

The space isn’t divided by tribe, explained Metzidakis, but instead by like pieces of art – “like with like.”  She said that helps show what’s similar and different among tribes, and also what’s similar to and different from our own culture.

Spanning the entire back wall of the gallery is a glass case displaying both everyday items such as furniture and wooden headrests, as well as more spiritual objects like the Bansonyi Snake Headdress, which according to an informational sign, is the physical version of a Baga spirit, said to “live in the sacred forest amidst the Bansonyi or young men’s initiation group, and represents the new knowledge that young men have gained during their initiation.”

“It’s important to highlight the day-to-day basis of a people, not just the art – the practical importance in everyday life,” said Metzidakis.

There are wand audio guides available too, on which a number labeled near an artwork can be punched to learn more about the piece, narrated by Steve Humble, and there are televisions playing videos about the creation of African art and music toward the middle of the museum.

Metzidakis said her favorite piece in the gallery is the Baga Nimba Headdress.  Located toward the end of the gallery facing High Street, the massive wooden headdress is set on the floor against a red wall lined with masks.  The faded-gray piece has a large nose and eyes, intricate circular carvings around its face and head, and as Metzidakis described them, saggy breasts.  It stands on four legs and is immediately noticed because of its sheer size.

“I love telling people on tours that it’s a headdress and watching their jaws drop.  It’s show stopping – it’s a completely different way of looking at beauty,” she said.

“Visitors will be completely taken away – it offers a vacation without a passport!” said Metzidakis.

The gallery has also partnered with Zach Combs, the director of Crocodile River Music, which “promotes African and African-influenced music and culture by connecting our roster of distinguished performers and educators with audiences all over New England,” according to its website crocodilerivermusic.com/about.

Through that partnership, African drumming classes are offered on Wednesdays at the gallery and dance classes are now offered on Saturdays at the Ciccone Family Fitness Center, 45 High St.  There are also free gallery tours every Thursday.

The gallery also hopes to host more activities for children.  Some African folktale books have been donated.

Cannon said the response from the public has been “astonishing!”

“People are traveling from near and far to see the art and learn about another country and culture.  What really surprises me is the amount of families that visit regularly.  They come to drum and learn all about the African traditions.”

She said the town of Clinton is lucky to have the gallery in addition to the Museum of Russian Icons.

“Anytime you bring music, art and world culture to a town, it benefits in many ways.”

I took the above photos.

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Publishing features on Confessions of a Student Newspaper Editor

I’m going to publish three features I wrote for my feature writing class this semester on Confessions of a Student Newspaper Editor.  I didn’t ask to have them published in The Gatepost because the last few issues of the year were pretty busy for the Arts & Features section, and I knew I could publish them here if I wanted to.

The first one is about the Gallery of African Art in my hometown, Clinton, Mass.

The second one is a self-involvement feature about my first time visiting and experiencing New York City.

The third one is a magazine feature about Framingham State University’s Alternative Spring Break program and this year’s trip to Biloxi, Miss.  (This one will most likely be published next weekend.)

Sandella’s brings all the students to the yard

A student purchases a F’Real Reece’s milkshake at FSU’s Sandella’s.

The most recent feature I wrote for my feature writing class and which was published in The Gatepost was “Students pleased with Sandella’s food options” in the April 5 edition.

The article is a business feature about the status of Framingham State University’s on-campus Sandella’s restaurant and convenience store a little over a year after the restaurant opened.

I spoke with FSU’s Director of Sodexo Dining Services Ralph Eddy about Sandella’s, how students have taken to the new dining spot and how he hopes students utilize the space for future events and activities.

I have to credit my Co-News Editor Michael B. Murphy for this post’s title.  He thought of Kelis’ song “Milkshake” when we discussed making a teaser of the article for the front page of The Gatepost because one of Sandella’s’ newest and most popular features with students is its F’Real brand milkshake blender and F’Real’s milkshake and smoothie options.  (In the end, the article wasn’t teased.)

The above photo was taken by Photo Editor Allie Card for The Gatepost.

Getting to cover Dalton and the Sheriffs was a great experience

Dalton and the Sheriffs performing at the Simple Man Saloon on Feb. 18.

Dalton and the Sheriffs performing at the Simple Man Saloon on Feb. 18.

I was very fortunate to be able to cover a performance of Boston-based country band Dalton and the Sheriffs for The Gatepost a couple of weeks ago.

I was introduced to the band last summer through a family friend whose son occassionally plays the mandolin with the band. I saw the band play a couple of times at the Simple Man Saloon in Clinton, MA – the same restaurant in which I covered Dalton’s Feb. 18 performance.

That performance was a tribute to former Clinton resident Maia McDermott who died in a car accident two years ago.

In my article “‘Boston country’ band thanks local fans for success,” I explain:

The event included raffling two Celtics tickets to raise money for “Team 01510,” the Clinton affiliate of Breast Intentions, Inc., which helps Breast Cancer patients pay their personal expenses, because helping those in need is something McDermott was passionate about. …

McDermott’s mother Lori McDermott, who promoted the event on Facebook, said because Maia’s brother occasionally plays with Dalton, “we’re connected to them.”

Lori said her family decided to come together to celebrate Maia’s life, and because she had been a country music fan and was passionate about helping breast cancer patients, they thought the combination was a “perfect match.” The raffle raised $365, but $540 was raised in total for “Team 01510” because of additional donations.

I originally covered the performace for a feature assignment for the feature writing class I’m taking this semester, with the hope of having it published in The Gatepost, and I’m really glad I did.

After interviewing both the band’s lead singer Brian Scully and Maia’s mother, I knew how important it was that I write about Dalton’s and Maia’s stories.

I also live tweeted the show, which was really cool because it was the first time I officially live tweeted an event. I’m happy to report I got a couple of retweets, including one from the band.

The show was lively and full of both the band’s original songs – including one of my personal favorites: “You Ain’t Her” – and covers of popular country and rock tunes like Lee Brice’s “Hard To Love” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Kind Of Man.”

Initially, I almost wrote about something else for my feature assignment, but I know now I would have regretted not covering Dalton and the Sheriffs’ performance for Maia.

Follow Dalton and the Sheriffs on Twitter @DaltonSheriffs and on their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/daltonband. Watch Dalton and the Sheriffs’ “You Ain’t Her” music video here.

I took the above photo of Dalton and the Sheriffs.

My most recent feature story

FSU's Student Trustee Molly Goguen is looking forward to her last ASB trip to Biloxi, Miss.

FSU’s Student Trustee Molly Goguen is looking forward to her last ASB trip to Biloxi, Miss.

Check out the profile I wrote about Framingham State University’s Student Trustee: “Molly Goguen: thankful for getting to give back.” I wrote the article for a feature writing class I’m taking this semester and it was published in the Arts & Features section of The Gatepost in last week’s edition.

I’ll share other features I have published throughout the semester as well.

Photo courtesy Allie Card via The Gatepost