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​What does it mean to leave a legacy?

by Sabrina Hornung | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Editorial | May 2nd, 2018

Aberdeen artists Nick and Nichole Fischer with collaborative murals - photograph by Sabrina HornungThe older I get the more I think about what we leave behind and I’m not just talking about material objects. What kind of wisdom are we leaving behind and what kind of stories, traditions and pearls of wisdom can we collect from our elders before it’s too late?

I learned the art of scherenschnitte through a grant from the NDCA called “The folk art and traditional art apprenticeship program.” The intent of the grant is to keep the tradition of these arts alive. I learned scherenschnitte and wycinanki (Polish paper cutting) from a lady who learned the art from the nuns in her Polish elementary school.

Grantees are supposed to do their best to promote these arts and prevent them from being forgotten. This past weekend I was asked to lead a number of paper cutting workshops at a spot in Groton, South Dakota called the Granary Rural Art and Cultural Center. Along with my workshop, Dan the leatherman, taught the basics of leather tooling. 

Interestingly enough, out of the 100 or so students that I taught, one was a foreign exchange student from Germany and this was the first time she had ever heard of scherenschnitte. Who would have thought a young German would come to South Dakota and learn about the traditional arts of her homeland?

These workshops were part of “The Granary All Dakota High School Art Exhibition.” Not only did it encompass a juried art exhibition and a series of creative workshops exploring media such as cut paper and leatherwork, they also had the opportunity to participate in the creation of a large scale collaborative mural that would be part of the Granary’s permanent outdoor art collection.

The Granary itself was donated by an area farmer, John Sieh, for the sole purpose of being a rural Art Center. He had nine brothers and sisters, and at the end of the night when the work was done and the children were asleep his mother would take out her watercolor pan and paint to relax. He saw that as her outlet and left that granary as a love letter and outlet for the rural arts. Eventually he purchased the community hall from the nearby town of Putney -- which is now a ghost town -- and that too is on the grounds and provides a home for theatre, music and community events.

Part of me wonders if his mother ever lived to see the Granary or if she ever knew of his intent. According to Granary coordinator Lora Schaunaman, he didn’t consider himself an artist but the legacy that he and his family left behind has provided a cultural gem in Brown County, South Dakota. It fills a much-needed niche that too many take for granted. 

On my way back I stopped at Titan’s Cafe in Frederick, South Dakota for supper. Frederick is a town of close to 200 just north of Aberdeen. Here, I met a room full of women embarking on their first ever monthly craft night. They ranged in age from 13-80. The group’s matriarch had taught a number of the ladies how to knit over the winter so many showed up with knitting needles in hand. The woman who had taught the others was from Finland and told me that she had learned to knit and weave in school and that it had been a required class even for the men.

They say there isn’t too much in Frederick but that depends on whose definition of “much” it is. These ladies found their creative outlet and I left inspired.

This week we spoke to John Andrus, President of the Bluegrass Association of North Dakota, or BAND. This year BAND is celebrating 30 years and during our interview one of his quotes resonated with me.

“In the 30 years that we’ve been doing this, there have been a lot of great people that I met when we first started. They were pretty old at the time and have since passed away. I’m really glad I got to know a lot of those people and their enthusiasm for the music. Now we’re looking to hopefully do the same thing for the next generation.”

I know I’m not the only one, but whether you’re an artist, writer, educator, music maker, avid reader, master gardener or unicorn wrangler, it’s never too early to wonder what kinds of pearls of wisdom you can collect. Just be sure that you leave some of those pearls behind so the next generation can relive and meet that same enthusiasm you had once you found your passion.

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