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LEWISTON – An exhibit featuring widely diverse art forms and the cultures that produced them, with a nod to their contribution to the vibrancy of American life, recently opened in Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum. Featured displays include: Byzantine (Greek) icon woodcarving; Peruvian retablos (personal altars); Native American basketry; Eastern European lacemaking; and African-American quiltmaking. The exhibit also offers a vast array of musical and performing traditions, from Chinese opera to Guinean drumming.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for people to see the great diversity of art forms that this country supports,” said Carrie Hertz, curator of folk arts at the museum. “It really gives you a sense of how big and varied this country is, because many of these exhibits are directly related to regional styles and groups.”

Titled “Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of Traditional Arts,” the exhibit recognizes the talents of diverse artists chosen for the National Heritage Fellowship Program through the National Endowment of the Arts. The exhibit was created by curator Marsha MacDowell of the Michigan State University Museum and photographer Alan Govenar of Documentary Arts Inc. They collaborated to produce a show that offers human-sized portraits, artworks and audiovisual materials.

In addition, throughout the spring, the museum’s Folk Arts Program will host a series of public lectures, demonstrations and workshops that further explore the legacy of National Heritage Fellows and highlight some exceptional traditional artists living and working in Western New York.

“On Feb. 23, we will have Dan Ward, folklorist from the Erie Canal Museum, come and talk about Elizabeth Cotten, a self-taught blues and folk musician who was born in North Carolina but lived a long time and died in Syracuse (in 1987 at age 94),” Hertz said. “She was one of only two National Heritage Fellows in Western New York, known for her traditional Southern guitar and banjo playing, but she mostly went uncelebrated. Dan Ward actually knew her personally. She was African-American, which also ties in with this being Black History Month.”

The program on Cotten will be held at 2 p.m. in the museum. Her songs were covered by such performers as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Jerry Garcia.

This exhibition was made possible by financial and in-kind support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Documentary Arts and the Michigan State University Museum’s Traditional Arts Exhibition Endowment, MSU Museum Great Lakes Tradition Endowment and a grant from the MSU Federal Credit Union. 

The New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature, helped bring the exhibit to the Castellani.

The show continues through June 20.