Old Art, New Artists . . .

Pyne 048His hands and clothes covered in flaking, drying clay, a smiling Yary Livan appreciates how fortunate he is to be alive.

One of only two men who were educated and trained in the tradition art of Cambodian ceramics to have survived the genocide at the hands of the Pol Pot regime in the 1970’s, Livan is keeping that art alive as well, passing it along to the students of Lowell.

Wednesday afternoon, students in grades 5-8 at the Pyne Arts Magnet School proudly displayed the ceramic creations they produced with their own hands under Yary’s tutelage.

Pyne 026The partnership between Yary, who teaches at Middlesex Community College and runs the unique smokeless wood-burning kiln MCC was able to build along with the Lowell National Historical Park, was made possible through grants from the Lowell Cultural Council and Massachusetts Cultural Council by Pyne art teacher Jacqueline Miller.

“Yary has been great,” said Miller. “He has a great way with the kids and they love working with him.”

Miller added the project has also rejuvenated her love of teaching, a craft she has practiced for 23 years.

“It is something different and exciting,” she said.

The fifth graders were taught by Yary how to create reptiles. In Cambodia artists sculpt lizards and dragons to be placed on temples and homes as decoration.

Pyne 011Pyne 028The sixth graders created animal pots, inspired by animal pots dating back to the 4th and 5th century excavated in Cambodian 20 years ago.

The seventh graders were busy researching different types of fish and learning the technique from Yary of how to create their own 3D fish.

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The focus of the eighth graders was traditional Cambodian masks. Yary explained to them that true Cambodian design never uses straight lines.

Pyne 005In addition to the thrill of creating a piece of art work themselves, the students are also learning about Cambodian culture, geography, history and Yary’s personal story of survival.

He was a student at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge took control of the nation.

Put to work in a rural area, his mother saw Khmer Rouge soldiers struggling to build a kiln to make roofing tiles. She spoke up and told them her son could build a kiln. Yary thinks his ability to help them build the kiln is what saved his life when the vast majority of those who were educated and those who were artists and musicians were executed.

He spent several years in a Thai refugee camp and came to the United States in 2001.

Kaylee Champoux, an 8th grader who is interested in pursuing art as a career and created one of the most intriguing pieces of the show, said Yary was the perfect teacher.

Pyne 021“He knows how to help in the right way,” she said. “He showed me things I could do that made it possible to do things I did not think I could.”

Pyne Arts Principal Wendy Crocker-Roberge said the experience has been incredibly powerful for the students.

Having the ability to create art is great for all of the students’ self esteem and is especially beneficial to students with emotional or behavioral challenges who can use the experience as a type of art therapy, as ell as those who don’t speak English; it gives them s way to express themselves and participate as part of the community.

“And the quality of the work is unbelievable,” she said marveling at the tables full of ceramic masks, animals and decorative candle holders.

Pyne 040“The goal is to transfer my skill to the younger generation,” said Yury. “Some kids do it for fun, but others will remember it for the rest of their lives.”

Yury said he gets great satisfaction from helping a student see their project through to the end, as well as knowing he is working to keep his culture alive.

Pyne 002And Yury’s impact on the Lowell Public Schools is about to get much bigger. Middlesex Community College, under the direction of Art Professor Margaret Rack, who has been working with Yary for several years, was recently awarded a two-year $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that will allow him and Miller to teach a graduate level course in the art and history of Cambodian ceramics to the district’s art teachers through the Lowell Teacher academy, the district’s professional development arm.

Pyne 049The grant also allows for exhibits and workshops to take place at the two Lowell schools with the highest enrollment of Cambodian students.

In addition to the art, members of the school’s National Junior Honor Society, practiced philanthropy.

Pyne Social Studies teacher Mike Neagle explained the student set out to collect $500 through a spare change drive at the school. In 10 days they had collected $1,105.60.

The students were inspired by a visit from Tola Sok, a LHS and UMass Lowell graduate and U.S. Air Force veteran who founded Project Sok in 2012, a non-profit that raises money to build traditional Khmer homes for needy families in rural Cambodia.

The $1,000 donated by the kids from the Pyne will build two homes this summer. The balance ($105.60) was donated to Catie’s Closet a Lowell based non-profit that provides clothes and toiletries to school children in need.

“When you give kids the opportunity to help someone else out they jump at it,” said Neagle. “It is amazing.”

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G’day Hamilton Canal!

On Tuesday morning, 20 planners, engineers and municipal officials from Adelaide, South Australia arrived in Lowell, eager to see the Hamilton Canal District. The trip was organized by the Urban Development Institute of Australia.

The open spot in the old Appleton wall is where a bridge will eventually connect the Hamilton Canal District to Dutton Street.

The open spot in the old Appleton wall is where a bridge will eventually connect the Hamilton Canal District to Dutton Street.

The still-evolving $800 million 10-year revitalization of 13 acres of the until recently dilapidated birthplace of the Industrial Revolution on the fringe of Downtown Lowell has become a model in the planning world.

City of Lowell Urban Renewal Project Manager Craig Thomas gave the group a brief history of Lowell industrial history, the decline of the textile industry, the movement to demolish nearly everything during the urban renewal movement of the 1960’s and the subsequent, much smarter movement to preserve the city’s history.

“The city developed around the canals and mills which gave us an incredible infrastructure and historic legacy to work with,” he said, adding it also brought challenges like the fact there was no access to the site and that some old building were built right up against the canal walls.

Once completed the HCD will boast 425,000 square feet of office space, 50,000 square feet of retail and 725 residential units, mostly affordable rentals.

There are already 130 units of artist live/work units that have been occupied in the Appleton Mill building; they have been completed for two years. The former Freudenberg building has been rehabilitated and is now 55,000 square feet waiting for commercial tenants.

110 Canal St. a 55,00 square foot office building that prior to an extensive historic rehabilitation was the Freudenberg Non-Wovens building.

110 Canal St. a 55,00 square foot office building that prior to an extensive historic rehabilitation was the Freudenberg Non-Wovens building.

The inside of 110 Canal Street. Trinity Financial is currently talking to several companies interested in the space.

The inside of 110 Canal Street. Trinity Financial is currently talking to several companies interested in the space.

The visitors from down under were intrigued by two aspects of the HCD project: the choosing of the developer and subsequent community visioning process and the tax credit financing used to fund a large portion of the project.

Rather than the city putting out a request for proposals detailing what they wanted to be built on the site, developers were lured by a blank slate. They were urged to pitch what they could do with the 13-acre post-industrial parcel. Additionally, the chosen developer would have to agree to be a partner with the city in creating and selling the vision for the site along with the community.

Trinity Financial was chosen as the developer by City Manager Bernie Lynch in 2007. Over about 16 months the developer and city planning officials held a series of community visioning sessions gathering ideas and suggestions from the public, many of which were incorporated into the final plans. The collaborative effort created a real community buy-in among those who participated.

The first phase of the project, completed in the spring of 2011, were the 130 affordable artist live/work rental units at Appleton Mills. The project moved forward despite the bottom falling out of the economy.

The Appleton Mills redevelopment was financed through state and federal historic and housing tax credits that were purchased for $42 million by insurance giant MetLife Inc.

The project also received a $1.6 million permanent mortgage and a $34 million construction loan from MassHousing.

Gov. Deval Patrick helped launch the project with a $13 million state grant.

Dan Drazen of Trinity Financial, right, and Craig Thomas (to his right) the city's Urban Renewal Project Manager, address the Australian visitors.

Dan Drazen of Trinity Financial, right, and Craig Thomas (to his right) the city’s Urban Renewal Project Manager, address the Australian visitors.

Dan Drazen, of Trinity Financial told the Aussies the tax credit program, which has been available in the U.S. for 25 years has been “a very powerful tool” that has made it possible to create affordable housing.

The rents in the Appleton Mills building are $700 for a studio, $900 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,100 for a two-bedroom unit.

As they walked around the open first floor of 110 Canal Street, Construction Project Manager Larry Sparrow told the group they are very close to signing two tenants to the building. Because it was a historic rehab, the project had to get this far along before potential tenants could really see the vision.

For more information about the Hamilton Canal District visit http://www.hamiltoncanal.com/

The view from the roof deck at the Appleton Mills artist live/work units in the Hamilton Canal District.

The view from the roof deck at the Appleton Mills artist live/work units in the Hamilton Canal District.

Omaha Packing Company Fire — 1943

Late last December among the mail dropped off at the Central Fire Station, Fire Chief Edward “Skip” Pitta found an unusual holiday greeting addressed to him.

cardThe sender had underlined “Christmas Memories” on the front, a simple message wishing holiday cheer was printed on the inside. It was simply signed “Theresa Quigley,” but at the top of the inside of the card was written “Omaha Fire Victim, 1942.”

card02Pitta was intrigued. He had never received any correspondence from Ms. Quigley before this card — 70 years after the animal fat-fueled blaze that gutted the Omaha Packing Company on January 6, 1943 nearly took her life.

Attempts by this blogger to contact Ms. Quigley were unsuccessful. However, the card compelled me to conduct some research into the fire in question. Here is the story:

omaha01It was early afternoon. The employees of the Omaha Packing Company on Market Street were . . .  packing meat.

What they did not know was the fat dripping from hams smoking in the fourth floor smokehouse had ignited sawdust on the floor. It didn’t take long for them to figure it out.

Thick smoke quickly filled the factory. The smoke was so thick, workers were unable to reach the stairways, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because had they reached the bottom of the narrow stairs they would have found cardboard boxes stacked eight feet high, blocking their exit.

Several workers leapt from windows. Six women crowded in one window and clamored over each other to get on the ladder of the aerial truck. One woman, Dorothy Quigley, 19, of Billerica fell through the rungs, but was able to hold on until a net was placed below her.

On the left, Dorothy Quigley hangs on the rungs of the aerial ladder.

On the left, Dorothy Quigley hangs on the rungs of the aerial ladder.

Firefighters John Moran and John Gillis were on their day off, but came to the scene and rescued people without their proper equipment; they left soaked to the bone.

“The last woman taken from the window had collapsed inside but was conscious as fireman proceeded down the ladder with her,” The Sun reported. “Her scream echoed horribly through the street. Her clothing was ablaze and the flames licked hungrily across her shoulders, legs and head. The flames surged so rapidly that firemen were forced to stop part of the way down the ladder and beat them out.”

A man dove head fist out of a third floor window, with his clothes on fire. He sustained a broken leg, serious burns and internal injuries.

Sixteen-year-old Theresa Quigley (she of the Christmas card), had her clothing burned from her chest and shoulders.  Her hair was burned to the scalp in spots; her shoulders were ribboned with blisters.

The injured included:

Mrs. Stasia Szewczyk, 48, 90 Lakeview Ave. serious burns to arms, face and body

Walter Paulaukas, 579 Lawrence St., fracture of right leg

Mrs. Alfred Joly, 32, 116 Salem Street, shock, burns to both eyes

Louis Spehl, 62, 260 Appleton St., elbow burns

Henry Baumann, 39, 78 Washington St., smoke inhalation

Viola Kozla, 45, 152 Lakeview Ave. burns on right arm

Frank Yttaro, 52, 116 Salem St., burns on both hands and face

Anthony Czekianski, 64, 113 Jewett St., burns on chest, back, shoulders, shock

Alvina Gorczyca, 19, 39 Union Street, smoke inhalation

Lea Millard, 33, 17 Ward St., severe burns on right arms, chest and legs

Theresa Quigley, 16, 12 Laurel Ave., Billerica, shock and body burns

Dorothy Quigley, 19, 12 Laurel Ave., Billerica, shock and body burns

Barbara Olszanski, 47, 132 Lakeview Ave., shock and facial burns.

The Omaha Packing Company brought in Dr. Charles Lund, who had treated many injured by the Coconut Grove fire in Boston, to oversee the treatment of the most seriously burned.

Dorothy Quigley was released from St. John’s Hospital on January 19.

A demolition permit was issued for the top two floors of the building on April 16; it cost $2,200 to demolish the structure.

On April 30, Theresa Quigley and Barbara Olszewski were allowed to get up from their hospital beds for the first time. For three of the four months they were in the hospital, their bodies were entirely wrapped in bandages.

omaha03

Theresa and Dorothy Quigley (left and right center) flanked by their parents the day Theresa was released from the hospital.

On June 13, Theresa Quigley was released from the hospital.

Ever wonder why the building at  51 Market St. is shorter than its neighbors? The top two floors were demolished following the 1943 fire.

Ever wonder why the building at 51 Market St. is shorter than its neighbors? The top two floors were demolished following the 1943 fire.

If You Let Them Make It . . . They Will Come

Diana Coluntino and COOL Executive Director Susan Halter

Diana Coluntino and COOL Executive Director Susan Halter

Prepare for the New Industrial Revolution. The first shot was fired Tuesday night in a Merrimack Street basement . . .

Diana Coluntino (you may remember her as the creative fashion genius from the Revolving Museum) held a “soft premiere” for her newest venture – New Vestures, a “maker space” for “fashion hacks, designers and those who want to make cool stuff.”

In the last few months, Coluntino has transformed the basement of 144 Merrimack St. into rooms filled with industrial sewing machines, computers, reams of fabric, books covering all aspects of design, and a hardware store-size tool collection.

Diana 384Diana 382Diana 388Diana 391The space will offer memberships at several levels (resident, monthly, weekly, daily) to those looking for a space to create clothing, belts, do leather work, make jewelry, etc. and also offer classes in sewing, pattern drafting, illustration, millinery, jewelry making, weaving, knitting, piñata making (YES!), artbotics/Arduino Lilypad, 3D CAD modeling and Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator.

The vision is not only to provide a space for people to work on their craft, but to create a community where artisans can learn together and share their expertise with each other. Some may even use it as a platform from which to launch their own businesses.

Diana 418“This is an incubator more than anything in a real way,” said Massachusetts Creative Economy Industry Director Helena Fruscio, adding a maker-space of this caliber is an important economic development and business growth tool. “I can’t think of a better community to open up a fashion maker space and bring it to its full potential. I can’t wait to buy clothes here and see what is happening.”

Stacie Hargis, Director of the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center, said she knew when she first met Diana years ago this type of venture was in her future.

Stacie Hargis applauds Diana Coluntino

Stacie Hargis applauds Diana Coluntino

“You had this vision in your eyes that successful entrepreneurs have,” she said. “Thank you for your vision because without people like you the city of Lowell cannot continue to grow.”

But, it is not just about launching businesses or satisfying someone’s creative hobby, it is also about education.

Sarah Kuhn, a UMass Lowell Psychology professor, said where the American education system has failed is by separating those who work with their hands from those who are more traditionally book-smart.

“We stigmatize the working with cars, or the making, and we shouldn’t, and we shouldn’t send the smart kids to sit in the sensory deprivation chamber,” Kuhn said. “This is really about being a whole person, discovering your identity but also discovering math and science and engineering in a very authentic and very personal and important way.”

Diana 375Diana 386Coluntino is a life-long “maker,” spending her childhood sewing or making puppets with her mom and building bunk beds with her dad, a creative hands-on DIY approach she passed-on to her own children and something she strongly believes is much more important to learning than just memorizing facts and figures. She is encouraged to see more project-based learning being discussed in education.

“Finally it is our time,” she said. “Finally.”

Diana 425She is still working to set up an advisory board and conduct fundraising to raise about $9,000 to obtain more cutting tables, software, dress forms, and lockers for the space.

“When someone starts a new venture, we have to realize it is not just one person, it is the whole community that needs to get behind them to make it successful,” said Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL) Executive Director Susan Halter. “I think that will happen. Diana has fantastic energy and great ideas and I can’t wait to be buying my clothes here.”

Diana 434For more information about New Vestures, check out an “like” their Facebook page at:https://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Vestures-a-fashion-makerspace/479995568703467

Buried Treasure — A Tour of Lowell Cemetery

IMG_2834She was married and bored. He was interesting. She was enchanted. He was smitten.

poeandannieIt was July 1848 and famed poet Edgar Allan Poe was staying in Westford at the home of wealthy paper mill owner Charles Richmond and his wife Nancy. The couple, former Lowellians and big fans of Poe’s work, invited him to stay at their home rather than a hotel when they heard he would be lecturing in Lowell.

In the time before Facebook, the Kardashians and the 3D IMAX version of The Fast and the Furious 6 lectures by writers, intellectuals and political figures were the main source of entertainment and night-on-the-town socialization.

The eccentric writer was a night owl, sitting up all night long in front of the fireplace. Nancy joined him. Friendship blossomed into romance.

Poe wrote a series of passionate love letters; she visited him, unaccompanied by her husband.

The following April, Poe’s poem “For Annie” was published in Flag of Our Union, a weekly Boston-based publication. Nancy Richmond bragged to her friends she was in fact Poe’s “Annie.”

The final stanza of the poem reads:

But my heart it is brighter

      Than all of the many

Stars in the sky,

      For it sparkles with Annie—

It glows with the light

      Of the love of my Annie—

With the thought of the light

      Of the eyes of my Annie.

When Charles Richmond died in 1873, Nancy went to the probate court and had her name legally changed to Annie.

IMG_2768“It’s not a stretch to say Edgar Allan Poe’s girlfriend is buried at Lowell Cemetery,” local historian Richard Howe Jr. told a crowd of more than 50 who gathered at the sprawling 173-year-old garden-style cemetery off of Lawrence Street Friday afternoon for the first guided tour of the spring.

The 90-minute tour was packed with fascinating stories of the souls who rest there. I will not give them all away, since you should take the tour yourself, but I will tease you with a few crumbs . .

IMG_2734There is John Swett, who Howe said “seemed like a nice guy,” and his four wives – Rebecca, Mary, Fanny and Elizabeth.

Swett lived at the corner of Liberty and Pine Streets in the Highlands and ran a livery stable on Green Street near the train depot where he provided horse-drawn carriages for visitors who arrived by train.

Rebecca died at the age of 26, six years after they wed. The next Mrs. Swett was Rebecca’s sister Mary, who died seven years later. At the age of 45, he married 22-year-old Fanny, who died a couple of years later. Elizabeth, wife number four, was older than John  . . . and outlived him.

At the cemetery the four women’s graves are marked by tall headstones. John’s sits flat on the ground.

“I think there is some symbolism that his stone is prostrate . . . with four wives . . . “ Howe said.

In addition to being a cemetery, the beautifully handcrafted monuments also make it a public art museum. One of the most striking pieces is at the grave of Louisa Maria Wells.

IMG_2807As a teen, she came to Lowell from Vermont to work at the Lawrence Manufacturing Company.  She never married or had children.

When she died in 1886 at the age of 69, her will stated all of her money should be put toward a suitable monument in honor of herself and her mother.

Louisa’s cousins, who wanted the money for themselves, contested the will.

“In a court case right out of a Charles Dickens novel,” Howe said, the case dragged on for 20 years, during which time the funds earned a considerably amount of interest.

The judge upheld the will and Louisa’s wishes. Famed sculptor Daniel Chester French, who had carved the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, was asked to create the piece.

He suggested his associate, Evelyn Longman, who had trouble getting work that was not awarded through blind design contests due to her gender.

“No one wanted to hire a woman for something as important as carving a statue,” quipped Howe.

The imposing piece depicts a comforting Angel of Death leaning over a kneeling mill worker, clad in a smock and holding a bobbin with the yarn cut, symbolizing the end of life’s yarn.

Howe has been conducting tours of the Lowell Cemetery for four years. IMG_2751The spring tours cover the Lawrence Street half of the burial ground, while in the fall the tour starts from the Knapp Avenue entrance.

For more information, including upcoming tour dates visit http://www.lowellcemetery.com.

The J.C. Ayer lion. A 25-ton piece made of Italian marble.

The J.C. Ayer lion. A 25-ton piece made of Italian marble.

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The Sargent family mausoleum.

The Sargent family mausoleum.

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A granite tree stump grave marker. The stump symbolizes a life "cut down".

A granite tree stump grave marker. The stump symbolizes a life “cut down”.

The chapel.

The chapel.

The grave of U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas.

The grave of U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas.

Preserving Excellence

A special guest post by James Ostis of the Lowell Heritage Partnership

imageA unique look at Lowell’s past through the expert eyes of a Legendary Local author.  A festival of international renown that celebrates both traditional culture and the wonders of water.  An in-depth research project on the canals that created a revolution.  A collaborative development project that both preserves history and helps provide health care access to over half of Lowell’s population.  And finally, a well-deserved recognition of the man who made it all possible by believing in the potential of Lowell’s historical resources several decades ago.

imageimageOn Thursday May 16th, 2013, Lowell National Historical Park, the City of Lowell, and the Lowell Heritage Partnership honored recipients at the annual Community Excellence Awards in Historic Preservation and Culture Heritage.  The winners were   Richard Howe, Jr. for the Lowell Cemetery Tours, the Southeast Asian Water Festival committee, Albert Lorenzo for his research project on the Lowell Canal system, and Lowell Community Health Center for their renovated building in the Hamilton Mill.  The family of Dr. Patrick J. Mogan was also honored with a posthumous award for his many years of service and integral role in Lowell’s preservation efforts.

imageimageimageimageThe Community Excellence Awards were presented as part of the kickoff of Doors Open Lowell 2013 at a reception before a packed room at the Boott Mills Counting House.  Speakers included Superintendent, Celeste Bernardo, LHP President, Paul Marion, and City Manager Bernie Lynch among others.

imageimageimageimageimageimageFor more photos from the event, please like and check out Lowell Heritage Partnership on facebook at www.facebook.com/LowellHeritagePartnership.