"After you've made a hundred jugs in a day, you want to play around," said Cleater Meaders, pointing to one of his "face jugs," an otherwise ordinary brown jug decorated with bulging eyes, tremendous ears and a few scattered teeth. Added observer John Vlach, "I've also heard them called 'ugly jugs,' but collectors have a more fancy, high-falutin' name: 'grotesques'!"
Folk lore is an integral part of American folk life, and there is plenty of both at the Smithsonian's 17th annual Festival of American Folklife. At the opening ceremonies Thursday, Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley urged that visitors "never forget tradition, that which keeps us on our feet . . . and directs us forward, confident that in the past we have our strength."
This year's festival, which is free, highlights the folk life of New Jersey and France, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the American Revolution. New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, for his part, said he hoped the festival would encourage people to explore "more than the New Jersey they see at 55 mph"
There are musical events at four different pavillions. Over the span of the festival, June 23-27 and June 30-July 3 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., visitors can see "Patriarch of the Bomba " Rafael Cepeda, German polka dancing with "Bernie's Orchestra" and Narciso Martinez's "Nortano" music, which combines elements of Mexican and country-western music.
The more than 350 participants readily share their folk lore with visitors. As people milled across the re-creation of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, chatting and shelling shrimp, silhouette artist Ann Woodward sat by a sign that read: "THINK XMAS. MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY. $7 FOR 2: 1 FOR GRANNY, 1 FOR U." Lightning fast, she clipped silhouettes from black paper. "These were named after a French man who made them. His name was 'Silhouette.' The word means 'cheap likeness,' because he was very cheap!"
Louisiana fiddler Canray Fontenot, 60, told the behind the nickname of his partner, 67-year-old Alphonse Ardoin. "People know him as 'Bois Sec.' That means 'dry wood' in French. Ever since he was young, whenever he'd see it was fixing to rain, he'd run into the shed so he wouldn't get wet!"
In a nearby booth, Cajun cook Maude Ancelet prepared chicken and sausage gumbo. "I brought all my own pots and equipment, and I feel like I'm at home." She and the other cooks from Louisiana brought pork sausage and shrimp. Crawfish, rice and chicory-flavored coffee have been sent from their home state.
Just as the Treaty of Paris was signed 200 years ago, so, too was the first hot air balloon launched, by the Montgolfier brothers of Paris. A re-creation of their balloon will be inflated occasionally throughout the Festival.
On Thursday, aviators briefly inflated the 87-foot-tall, 60-foot-wide royal blue balloon. It loomed over the Mall with the Captiol as its background. "The balloon was invited to see Malcolm Forbes, and it went. It gets the invitations. We don't." laughed Richard Saltzman, who will pilot the balloon for Fourth of July celebrations in Philadeplhia.
Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) intently examined indigo blue pellets and Jericho flowers that supposedly bring good luck to a household that displays the Cuban and Carribean herbs. Bradley was enthusiastic about the festival. "It's great," he exclaimed, "that's not a surprise."
The Meaders family, from Cleveland, Ga., represents five generations of potters. "Either we made pots or we didn't eat," said Cleater Meader, of the third generation. Billie Meaders quoted the first Meader who made pots. " 'As long as there's a Meaders, there will always be folk pottery.' " As Ripley said, strength is in tradition.