Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY), 53 Main St., Canton, NY 13617. (315) 386-4289. Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. "Higher Mathematics and Traditional Patterns" remains on exhibit through May 23.
If there's extra time during your trip to Canton, it's usually worth checking out the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University, where we've enjoyed a myriad of challenging art and cultural exhibits over the years.
A good place for lunch is Blackbird CafÉ, at 107 Main St. We sampled a delicious carrot ginger soup and one of the restaurant's signature paninis, though we stopped short of the tempting array of house-baked pastry offerings.
A quilt exhibit lured us west on Route 11 to Canton.
We found not only an impressive display of needlework but also an Adirondack jewel.
About two decades ago, a group of interested people led by Varick Chittenden sought means to preserve and celebrate regional arts and folkways that enrich everyday life. Their efforts culminated in the founding of an organization called Traditional Arts of Upstate New York (TAUNY).
There, individuals are honored by selection for North Country Heritage Awards. Artisans and craftspersons receive exposure via exhibits at the headquarters in Canton and can offer their works for sale. Projects undertaken by the nonprofit group have ranged from surveys of vernacular architecture to compiling venerable family recipes.
Opportunities grew when Traditional Arts moved into larger quarters in downtown Canton last year. Thus, there's more space for sales and room for larger exhibits.
BURSTS OF COLOR
The installation we came to see was "Higher Mathematics and Traditional Patterns: The Quilts of Mary Knapp."
It turns out that she is a quilter by avocation, a scientist by training and a mathematician by inclination. Her creations are an amazing combination of geometry, symbolism and color.
"I want everything to be mathematically precise," she writes. Otherwise, "it's like a picture that hangs crooked and you're in a hospital bed and can't get up to adjust it."
Initial specimens, entitled "The Golden Section — A Number Called Phi," featuring six concentric quilted geometric patterns, and "Roadside Flora After First Frost" show off bursts of color that immediately attract attention.
Her written comments enliven the display. About "Summer Rain," she writes: "Picture lying on your back, looking at the sky during a warm summer rain." The words offer an entirely new perspective with which to observe the quilt.
Nautical compasses hold special fascination for Knapp. Their 16-point patterns are frequent subjects in her designs. She credits her days as a biology teacher in Watertown for the whimsical "Lizards on the Wall, Lizards in the Hall, Catch Them Quick, Before They Fall." But there's a tribute to M.C. Escher in the way she actually pulls off the creation.
For those seeking straightforward nostalgia, consider Knapp's respect for the lighthouses of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
The nine lighthouses open to the public are memorialized in "Lights Along the Trail," while three more fill a smaller hanging rectangular creation.
There's no expert quilter who doesn't manifest a respect for fabric.
Look at an heirloom quilt and you're likely to find strips and shapes that once were part of brightly decorated feed bags. Modern artisans often seek unusual textiles from around the world. Count on artists to come up with some of their own cloth creations. Hand-dyed squares and painted cloth are employed in "Silent Spring," as are patches of gold lame. Another quilt includes marbled strips made by some of Knapp's students.
The artisan has completed more than 100 quilts during 30 years of applying herself to the craft. One gets the feeling this artist is continually challenging herself with new techniques and concepts. The 32-point mariner tool in "Oval Compass," for instance, ends up being a model of precision and a tour de force of color.
"I want my quilts to be in use longer than I am, so the workmanship must be top-notch," she writes.
Words worth living by.
We found another unusual quilt on display at Traditional Arts. It's a three-panel bed curtain crafted over 11 years by Susannah Vogel of Queensbury. Inspired by medieval tapestries that told stories, the quilter designed this one to depict her 40 years of marriage.
Careful study reveals scenes of her wedding, the births of her children and plenty of family activities through the years. Camping trips and excursions in the family convertible are represented. So are maple sugaring and fishing from an inflatable raft. It doesn't take much to figure out how a New York Mets pennant made it into the mix.
A sign at Traditional Arts introduces the North Country Wall of Fame. Several dozen plaques celebrate recipients of the organization's North Country Heritage Awards.
Count on finding a few musicians, including fiddler Alice Clemens, who collected many nearly forgotten songs and claimed, "If you want to have fun in life, get a fiddle in your hands."
Mohawk teacher Ray Fadden is among the storytellers honored.
I was pleased to see rustic furniture maker Tom Phillips on one plaque. I once built two tables under Tom's watchful eye at a weekend workshop. Anyone with the patience to teach me the necessary techniques, as Tom did so enthusiastically, deserves to be enshrined somewhere.
Credit Traditional Arts for understanding that folkways are more than simply people. Buildings can qualify, such as the wonderfully restored Beth Joseph Synagogue in Tupper Lake. So do traditional events, including the Redford Church Picnic that dates to 1855 and Saranac Lake's Winter Carnival.
For the regional travel writer (in other words, me) or the serendipitous traveler (me, again), there are great ideas here. Someday, I need to attend the annual New Bremen Ice Harvest (Lewis County), and the Brier Hill Volunteer Fire Department Bullhead Feed offered yearly in St. Lawrence County.
One strolls slowly through the Canton arts center, reading the information accompanying each photograph, and two feelings emerge — a certain pride in living within such a culturally rich region and a wonder that there's so much out there still to learn about.
Much of the space is also a shop, one very conducive to browsing. All items are handmade in northern New York. In size, they range from balsam pillows and tiny mittens to rustic tables and sculptures welded from found objects. Hooked rugs, wooden toys, jars of preserves, Akwasasne baskets and more are also offered for sale. The variety of knitted items especially impressed my wife, Marty.
A stop here during holiday gift season would likely be quite fruitful.
E-mail Richard Frost at: email@example.com