Artisans display traditional crafts for spectators INAUGURATION 1993

January 18, 1993|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Marie McDonald sat on a small stage in a corner of the traditional-arts tent with a lap full of fragrant leis created with roses, baby's breath, bougainvillea, carnations and other blooms. A National Heritage Award winner, she came from Hawaii to speak about her craft yesterday at America's Reunion on the Mall.

"All children born in Hawaii make one at least one time or another," she told her audience. "Pretty soon, the lei is part of their life. There is not an occasion that they don't use a lei to celebrate with."

Ms. McDonald was one of about 40 traditional artists invited by the Smithsonian Institution to be a part of this week's inaugural celebration. For hundreds of visitors crowding the traditional-arts tent, a glimpse of the work of bobbin lace-makers, cowboy artisans, quilters, paper-cutters, guitar-makers, lacrosse stick-makers, basket-weavers, egg-painters and other artists was extraordinary proof that tradition thrives in modern America.

As Ms. McDonald spoke about leis, filmmaker and novelist John Sayles ducked inside her tent. In Washington to publicize his new movie, "Passion Fish," he was happy to spend a partly sunny morning on the Mall. "This reminds me of the Dutchess County Fair, but with no livestock so far," he said.

Along the long corridor of artisans, there were Frank and Owen Benedict, Mohawk Indians from upstate New York, who make traditional wood-and-leather lacrosse sticks. Father and son mourn the wide use of plastic lacrosse sticks on most playing fields used by men. "I respect the ladies," Frank Benedict said. "They are the only ones still supporting the tradition."

Down the way, Felipe Ortega from La Madera, N.M., fashioned a coil pot out of mica-flecked clay mined from a pit at home. Mr. Ortega spoke as avidly as he worked. "Maybe they should have this all through the United States," he said of the Reunion on the Mall. "You know, why should Washington people be privileged? If it is the inauguration of the American president, everyone in the United States should be part of it."

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