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Smithsonian Welcomes Wales to the 2009 Folklife Festival

June 10, 2009

This summer, visitors to the 43rd annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival will experience the vibrant culture of Wales, a small, dynamic country with an ancient history, an industrial past and a commitment to a sustainable future. “Wales Smithsonian Cymru” will feature more than 100 participants showcasing the country’s mission of connecting its past and present to inform a responsible future. (“Cymru,” pronounced KUM-ree, is the Welsh word for Wales.)

The Festival will be held Wednesday, June 24, through Sunday, June 28, and Wednesday, July 1, through Sunday, July 5, outdoors on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets. Admission is free. Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day, with such special evening events as concerts and dance parties beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.

“For such a small country geographically—Wales is about the size of Massachusetts—it is making a huge impact in the world,” said Betty Belanus, program curator. “Across the country, people are putting the principles of sustainability, in its broadest sense, into practice in everything they do. From the rediscovery of forgotten traditional tunes, to the adaptive reuse of industrial heritage sites, there is something to learn from their way of life and the balance they strive to create with the environment.”

The Welsh Assembly Government is one of the few in the world to promote sustainable development as a core principle. Through live demonstrations, narrative sessions and musical performances, “Wales Smithsonian Cymru” will leave visitors with a deeper understanding of the connections between culture and sustainable practices and how these impact all aspects of Welsh life.

Language and Literature
Language is very important in Wales. The country is bilingual, and Welsh and English have equal status. During the Festival, visitors will have the opportunity to learn some useful words and phrases in Welsh; watch David Vickers, a master printer from historic Gregynog Press in action; hear from a historian with the National Library about book restoration; and create their own stories through animation.

Poetry holds a special place in Welsh culture. Festival visitors will have the chance to participate in a “poetry stomp” and hear several of Wales’ finest poets, including Gillian Clarke (Wales’ national poet) and Children’s Poet Laureate Ifor ap Glyn.

Music and Dance
Throughout the Festival, visitors will experience a variety of music and dance performances from Wales, including fiddlers, harpists and singer-songwriters. Groups performing will include Crasdant, The Hennesseys and the folk choir Parti Cut Lloi. During the first week of the Festival, the Welsh National Opera’s outreach group will invite audience members to practice their singing, while the popular men’s choir group Only Men Aloud!, winners of the BBC television show “Last Choir Standing,” will perform the second week.

Smithsonian Folkways also will release “Blodeugerdd: Song of the Flowers,” a new CD of traditional Welsh music and songs produced by Ceri Rhys Matthews. The CD features Festival participants Ceri and Catrin Ashton, Christine Cooper, Linda Griffiths, Sille Ilves and Martin Leamon. It will be available for purchase exclusively in the Festival Marketplace.

Home and Community
During the Festival, award-winning chefs will give cooking demonstrations that promote the use of fresh, local ingredients often found in Welsh cooking. The Festival also will encourage visitors to sit “around the table” and help these chefs prepare ingredients for their demonstrations, and learn about bread making, bake-stone cooking, smoking fish, curing and preserving, and using herbs and spices.

The program also will feature ninth-generation potter Caitlin Jenkins from Ewenny Pottery in southern Wales, which is known for its objects made of local red clay. Basket makers will teach visitors how to fashion baskets from plants found in hedgerows, while woodcrafters will demonstrate how traditional Welsh dressers are restored. Visitors also will have the opportunity to try their hands at crafts such as felting with Welsh wools and making a basket from recycled materials.

Medicinal-plant experts will talk about new research into the healing powers of plants such Wales’ national flower, the daffodil, which is being used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

Along the Water
With 750 miles of coastline, Wales’ maritime traditions remain vital to the country’s
present-day life. Participants will talk about salmon and mussel fishing, as well as boat restoration and recreational sailing. Coracle-maker Karl Chattington will share with visitors the craft of making these small, walnut-shaped boats that can be carried on a fisherman’s shoulders.

The Outdoors
Almost a quarter of Wales is protected because of environmental significance. There are three inhabited national parks that contain remarkable landscapes and habitats and more than 1,000 sites of scientific interest to wildlife researchers and ecologists. Festival visitors will learn from outdoor experts about the equipment and skills needed to participate in adventure activities in Wales such as hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, climbing and a unique sport called coasteering, which combines rock climbing, cliff jumping and swimming. Visitors also will have the opportunity to learn about rugby, which many people consider the national sport of Wales.

The program also will emphasize the importance of conserving the natural environment for future generations.

Heritage Meets Innovation
For generations, coal mining was a way of life in the southern valleys of Wales. Much of the land used for mining and several mines have been converted into museums about the industry and its importance in shaping life in parts of Wales. During the Festival, visitors can learn about the country’s coal-mining heritage from a former miner and a historian from the South Wales Miners’ Library. Renewable energy experts from the Centre for Alternative Technology in north Wales will demonstrate the future of energy in Wales, including solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

The program also will feature demonstrations by skilled craftsmen from Wales’ slate and iron industries. 

Building and Landscapes
Many individuals and businesses in Wales are leading the way in greener building practices by blending the best traditional practices with new technologies. During the Festival, two houses will highlight innovations in green building and sustainable housing.

A small timber-framed house will demonstrate how lime mortars, sheep’s wool insulation and slate roofing are used in construction. Next door, a prefabricated house made by Coed Cymru in partnership with The Welsh School of Architecture and Bangor University, called a Ty Unnos, will show how this type of construction is providing a sustainable solution for some housing needs in Wales. (“Ty Unnos,” pronounced TEE EE-nos, is Welsh for “house in a night.” In earlier times, if a house could be fabricated in one night, the builder was granted the land around it.)

A dramatic fence line will show the different types of traditional and modern fencing that line the countryside in Wales, such as stone walls, slate fences, farm gates and wrought iron. Large photo murals will depict castles and chapels in Wales.

To learn more about Wales, visit

“Wales Smithsonian Cymru” is produced in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government. Other donors to the program include Alzeim Ltd., BioPharm, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Summit (Wales) Ltd., and Caligo Inks.

About the Festival
The 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will feature three programs. In addition to “Wales Smithsonian Cymru,” the other programs are “Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture” and “Las Americas: Un mundo musical/The Americas: A Musical World.”

The Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, honors people from across the United States and around the world. With approximately 1 million visitors each year, the Festival unites presenters and performers in the nation’s capital to celebrate the diversity of cultural traditions. It is produced by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The Festival’s Web site is

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