The local folk artists and the work of the folk art program is archived through articles written for Artscope, the Museum’s newsletter.
If you are or know of a folk artist living in the region, or are looking to carry out any sort of programming that relates to folk arts, email Kelly Armor, Director of Education and Folk Arts. She has helped teachers, community groups, social service agencies, and cultural organizations with event planning, grant writing, and matched them up with master artists.
ARTscope November 2017

Folk Art in Our Community

Ansumana grew up in Sierra Leone. His village was overtaken by rebels during a war in the 1990’s and he and his family fled to a refugee camp in neighboring Guinea. In that camp he began to learn the art of sewing clothes. Health issues had him leave that camp for another one in Gambia, where he continued to hone his skills. After 10 years his health was still compromised and he was given a special medical visa to get treatment in the U.S. Since his arrival in 2009 he has accomplished a great deal. He now speaks fluent English, he earned his GED, gained citizenship, works full time at Berman Bedding and has now opened his own tailoring studio.

He works with local bridal and menswear shops to do alterations, and he is growing a roster of clients who hire him to make custom fit garments. “I often get work making wedding dresses.  My clients are so happy because my dresses are more beautiful and much cheaper than buying a gown.” In Africa good quality ready-to-wear clothing is scarce and middle class people have tailors make all their clothing.  Ansumana wants Americans to discover the joy of having clothing that fits them perfectly. He is quick to point out that custom-made outfits are also completely unique. He finds it humorous that Americans also think of colors as male or female. “In Africa you just choose any color you like. Men wear pink and purple, and look really good!” He explained a popular West African tradition called “Ashobi” where a group or family will all wear the same fabric but each in a different style of their choice.

Says Ansumana, “In West Africa, it is very important to look good. The kings and queens had people grow their own cotton to make their own clothes a long time ago.  It was very expensive and only the kings and queens could afford it. You get a lot of respect and honor by how you dress. Today, cloth is more affordable because of machines, and now everyone wants to look like the kings and queens. I am not just a tailor; I am a designer. I mix colors and can look at someone and know what will look good on them. I can tell someone what design is good for them. I do not need a pattern when I sew. I do what my customers want, but I can create my own pieces. My art is combining patterns, colors and different fashions together.”

He is spending a year working intensively with Mustaf Ahmed, a young man from Somalia. They meet weekly as Ansumana is slowly building a range of skills which will culminate with  Mustaf designing  and sewing an original, African outfit. Mustaf says, “Here in America most people are forced to buy clothes in a store, it isn’t easy to get clothes made for you here. My goal for working with Ansumana is to be independent – to be able to make my own style and not have to get clothes from the store.“

WPSU is creating a documentary about Pennsylvania textile folk art and Ansumana will be one of four artists featured. The film will be aired on PBS in December 2017.

For more information about Ghosh or other local folk and traditional artists contact Museum Folk Art Director Kelly Armor.