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 May 2017

Folk Art in Our Community
Gyan Ghising and the Tamang Damphu
Erie’s Bhutanese community is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. One subset of this group are the Tamang, whose homeland is in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal. The Tamang people are primarily Buddhist, and were known for their equine skills. The name literally means ta (horse) and mang (spirit).

Gyan Ghising, an Erie resident and member of Erie’s 100+ Tamang people, is a master folk musician, dancer, and storyteller. He fled Bhutan when he was 11 years old, and spent his youth and young adulthood living in exile with his family in a refugee camp in Nepal. He credits his father as his first teacher, “My father was a very good singer, he could make people cry or laugh in a minute depending on what he sang. He was a farmer but was very creative. He made songs that challenged the caste system. Some Hindus have oppressed the Buddhists with this system. He felt everyone was equal.” While a refugee in Nepal, Gyan finished high school and college, and steeped himself in learning traditional music and dance. One of the Tamang’s primary instruments is the damphu, a frame drum.

The damphu is accompanied with song and dance and is used for all kinds of gatherings including rituals, celebrations, and weddings. Gyan says the damphu was invented by a famous Tamang hunter. Once, on a journey he killed a beautiful deer. After eating the meat, he felt inspired to memorialize the creature, and he created a wooden frame and stretched the deer skin over it. He used 32 bamboo spikes to anchor the skin, which represent the 32 lakshanas, or physical characteristics of the Buddha. Gyan says that the damphu is particularly important because it is the instrument to accompany songs about the Tamang’s oral history. “Our elders love the damphu. The damphu dances and songs that remind us of our past don’t require you move fast. They are not hard, but you have to have focus and respect for our tradition to do them well.”
Photo credit: Gyan dancing with damphu: Gyan performs with a damphu made by his uncle.

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

Here’s a short clip of Gyan singing and dancing with the damphu: