Rudiments of Fife & Drum
May 27 to September 22, 2013
Rudiments of Fife & Drum explores the history of American fife & drum music, tracing its roots to the Middle East and reinterpreting the emblematic rope tension drum as a communication device, both on the battlefield and around the proverbial campfire.
Smith's multi-media project utilizing the front parlor, porch, and adjacent lawn area of "Old Hundred," the Museum's administration building on Main Street, was inspired by Connecticut's central and continuing position in the development of American fife & drum music. Old Hundred, a landmark of Ridgefield's historic district named for its role as a general store, bank, and post office from 1783 through 1883, abuts the site of a Revolutionary War battle.
The transformation of Old Hundred involves the creation of a "period room" to function as a site for public engagement related to the project, including workshops, lectures, performances, and public forums. Sculptural elements of Smith's installation include a large farm table and Windsor chairs, a fireplace mantelpiece, and a corner cupboard displaying handmade textiles and ceramics, custom drapery, a number of rope tension drums from the Cooperman Company collection, and an archive of photographs and other ephemera that documents the history and development of fife & drum music from the ancient Islamic world and Turkish Janissary military bands to the present.
Smith will also present her own series of scaled-up rope tension and frame drums featuring vibrant nail-work designs, as well as a "jingling johnny." The exterior of the building will feature a "tavern sign" communicating that Old Hundred is once again open for business.
The Celestial Ancients Fife & Drum Corps, Smith's project band, will perform throughout the course of the exhibition. Led and organized by guest musical curator James Clark, their repertoire reflects the deep and complicated history of fife & drum music, from its origins in the Ottoman Empire to its ongoing development through Europe (particularly Switzerland), the American Revolution, and the Civil War. The Celestial Ancients will perform on the drums designed by Smith and co-fabricated in collaboration with the Cooperman Company, the leading manufacturer of traditional rope-tension drums in the United States. A fife & drum muster in the Museum's sculpture garden on August 25 will feature the renowned regional fife band Connecticut Valley Field Music, led by Clark, as well as visiting groups including Grainfield Fife & Drum Corps of Rheinfelden, Switzerland.
Allison Smith was born in Manassas, Virginia, in 1972. She received a BA in psychology from the New School for Social Research, a BFA in fine arts from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA in sculpture from the Yale University School of Art. She also participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. She lived in New York City from 1990 until 2008 when she relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to join the faculty of California College of the Arts, where she is a tenured professor and Chair of the Sculpture Program. Smith has produced solo exhibitions and artist-led projects for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Public Art Fund; Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; Mildreds Lane Kemper Art Museum; Berkeley Art Museum; and Indianapolis Museum of Art, among others. She has exhibited her work at PS1 Contemporary Art Center/Museum of Modern Art, New York; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, MA; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; the Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY; and many others. Smith has received generous support from United States Artists, Arts Council England, FOR-SITE Foundation, Creative Work Fund, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Artadia, and New York Foundation for the Arts. Her work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Saatchi Gallery, London, and public and private collections worldwide.
Cooperman Fife and Drum Company
Since 1961, this family business has made traditional rope tension drums for fife & drum musicians, American Revolutionary and Civil War reenactors, open-air living history museums like Colonial Williamsburg, and the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps, which performs at arrival ceremonies for visiting dignitaries and heads of state at the White House and for Presidential inaugural parades. Cooperman Company operates a complementary business making frame drums and hand drums for some of the world's most renowned Persian percussionists and world musicians and, through its HistoryLives division, creates toys, games, and small musical instruments that were among the first educational children's products available for historical sites. These, such as the cup and ball, Jacob's ladder, pewter dice, and rolling hoop, to name a few, have since become ubiquitous. Smith's project is the first to unite divergent aspects of Cooperman Company.
A musical historian and noted fife & drum musician, Clark is a founding member of Connecticut Valley Field Music, a fife & drum band based in Middletown, Connecticut, and the author of the book Connecticut's Fife & Drum Tradition, published by Wesleyan University Press (2011). Clark has performed worldwide, including the Tambour Festival, Liestal, Switzerland; Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia; and the New England Conservatory in Boston. Clark began playing the snare drum in 1963 at the age of nine and has performed in the renowned Deep River, Connecticut, parade and muster for forty-seven years and counting. Today he is professor of world music, music theory, and music appreciation at the University of New Haven and gives lectures and demonstrations to a wide array of audiences around the state of Connecticut, across the United States, and in Europe.
The artist and the Museum wish to thank the numerous individuals and companies that have contributed to Rudiments of Fife & Drum: James Clark; the staff of the Cooperman Company, including Patsy Ellis, Jim Ellis, Matt Ellis, Patrick Cooperman, and Shawn McGinnis; Gary Lichtenstein Editions; Clifford Moran Fine Wood Furniture and Cabinetry; Zach Hadlock of Platform; Farrow & Ball, Westport; Ellen Burns and Darwin Ellis of Books on the Common; Liz and Steven Goldstone; The Gage Fund; Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts; and curatorial intern Katie Bassett. Special appreciation goes to Connecticut's fife & drum community for their help and guidance from the project's conception, particularly Cap Cordan of the Bluff Point Quahog Diggers Band; Neil O'Brian of the Ancient Mariners; and the musicians brought together by James Clark to form the Celestial Ancients Fife & Drum Corps: Anne Allen, Crane Allen, Laurie Allen, Rachael Allen, Paul Cormier, Mike Niewola, and Kate Sheely. Special appreciation to Christina Linden.
This exhibition is curated by Aldrich exhibitions director Richard Klein.
Allison Smith is represented by Haines Gallery, San Francisco.
Top of page: Fife & drum muster, Westbrook, Connecticut, 2012