|Anu Dudley. English photo.
Anu Dudley: Historian At Work
The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener
by Marada Cook
Twenty-four years is longer than most pets live, longer than most families live in the same house, longer than most couples stay married. Yet this September marks the 24th year that dedicated volunteer Anu Dudley has coordinated the Common Ground Country Fair Folk Arts Area. Dudley is a trained historian and material culturalist. While such training gives one a certain perspective on time, it seems the time has come to congratulate Dudley for sticking with MOFGA through all this time!
Dudley came to Maine in 1977 intending to stay. “I moved about 25 times in as many years,” she says, “both with my parents and while my ex-husband was in medical school.” When a residency position came up for him in Maine, Dudley gave fair warning. “I said we could move to Maine, but I wasn’t ever going to move again. I like to say I got Maine in the divorce settlement.”
After so many moves, being a newcomer was no stranger to Dudley. She has a strategy for quickly integrating into a new community: “The best way for people to notice you is to join something and start helping out the organization.” Dudley joined MOFGA, just in time for the Folk Arts Area.
“The former coordinators had left abruptly,” Dudley says, “which wasn’t a huge deal except they took all their files with them. The Folk Arts Area was basically in shambles.” Dudley had to reconstruct the area from scratch, a process she enjoyed immensely.
“I got a vision of how things should go, because I really believe in the Fair, in the whole mission of MOFGA; I thought there should be some criteria for what was demonstrated within the Folk Arts Area.” No power tools. No merchandising. Traditions focused on the 18th and 19th centuries. Maine-based, and, most importantly, “the presenters had to have an appreciation for the history and tradition of their craft.”
Over the years, the Folk Arts Area grew, adding a second tent and then a performance tent with hourly demonstrations. Dudley started what is now the Herbal Life Tent and quickly passed that on to someone “more involved with the herbal scene in Maine.” Bean hole beans were another popular addition. “People just line up to see those beans come out of the ground,” Dudley says.
Dudley developed a habit of picking up new presenters at contra dances. The Folk Arts Area includes the permanent Blacksmith Shop, which John Phalen oversees. “We were chatting at the dance,” Phalen says, “and Anu just happened to ask what I did. I said, ‘This, this, and this, and oh yeah, I do a bit of blacksmithing.’ That’s how she hooked me.”
Vicki Burwell, bean hole bean coordinator, was also hooked at a contra dance. She says that Dudley’s vision for the Folk Arts Area makes it a “real teaching place … People run into things they’ve only heard about and thought only existed 150 years ago. The Folk Arts Area is sort of a petting zoo for forgotten arts.” She adds that with the latest turn of the economy, more people than ever are flocking to see biscuits baked on an open fire and rugs made by hand. “Anu has created a place where people can be in touch – and really touch – those life sustaining things.”
Coordinating the Folk Arts Area continues all year. Dudley mails applications and schedules presenters; coordinates classes and spaces for each demonstrator; and scrounges for new presenters and “new” old crafts to share. During the Fair, she herself often learns a skill or takes a class from one of the presenters. “Do you have any idea how they got the canvas on those canvas canoes?” she asks, “I didn’t either!”
This year’s additions are cigar box guitar making and archery bow construction. If you know of a craft or tradition that might qualify and you don’t see it at the Fair this year, call MOFGA and ask to contact Anu Dudley. Who knows? You may be the next Folk Arts Area addition …