Art as Knowing


University of Minnesota
West Bank Arts Quarter
Regis Center for Art
Barbara Barker Center
for Dance

Free and open to the public


Schedule (PDF)

Douglas Ewart

Douglas EwartLocation: In Flux Space, E110 Regis Center for Art, 405 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis.

Title: “The Quest for Art and Survival.”

Biography: DOUGLAS EWART, a kaleidoscopic talent, has expressed itself in so many forms - instruments that double as sculptures, music that combines the traditions of four continents with fresh inventions, masks and costumes fit for rituals ominous or joyous, death-defying improvisations combining master musicianship and acting-that the whole might be mistaken for the work of a small culture rather than one man.

Ewart is known in some circles as a maker of brightly colored "rain sticks," man-tall "totem flutes," percussion instruments, and panpipes. Elsewhere he is known as a maker of leather goods and instrument harnesses, or as past president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and instructor in the AACM School of Music - or yet again, as a performer of original music with Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Anthony Braxton, and others.

Finally, Ewart is known for his work as a lecturer and workshop director throughout the United States. Turning the kaleidoscope of his work over in one's mind, one sees how the various disciplines he practices interrelate, influence, and play off one another. The disciplines assemble on the stage of Ewart's mind, in fact, much like the ensembles in which he works either as a sideman or as a leader.

Douglas Ewart was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1946. At age six, he became acutely aware of different materials and textures around him and wanted to manipulate them for his own use. He began to experiment with the automotive parts and lumber in his backyard, building first a wooden scooter with ball bearings for wheels and moving on to large two-seater vehicles. He also built colorful "fighter kites" that he could manipulate to cut the string of an opposing kite-flyer when challenged. At ten he started to experiment with sound and designed musical instruments-tin cans were altered to become hand drums and pieces of wood were fashioned into rattles. When his family bought a rug rolled around a large piece of bamboo, he seized on the bamboo as a potential flute. Thus began what has become today a high art practiced by Ewart alone-the construction of sonorous "totem flutes" colorful as bamboo rainbows, adorned with wood burned designs and haunting images.

Ewart emigrated to the United States in June 1963 and, until 1967, studied tailoring at Drake and Dunbar Vocational schools. While developing the tailoring skills that stand him in good stead now in his costume-making, Ewart plunged back into the musical world. studying theory, composition, saxophone, and clarinet at the AACM School of Music. His teachers, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and reed players Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, inspired him with their creative drive and their view that "music was a life-or-death matter."

For Ewart, music as a life-or-death matter means music as a bridge between cultural traditions and between activities ranging from instrument building to such entrepreneurial ventures as his own recording label, Aarawak Records, which he founded in 1983 and on which he has released "Red Hills" and "Bamboo Forest." His constantly evolving suite, "Music from the Bamboo Forest," comprises six movements and employs a cornucopia of instruments, many of them hand-made, such as bass and alto flutes, shakuhachi, panpipe, and nay flutes, blocks, bells, gongs, and bamboo, which is a double-reed horn with a voice-like sound. In line with Ewart's view that the audience should participate in some way in a musical performance, bamboo is passed from hand to hand during the playing of "Music from the Bamboo Forest," so the audience, as it were, can hold the source of the music. The Bamboo Forest evolves, of course, as Ewart travels, playing his own music and studying the music around him. In addition to performing and recording with master musicians such as Abrams and Henry Threadgill, Ewart has performed original compositions across America and in venues around the world.

Having become a master himself, Ewart is now in demand as a teacher. The interest his AACM instructors showed in the creative development of their students and the inclusion of their students in their original works inspire Ewart now in his own teaching. In his workshops, Ewart often guides students in building and learning to play flutes, whistles, shakers, and other instruments. Of the students, most of whom had never been introduced to crafts, he says "it reaffirms their belief in themselves." His workshops, lectures, and exhibitions have been attended by enthusiastic students and patrons at venues such as the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans); the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Du Sable Museum of African-American History, and Urban Gateways (Chicago): the Creative Music Studio (Woodstock, NY); the Museum of Contemporary Craft and the Langston Hughes Center (New York City); the University of Illinois (Champaign); Norfolk State University; the Riverside Museum (Baton Rouge), the Washington Performing Arts Center and the National Museum of American History (Washington, DC). He has served on advisory boards and panels for various cultural organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer (New York City), and the Arts Midwest Meet the Composer program. In 1987 Douglas was awarded the U.S.-Japan Creative Arts Fellowship by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission. Washington, DC), which enabled him to spend a year in Japan studying the art of making and playing the shakuhachi flute.