Oregon artist awarded highest national honor in Folk and Traditional Arts

Emily West Hartlerode, OFN associate director

Palestinian embroiderer, Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim (middle), received one of only nine 2018 National Heritage Fellowship Awards. From left to right, NEA Chairman, Mary Anne Carter; Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim; NEA Folk & Traditional Arts director, Cliff Murphy.

September 26, 2018 marked an important event for OFN and for the state of Oregon, as one of our most talented culture keepers, Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim, received her National Heritage Fellowshipaward at our nation’s Capital. The NEA awarded Abbasi-Ghnaim the highest award the U.S. bestows upon traditional artists for her dedication to Palestinian Embroidery. Beyond being a master of this art form, Abbasi-Ghnaim is also dedicated to teaching and mentoring younger generations, including her own daughters, passing along not only the artistic knowledge but also the stories and history behind the patterns, colors, and designs. Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim, has received many Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Master artist awards from OFN and the former Oregon Folklife Program at the Oregon Historical Society.

Abbasi-Ghnaim’s nomination represents a massive OFN team effort that Hillary Tully, last year’s talented Folklore graduate intern, coordinated, and OFN’s executive director, Riki Saltzman guided. We pulled in letters of support from as far away as Paris and London, and engaged the invaluable assistance of Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim’s daughter Wafa Ghnaim; her photos and stories of her mother’s workwere critical to this effort.

Accompanied by her sister, three daughters (one from Germany), and three grandchildren, Abbasi-Ghnaim accepted her medal from NEA Chairman, Mary Anne Carter, and Folk & Traditional Arts director, Cliff Murphy. To watch her heartfelt acceptance speech, click here.

A reception and banquet followed in the ornate Great Hall of the Library of Congress where one of Governor Kate Brown’s staff was in attendance to personally congratulate Abbasi-Ghnaim. Two nights later, the nine awardees took their turns on stage. Abbasi-Ghnaim explained her tradition art, showed examples, and described how Palestinian embroidery employs traditional designs to convey cultural meaning and messages among women.

It was an honor to witness Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim share her tradition and thank the American people for valuing the diversity of cultures that make us unique as individuals and bring us together as a rich nation of people from around the world. We are proud of Oregon’s NHF awardee, grateful for the opportunity to nominate her for this recognition and overjoyed by the outpouring of support that rained down upon Abbasi-Ghnaim from so many elected government officials, friends, and family.

Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim’s family celebrating the honor with her.

Letter of congratulations from Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown.

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