By, Emily West Hartlerode
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, was awarded her National Heritage Fellowship at our nation’s Capitol. Abbasi-Ghnaim received 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. After decades of engagement with OFN and the former Oregon Folklife Program at the Oregon Historical Society, we nominated Feryal for this distinction in a massive team effort coordinated by talented Folkore graduate intern Hillary Tully, and keenly guided by our executive director, Riki Saltzman. We pulled in letters of support from as far away as Paris and London, and engaged the invaluable assistance of Feryal’s daughter Wafa Ghnaim, whose photos and stories of her mother’s work aided tremendously.
Accompanied by her sister, three daughters (one coming from as far as Germany), and three grandchildren, Abbasi-Ghnaim accepted her medal from NEA acting Chairman Mary Anne Carter and Folk Arts director, Cliff Murphy. You can watch her heartfelt acceptance speech [here]. A reception and banquet followed in the Library of Congress’s ornate Great Hall where one of Governor Kate Brown’s staff came to personally congratulate Abbasi-Ghnaim. Two nights later, Abbasi-Ghnaim took her turn on stage among the other nine awardees from around the nation to explain her tradition in her own words, to show samples of her work, and to describe the way Palestinian embroidery has functioned as a communication device, conveying meaning through image from woman to woman. It was an honor to witness Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim share her tradition and to 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 the Governor to the President.