- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

Stock images of the Scots: rough, surly, swagger- ing, cheap. Take Mike Myers’ slimy Fat Bastard, who dominated the film “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” - a villainous Highlander, a bagpipe-playing loudmouth with an atrocious brogue, bushy sideburns and tam-o’-shanter.

Then there’s the vision of Scots as, let’s say, maximally frugal folk.

Such images are not confined to movies.

“There used to be service stations in Virginia that were takeoffs on Scots, like the EconoLodges,” says Arlington resident John Barclay, who comes from Strathaven, south of Glasgow, Scotland, and led an eight-week course called “Scotland: The Making of a Nation” for the Smithsonian Resident Associates this spring.

EconoLodges “had a little Scotsman in a kilt, like the gas was cheap or you could stay in a room that was as cheap as a Scotsman,” he says.

Not only do some still hold onto these stereotypes, but they add to the insult by referring to the people of this craggy country in northern Great Britain as, God forbid, the “Scotch.”

Forget all that. Put aside, even, the conventional, if benign, image of Scotland as a land of golf and single-malt whisky. To get a real taste of Scotland, wander over to the Mall for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which opens Wednesday and runs through June 29 and then again from July 2 through 6.

“Scotland at the Smithsonian” is a centerpiece this year of the festival that for 37 years has celebrated the cultural heritages of America’s peoples.

Sharing the stage with Scotland at this year’s festival will be the American Appalachians and the west African republic of Mali.

“Appalachia: Heritage and Harmony” honors the area of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia that “has been a historic center of cultural creativity,” specifically the birthplace of country music. “Mali: From Timbuktu to Washington” looks at how the west African republic and its “fabled city of learning, Timbuktu,” contributed to the culture of the United States.

For all three, the Smithsonian has invited scholars, craftsmen, performers, artists and “community experts” to tell the tales of their respective lands.

Some Scots have a vested interest in the authenticity of the folk-life festival. It’s a way to put to rest once and for all the ghostly village of “Brigadoon,” that Broadway travesty of a kilted and broguish Scottish town that comes to life every hundred years.

“Looking at Scotland is not seeing the idealistic myth and romanticism,” says Cameron Taylor, a professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute who led an all-day seminar on Scottish genealogy this spring for the Smithsonian Resident Associates. “The Scots today are a modern, productive people. We have our own parliament. But we are a people still firmly rooted in our heritage.”

Mr. Taylor, as far from the cliche image of the Scotsman as one can be in a simple white short-sleeved shirt, unassuming glasses and grayish hair, deployed a gentle wit as he led seminar participants through the meanings of Scottish names and the mythology behind clans, tartans and crests.

More than 11 million Americans have Scottish and Scotch-Irish roots, making these Gaels the nation’s eighth-largest ethnic group. Americans do know something of Scotland’s great heroes, even if it’s only through movies such as “Braveheart” (about the 13th-century fighter for Scottish independence William Wallace) and “Rob Roy” (about the 18th-century outlaw and patriot Robert MacGregor).

There is more to Scottish history, though, Mr. Barclay says.

“Scotland was making its own traditions,” he says. “Scottish students were studying in Europe while the English went to Oxford and Cambridge.”

The course he taught on Scotland for the Smithsonian Associates took students from Scotland’s birth around A.D. 900 through the wars for Scottish Independence in the 13th century and up to the union of the Scottish and the English crowns by James VI in 1603, and finally to July 1, 1999, with the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

“The English have never understood that the Welsh, Irish and Scottish have their own identities,” Mr. Barclay says. “Even the media refer to the queen of England. She’s the queen of Great Britain.”

Mr. Barclay is proudest of the contributions his homeland has made to the world. He points out that the Scottish banking system is the model for many banks in eastern Asia, Shanghai and Hong Kong. He argues that the Scots provided far more skilled laborers to the United States than the Irish did yet make far less fuss about St. Andrew’s Day (Nov. 30) than the Irish do about St. Patrick’s Day (March 17).

As for National Tartan Day on April 6, which was officially established in 1998, that’s a significant first step, Mr. Barclay says. It commemorates the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish declaration of independence.

It’s not that Scotland, which spreads out over about 30,000 square miles, about the size of South Carolina, isn’t proud of the traditions such as kilts and tartans that are in danger of becoming stereotypes, and at the Folklife Festival plenty of participants will fit the mold.

From Heritage Golf in St. Andrews, considered the birthplace of golf, will come Barry Kerr, the club’s managing director, and Angus McLean, master craftsman, who will demonstrate golf-club making and even the crafting of hand-sewn and hand-molded golf balls.

Bagpipe maker Hamish Moore will be there with his son, Fin Moore, who will play the pipes. Kilt making will be demonstrated by Robert McBain of the Keith Kilt School, a man who saw the art of kilt making heading toward extinction and opened up a school to change the situation. National Public Radio’s Fiona Ritchie, star of “The Thistle and Shamrock,” probably the best-known Celtic music radio show in the United States, will host concerts and interview performers.

Representing the Washington area will be the City of Washington Pipe Band. It celebrates 42 years as an internationally known premier pipe band, still annually traveling in August to the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. The band originally was named the Denny & Dunipace Pipe Band after the two Scottish towns devoted to promoting youth pipe bands. The Washington pipe band actually began with much of its membership from the renowned U.S. Air Force Pipe Band.

“We’re primarily a competitive pipe band,” says Mike Rogers of Silver Spring, pipe sergeant for the City of Washington band. “We’re not crazy about doing parades; we mostly do concerts and competitions. The last few years we have been touring with Bonnie Rideout. But our focus is more on competition, which is more of its own subculture.”

The band has more than two dozen pipers and more than a dozen drummers. It is globally recognized as a Grade 1 pipe band. Mr. Rogers says the nearest Grade 1 pipe bands are in Ontario, Canada, and Los Angeles.

“Our focus is on the music, and our hope is to educate people about the bagpipes,” Mr. Rogers says. “I would venture to say that the majority of the public has never heard good piping. People don’t have a good appreciation.

“The best way to hear it is live. It’s an outdoor instrument. The best place to hear good piping are at Highland games.”

Yet at the folk-life festival, among these familiar Scottish musicians and trades, there will be people and crafts not normally — or initially — associated with Scotland. Hugh Hodgart and Alan McHugh of Glasgow will demonstrate “panto,” a form of pantomime popular among the British, particularly around holidays. Ian Best from the far-off Fair Isle already has begun crafting one of his 23-foot Ness “yoals,” a boat he will finish at the festival. The four-member Battlefield Band is an innovative example of the Scottish folk revival. Jackie and Marlene Miller of Kirkwall will be making chairs from the isle of Orkney, where there are no trees; the furniture is fashioned from driftwood and braided sea-grass ropes.

In conjunction with the Folklife Festival, the Smithsonian Institution’s Arts and Industries Building, which stands next to the Castle building facing the Mall, will also have three exhibits related to Scotland. Two of them run into September.

m Ancestral Scotland Genealogy Interactive, tomorrow through July 7, lets people look at their Scottish roots and visit the motherland with the click of a computer mouse, thanks to AncestralScotland.com, a genealogy site run by VisitScotland, Scotland’s national tourist board.

Tobacco to Tourism: Celebrating Alexandria’s Scottish Heritage, tomorrow through Sept. 12, takes the city from its beginning as a port city for tobacco and other crops to today’s role as a “major regional transportation center.” Indeed, the city of Alexandria is helping present this program.

Celebrating Scotland’s Crafts, tomorrow through Sept. 12, features exhibit pieces from the National Museums of Scotland. More than 100 objects are on display, basically to show off the skills of artisans and craftsmen through the ages. And guess what? Related items are available in the museum store.

Scotland’s national tourist board, VisitScotland, is investing heavily in the folk-life festival. The list of donors extends to such entities as the Scottish Arts Council, the Shetland Arts Trust, the General Registrar for Scotland and the Scottish Executive.

They have to draw the Americans, including folks such as Elizabeth Grooms Titus of Falling Waters, W.Va. She wants to go to Scotland, though she has to get over a preconception.

“Well, one thing I wouldn’t like is the cold,” she says with a slight twang. “I have to go in a season when it’s warm.”

So there are still a few wrinkles the Scots need to iron out.

WHAT: The 37th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival

WHERE: The National Mall, between Seventh and 14th streets NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 25 through 29 and July 2 through 6


METRO: Smithsonian station, Mall exit, is at the site. Federal Triangle and National Archives stations are close by.

INFORMATION: For general Smithsonian visitor information, call 202/357-2700 (voice) or 202/357-1729 (TTY). During the festival, call 202/633-9884 to hear a recorded description of daily events.

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