by Barbara Sherf
For the 10th year in a row, members of Patchwork: A Storytelling Guild convened in Chestnut Hill for Tellabration, an afternoon of storytelling sponsored by the National Storytelling Network traditionally held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The local event featuring seven storytellers was held at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, where the theme of “Crossing Borders: Journeys Beyond Our Comfort Zones” was explored.
Following the session, Chestnut Hill resident Dennis Strain, 67, president of Patchwork, talked of the need to look at storytelling for adults, not just children.
“These are not children’s stories,” said Strain. “The tellers share the experiences of adults, some through traditional tales and some through personal narratives. It is a powerful oral tradition passed down from generations and an art form we try to keep alive in an age where technology often rules.”
In Philadelphia, Patchwork has cooperated with Keepers of the Culture, an African American storytelling group, creating a diverse afternoon of storytelling. Germantown resident Ray Tackett, a retired computer engineer with a passion for flying airplanes and helicopters, was one of the performers. Tackett got into storytelling by accident when his aviation experience led to the creation of The Piston Engine Story Factory. He has been telling stories as part of amateur theater for more than 40 years.
“I just love telling stories and being with and around others who tell tales,” said Tackett after his performance about fictitious pilots. “We need to educate people that storytelling is not just for kids.”
Jeff Bullard, also of Chestnut Hill, works at the Free Library of Philadelphia by day but tells stories and attends storytelling sessions in his spare time. “It’s wonderful,” he said, “that this is tied to a national event and is geared toward adults and not children. That’s the misconception about storytelling, that it’s just for a younger audience.”
According to its web site (www.patchworkstorytelling.org), Patchwork was started in 1984 as a non-profit by a group of professional storytellers to promote awareness of storytelling as a contemporary art form, folk tradition, way of celebrating life, tool for personal and social transformation and as a path for spiritual exploration.
“At that time, they recognized that the growing use of multi-media and computer technology was causing a decline in the art of storytelling,” said Strain, who retired after 33 years as an environmental attorney for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Germantown resident Barbara Baumgartner, a retired librarian, was a founding member of Patchwork. “We were inspired by a radio program on WXPN called “Patchwork” which presented stories, folksongs and other oral work,” said Baumgartner.”We also liked that the name Patchwork suggests that our storytelling group welcomes people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and a variety of stories — folk tales, literary tales, personal experience stories and original stories.”
Mt. Airy resident Milt Cohen has served as the group’s president and is the coordinator of a Patchwork coaching group. “It’s a problem because people don’t typically think of storytelling for adults, but we try to keep this long tradition of adult storytelling alive with events like this. We also feel strongly about coaching and encouraging even good storytellers to refine their craft.”
Following the afternoon of storytelling, Arlene Edmonds talked about the diversity of storytellers she heard. “We heard marvelous performances from seven different storytellers,” she said, “with lots of artistry and different presentation styles, and I guarantee you will see the same diversity next year.”
Margie DuBrow of Chestnut Hill talked of the spirituality involved with storytelling. “I love that it is so spiritual and uplifting,” she said. “These storytellers are keepers of the culture who tend that flame, leaving one filled with joy and rejuvenation.”
Patchwork 2016 Story Swaps will have a new location next year at Mt. Airy Read and Eat, 7141 Germantown Ave., on the first Saturday of each month at 1 p.m. The next session will take place on Saturday, Jan. 2. A separate Story Coaching Session will be held on Sunday, Jan. 17, at the Chestnut Hill home of Dennis Strain. For more details: 215-247-3823.
Barbara Sherf, of Flourtown, is a storyteller who also captures professional and personal stories. She can be reached at 215-990-9317 or Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.