Folklife Center

Serife Ayakta: Living the American Dream While Keeping a Piece of Home

Serife Ayakta (meaning standing in honor), carries a legacy in her name from the maternal and paternal sides of her family. Her grandmother instilled in her, “Whatever happens do not lay down, get up.”

Serife grew up near Istanbul,Turkey. After an earthquake killed her mother and destroyed her home and baby furniture business, her husband’s friend urged, “Go to the United States. America has big dreams for your children.” Serife explains, “My husband and I decided to come here to see if it was okay for our children’s future.” Upon their arrival they spent time with distant relatives and friends that had previously immigrated to New York City.

Relocating to New Jersey in 2001 with their three children, Serife, began working at a daycare center.  She loved the babies, but when the job would not provide the opportunity for her to travel to Santa Barbara for a week with her daughter, Serfie said, “I love the children, but I love my children too!”  Her strong sense of motherhood and family values led to the decision to quit her job.

Now having an abundance of time, Serife spent more hours in the kitchen cooking Turkish food that she could find in America, but wasn’t nearly as delicious as the traditional food she enjoyed in her home country. Turkish-Americans got wind of Serife’s home cooking and offered to buy her Turkish cuisine. Serife’s most popular dish, manti, consisted of small dumplings that she distinctly shaped into stars. She filled the signature dish with beef, or spinach and feta cheese or mushrooms. Realizing that her small operation could become something greater, Serife called the owners of several Turkish restaurants in New York.  They were more than happy to buy her manti.

Needing a larger space to grow her business, Serife rented a storefront in Delran where a “small Turkish village” exists. Serife said, “A lot of Turkish women at that time didn’t have a car and could not speak English.   I wanted to give them the opportunity to get out of the house and come to work. My mother always taught me to help others.” Together, the women worked to uphold the tradition of Turkish cooking in America while sharing memories and stories from their native land and new home in America.   It wasn’t long before the business expanded from shipping the manti to customers into a restaurant of its own. Star Manti is named after the dish that fostered the success of the business.   Other dishes are titled after different cities from Serife’s childhood and life experiences in Turkey, such as, “Gorali, that’s named after where I went to high school.  After school we would eat hot dogs and Turkish potato salad at my favorite restaurant.” Serife’s pride lights up the entire space at Star Manti when she shares her story and talks about her children’s college successes, careers, family life and their desire to carry forth Turkish traditions.  She affirms, “We did a good job because we came here and we started the new life.”

The napkin notes of gratitude shared on the walls at Star Manti tell even more of Serife’s story.  Come meet Serife and experience her exquisite cuisine this Saturday, July 28 at Taste of Poland and Turkey 10:00- 2:00 p.m., 30 Irvin Avenue at the Tastefully South Jersey Exhibition.  

The exhibit  is an exploration into folk art and culture through the lens of food traditions in New Jersey and features cultural artisans, fine artists and artifacts centered around foodways such as recipes, cookbooks, paintings, photographs and integrated with food tasting, dance, music, and storytelling performances. The event is free and open to the public.

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Anna Felcyn: Balancing American and Immigrant Identities Through Food Traditions

Anna Felcyn was born in Lesna, Poland, a small town of about 5000 people. All throughout her childhood, cooking was an important tradition due to the social, economic and political landscape. After World War II Poland was a communist country.  Resources were low and high quality food was largely unavailable. Although Anna’s family wasn’t always able to buy the best ingredients, the Polish tradition of cooking meant “making the best out of what you had,” says Anna. “People didn’t have much.”  But that didn’t stop her mother from teaching her the traditions that had been passed down through many generations. During Anna’s childhood, her parents worked all day and left cooking dinner to Anna and her two sisters. Despite their busy lives, enjoying dinners together helped the family come together.

When Anna and her family first tried to come to America, they had difficulty obtaining green cards. Since Anna’s sister was born in Germany and was technically considered a German citizen, she was able to immigrate to America before the rest of the family in 1965. As an American citizen, Anna’s sister was then able to invite the rest of the family into the country. Anna says, “I wish that i could have come sooner to attend high school in the United States.”  Anna has truly embraced the American identity both in her enthusiasm to be an American and her cooking. In Anna’s Polska Kuchina (Polish Kitchen), you will find her ingredients from many different cultures and she frequently searches the internet to find new recipes. About twice a month and on holidays, Anna cooks her  traditional Polish dishes. Her favorite Polish meals to prepare  include pierogies, soups and kielbasa.

To learn more about  Anna and other cultural cuisine artisans, visit Perkins’, Tastefully South Jersey Exhibition, 30 Irvin Avenue, Collingswood, NJ.  Special events accompany the exhibition through August 25.   On July 28 at Taste of Poland and Turkey, join Anna and Serife Ayakta to learn more about the cultural dishes  from their homelands. The free event is from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and features food tasting, Monique Legare International Dance Company, and a Turkish Lace Making Workshop with Ylvia Asal.

Tastefully South Jersey is “an exploration into folk art and culture through the lens of food traditions in New Jersey” and features art, artisans and artifacts.   Visit our WEBSITE  for more detailed information.  #TSJPerkins.



Expressing the Inner Desire to Create through Handcrafted Beer

On Saturday, May 19th, the Perkins Center for the Arts will host Handcrafted ,an event celebrating local artistry with craft beer, food truck faire, and live musical performances. In previous years, New Jersey laws prohibited home breweries from selling their beers, limiting the amount of people able to enjoy local handcrafted alcohol.  After changes to the law took effect, the Perkins Center was inspired to hold an event that introduces locals to New Jersey’s beer craft.

Handcrafted is  a celebration meant to support New Jersey craft beer culture and the many factions of creativity that occur at Perkins. The event showcases inner creativity of artisans.  Executive Director, Karen Chigounis states, “The creativity doesn’t just happen on a canvas… It happens in the kitchen. It happens in your writing… It happens if we make room.   We should be the ones making room to celebrate creativity.”

In previous years, attendees of the event participated in activities such as making  jewelry and mixing their own drinks. This hands-on aspect establishes  an experience for visitors to explore their artistic talents.  Associate Director, Diane Felcyn says,  “The idea is that everyone is born with an instinct or need to make. It is the way that you expand that act of making that turns it into the art form, whether you are a visual artist, crafter, or artisan food practitioner.”  Be it through handcrafted beer, homemade grilled cheese sandwiches, or a painting on a canvas, Perkins aims to foster an environment where all forms of art and creativity are celebrated.

Handcrafted creates that communal space for those who live near by and others who cruise a while to arrive.  Tom and Joan Leonard, live just a few blocks away.  Tom says, ”I like the event because it is a blend of art, music, food & fun.  Christa from Cinnaminson has been coming for over three years and takes the bus provided from Perkins Center in Moorestown.  “I like the exposure to the local wine and beer distilleries.  I was introduced to Sweet Lucy’s BBQ here, and now I often go over to dine at their restaurant in Philly.”

Of course, this year, favorite beer, wine and food artisans will be back.  Newly added to Handcrafted is a VIP Event with Candace Ryan, Wine Educator, and Sommelier.  She will host a Wine vs. Beer Tasting, featuring wine from local vineyards, beer from Tonewood Brewing and hors de’oeuvres from Roots catering.

For more information visit our WEBSITE.

The Prosperity of Heritage: Federal and State Agencies fund Tastefully South Jersey Projects

Perkins Center for the Arts is the proud recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities  (NEH) Common Heritage Grant and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities  (NJCH) Incubation grant for our Tastefully South Jersey Exhibition and Workshop Series.  Tastefully South Jersey is an exploration into folk art and culture through the lens of food traditions in Burlington, Gloucester, and Camden. The three-county engagement will celebrate diverse food arts through African American, Eastern European, Latin and Caribbean cultures.  The project is conducted by the Folklife Center at Perkins Center for the Arts.

Ukrainian Linen passed down through three generations

Ukrainian Linen passed down through three generations

In every family, there are a few people who end up with the family “stuff.”  But it’s the precious stuff of traditions, legacies and family heirlooms. The $5,000 NJCH award supports research to unearth artifacts and family stories that explore the ways in which foodways are a connecting thread to trace the commonalities and differences among groups in the same community. The$12,000 NEH grant funds three Heritage Preservation Days in the tri-county region in the spring of 2018 and at our special events during the culminating Collingswood, NJ exhibition in July and August.  Community members will be invited to bring  photographs, cooking instruments, recipes, pottery, glassware, news articles, herbal remedies, heritage farming and to share stories associated with their treasures.  Attendees will be gifted a digital copy of their artifacts and stories as family keepsakes.  See article on NEH Website.

Isaiah Beard, Digital Data Curator at Rutgers University will train Perkins Center for the Arts staff on the process of digitization in the month of February.  In celebration of the diversity in South Jersey, Heritage Preservation Days will be held through the collaboration of our  partners, Gloucester County Library, Burlington County Library and the Homestead Youth Association.



Parks and Play

Whiff! Wiffle Ball Cup Tournament is an exemplar of Public Lore and Play in our Parks

Play is as ancient as time. It is a necessary element of our socialism and interwoven into our daily lives.  We engage in informal playful banter:  playing jokes, playing upon one another, playing both ends against the middle, playing second fiddle, playing your cards well, playing fair, playing by the rules.  Our play easily moves from words to action.  Our public parks and town streets are virtual playgrounds.  We are rolling from summer into a fall full of play through festivals, exhibitions, performances, and tournaments hosted in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties.

St. Anthony’s Italian Festival will be held in Glassboro on September 16. Dolls of Distinction Exhibition is at Smithville Park in Eastampton through September 17.  The Camden County Fair is in Blackwood, NJ September 23 and 24.   Here at Perkins Center for the Arts, we are ready to “play ball.”

The Annual Wiffle Ball Cup  Tournament in its 5th year,  makes its home base at the public arboretum in Moorestown.  The  September 9th Tournament is a great exemplar of utilizing public grounds for play.  On the evergreen lawn 24 teams engage in the power of play for the coveted Wiffle Ball Trophies designed by artists from Perkins Center for the Arts Pottery Studio. 

Wiffle Ball was first conceived in 1953 in Fairfiled, Connecticut when David Mullaney was watching his son play a version of stick ball with a broom handle and a perforated plastic golf ball. His grandson and friend had given up on baseball  because there were not enough team members or open fields and much too many broken windows.  But the inefficiency of the golf ball and stick, made the 12-year old’s arm feel like jelly.   Mullaney designed a ball that was easy to curve but hard to hit.  When someone struck out, you would hear, “Wiff!”  Thus, was born Wiffle Ball.  The game was designed to play in congested areas, like urban streets and back yards. Wiffle Ball Tournaments have been played in the U.S. and Europe since 1977.

At the Perkins Arboretum, it starts when 2 teams of 5 step to the field for the challenge in four locations on the park grounds. The tournament begins at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 5:00. The teams are diverse and range in ages.  For the first time last year, one finalist team consisted of some mighty proud pre-teens.  The grounds become a play yard full of festivities and public lore with a bounce house, arts and crafts and face painting for youth.  The activities continue after crowning the winners and the evening opens to the game of corn hole.

For more information on The Wiffle Ball Cup Tournament, visit our website. For More information  on Play Events throughout Burlington, Gloucester and Camden Counties visit New Jersey Events by County.

Bottles, Walls & Palaces


The Folklife Project is supported by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. This project developed out of the recognition of our shared belief in the value of diversity in our State, which is one of our most significant and valuable characteristics. We invite you to learn more about this project now and as it continues to develop.

bottlesWorking in Gloucester for this project, we initially focused on parts of the county defined by the larger cities and towns. These include Swedesboro, Glassboro, Woodbury, and Paulsboro. Where possible, we followed leads into the smaller surrounding towns too. So for example, while working in Glassboro we also visited and talked with people in Clayton and Elk Township, as well as Pitman and Barnsboro. While working in Woodbury, we met with people in Deptford Township and in Thorofare and National Park. While working in Paulsboro, we made visits in Gibbstown and Bridgeport. And from Swedesboro, we visited Wenonah, Mullica Hill, Harrison Township, and parts of Greenwich Township along Kings Highway (Rt. 551). By the way, Kings Highway is a richly significant historical corridor in Gloucester County. We’ll report more on that and on all of these places later, as this web page develops.

“Bottle Walls & Palaces” Map & Brochure

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395 Kings Highway
Moorestown, NJ 08057
Phone: 856.235.6488
Toll Free: 800.387.5226
Fax: 856.235.6624

30 Irvin Ave
Collingswood, NJ 08108
Phone: 856.235.6488
Toll Free: 800.387.5226
Fax: 856.235.6624

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