19?? – 2020
by Cora Hendershot
Among our many loses in 2020, we mourn the passing of Morgyn Owens-Celli. While he had retired from doing shows in 2019, he had a very long history with our fair, and was a major figure in the craft world.
In addition to his fine straw creations, Morgyn epitomized the independent scholar, doing important work in ethnography, with emphasis on preserving historical folk ways.
Morgyn learned about corn dollies (traditional wheat weaving) while visiting relatives in England and Wales at a very early age. His family has been involved in making corn dollies for 5 generations. Specifically, an aunt and his maternal grandfather were instrumental in teaching him both methods and folkways. He maintained an interest during his teens and early 20s, and then in the early 1970s he decided to do a booth at the Southern California Renaissance Faire, selling corn dollies. That fair, and others put on by the Patterson family, was the basis of a thriving business making and selling corn dollies. During the struggle to save the Southern Faire site In Agoura, he was a founding member of the board of the Historic Oaks Foundation.
Morgyn’s interest in the art expanded over the years, and his deep-felt love of scholarship and research, led him to create the American Museum of Straw Arts in 1983. He was also a charter member of the California Wheat Weavers Guild, and was very active in the National Association of Wheat Weavers. These organizations helped to give him additional venues to teach straw craft. For many years his passion for teaching wheat weaving and its related folklore found outlet through the Living History Centre’s Workshop in the Woods program, and its related school programs. He achieved an international reputation, and had an acclaimed show at the Smithsonian Museum. Other museum shows include ones at the Folklore Museums in Los Angeles and in San Francisco, both of which attracted record crowds.
Over the years, he wrote a number of books on corn dollies, and at the time of his death was working on 2 books, one on straw costumes, and one on Japanese straw art.
He was very involved with the international straw community, and was instrumental in the creation of international straw conferences, which have brought the straw arts community together in wonderful ways, including a huge repository of straw work from around the world (http://www.strawart.org).
Personally, Morgyn was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge. He was always willing to help with projects involving his beloved corn dollies and other straw projects. His genuine caring for his friends was well known, and he also had a great deal of charm and warmth. While he didn’t throw big parties, his gatherings were wonderful for his ability to make everyone welcome, including the great food which he cooked.
He is survived by his husband, Frank. They had been together since 1984.