200 Stories for Missouri’s Bicentennial, December 2021
200 Stories, December 2021
In Missouri’s bicentennial year, Missouri Folk Arts shared 200 stories over the course of 52 weeks in 2021 about folk and traditional arts in the Show Me State.
We kicked off December, the final month, with Story 176 and wrapped up with Story 200.
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Jeff Bottiger, TAAP Master Artist: 2015
Jeff Bottiger, of Edgar Springs, makes his living full-time as a horner, crafting various items out of the horns of bison, cows, or elk. He is especially noted for crafting powder horns for hunters who use muzzle-loaders. Mr. Bottiger also embellishes powder horns that are highly prized by collectors. Some powder horn decorations reference the tradition, fixed in time, and some document the contemporary user’s milestones, home, or family traditions. This art has a long history in North America that stretches back to colonial times.
Jeff Bottiger has been working with horns since the age of twelve, where he learned basics from a family friend in Maryville. In the eighties, Mr. Bottiger was influenced more profoundly by Tom Bowen and other masters in the tradition. Since then, after relocating to Phelps County, Bottiger has worked with various artists (learning and teaching), continuing to hone his skills. He told us: “I do not make historical copies of powder horns (plenty of which are out there). I draw from the tradition, various styles and forms of powder horns, but the end product is my own creation.”
As noted. Jeff Bottiger’s work is highly prized, as is evidenced, for instance, by items he has donated to fundraisers in the contemporary muzzleloading and long rifle communities, as seen at the link for the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation.
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Kent S. Freeman, TAAP Master Artist: 1995
Kent Freeman (Kennett) is an award-winning master carver of waterfowl decoys and wildfowl calls in the “Big Lake” tradition of the Missouri Bootheel. In the mid-nineties, he taught his son duck call carving in Missouri’s apprenticeship program. Additionally, Mr. Freeman sat for interviews in 1994 with folklorist C. Ray Brassieur during an in-depth field survey of Bootheel traditions and tradition bearers. In the resulting 1995 publication from the project, _Art and Heritage of the Missouri Bootheel: A Resource Guide_, Brassier describes how flight patterns and geography lend themselves to regionally specific hunting traditions, like those practiced by Mr. Freeman, his peers and predecessors. The State Historical Society of Missouri (a project sponsor along with the Missouri Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, and University of Missouri) holds the field documentation from interviews with Freeman and many more artists in the southeast Missouri region. SHSMO has also digitized the resource guide for its website, and followers can read a bit about the Big Lake tradition on pages 30-32. [link in comments]
Now retired, carver Kent Freeman is still a recognized master artist; his calls and carvings are still highly sought after by hunters and collectors, often posted to e-bay, Pinterest, and collector sites. In a 1998 Missouri Conservationist article, the carver discusses how he came to love these traditions. [link in comments]
To view examples of his previous work, Mr. Freeman has posted a gallery on the site for his duck hunting pits in Dunklin County at https://www.momallards.com/game.php
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Francis “Jake” McCormac, TAAP Master Artist: 2006
Turkey call maker Jake McCormac (Eminence) taught his young apprentice Matthew Crafton the art of making fencepost and scratch box calls in 2006. Mr. McCormac (b. 1926) told us that he grew up on a small farm near Alley Springs and learned from his dad to hunt turkey and to make fenceposts calls, almost simultaneously. He also credited an uncle for teaching him to make calls, as well as his peer and neighbor Dan Searcy–another noted regional turkey call carver/maker.
In 2005, Mr. McCormac wrote: “Turkey hunting is a strong tradition here–we have many dedicated turkey hunters, and kids like Matt tend to learn from a young age how to hunt them. Often turkey hunting is a family event.” He went on to explain that he and his peers traded calls, sold calls for hunting and gifts to locals, and sold some to collectors—though he likes to make them affordable to locals, even if collectors will later list them on e-bay for three or four times the original price. Indeed, a quick search in Google returns a number of examples of Jack McCormac’s calls.
Photo Description: Cedar fencepost turkey calls by Jake McCormac. Photo credit: Deb Bailey
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James Price, PhD, TAAP Master Artist: 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1992, 2020
A joiner and woodworker, as well as an anthropologist/archaeologist, Dr. James Price learned joinery from his father, Acel W. Price, from Doniphan, Missouri, and Bruce Debo of Devil’s Elbow, Missouri. Dr. Price is a sixth generation Ozark dweller and descendent of Current River Valley settlers who came to the region in 1814. Additionally, Price is a six-time master artist in Missouri’s apprenticeship program. He first taught in the program’s second year and most recently taught in 2020.
For today’s post, though, the focus is on Dr. Price as a community scholar and local expert on the culture of the Ozark riverways. In 2019, in anticipation of this bicentennial project, Marideth Sisco interviewed Price. Follow the link to our Show Me Folk blog, where you’ll find an interview about varieties of johnboats and their uses on the local rivers as told by James E. Price to Marideth Sisco.
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Ernest Murray, TAAP Master Artist: 1995
In the interview we shared yesterday with Dr. James Price, he noted that Ernest “Punk” Murray (1912-2001) was the Murray family patriarch in Ripley County: “he could make anything. He lived a very primitive life. Just a shack out in the woods. And, I learned a lot from him about the traditional crafts, about how he did and how he made things. But he could make anything from a rabbit trap to a banjo. It didn’t make any difference.” Missouri Folk Arts director Lisa Higgins met Mr. Murray in 1993 at his nephew’s workshop in Doniphan. The elder Murray showed Higgins a collection of treasures that filled the cab of his pick-up truck, including a fiddle he picked up for $20 and repaired, and a copy of R. P. Christeson’s Old Time Fiddle Repertory.
Punk Murray was dubbed by nephew (and master johnboat builder) Cecil Murray as the “Number 1 Paddlemaker. In 1995, Cecil’s previous johnboat building apprentice Steve Cookson returned to the apprenticeship program, under the guidance of Uncle Punk to learn to build paddles from sassafras for use on the local riverways.
Photo description: Cecil Murray (left) and his Uncle Punk look over a finished paddle and one in process in 1993. Photo credit: Dana Everts-Boehm
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Paul Martin – Bunker, Gig Making, TAAP Master Artist: 1996
Anyone who is familiar with master gigmaker Ray Joe Hastings has heard about Paul J. Martin (1928-2006) of Bunker, Mo. As a gig collector and bow fisher, Hastings was more than familiar with Mr. Martin’s craftsmanship, so much so that eventually Hastings eventually convinced the retired gigmaker to teach an apprenticeship in 1996. And, thank goodness, he did. At his peak, Mr. Martin said that he would make two gigs a day for $20 each (later the gigs went for $40 each), totaling over 3,000 in his lifetime. He made gigs to supplement his income, to make something he found aesthetically pleasing, and to sustain the fish gigging tradition that was so dear to him, his family, and his neighbors. This past year, Mr. Hastings returned the tradition to the Martin family, teaching apprentice Anthony Martin (Paul’s grandson) in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program twenty-five years after the elder taught Hastings. Gigging fish from a johnboat was so important to Mr. Martin that his grave monument has such a scene etched onto it.
In her 1996 Missouri Folk Arts essay about Ozark riverways, Dana Everts-Boehm quotes extensively from an interview with Paul Martin and Ray Joe Hastings. Readers can follow the link to read Mr. Martin’s own words here: https://mofolkarts.missouri.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ozark.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2BO-HW27M-4SiBh5msxsw2TuU2WODMreLaOLOyhdedI0VRgnOuVDRGSxc
Also, check out the image linked here—a photograph snapped by Jim McCarty of Rural Missouri.
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Turlach Boylan, TAAP Master Artist: 2008 (Irish tin whistle); 2019 (Irish flute)
Turlach Boylan, master Irish musician, grew up on a farm in County Derry as the oldest of seven children. At the age of 16, Turlach picked up a flute and found love for Irish music. He studied the music with elders in his community; and by the time 1986 came around, he was winning the All-Ireland Senior Flute Show Airs competition. After emigrating from Ireland, he’s performed on stages at festivals throughout the greater KCMO region and in more than 30 states – while still making time for community jam sessions and the more informal gatherings.
When it comes to Boylan’s style of playing, he is said to have great tone, technique, and solid rhythm. His playing serving to connect him to his Irish cultural roots and keep his culture alive even from the United States.
Read a blog post about his 2019 apprenticeship here:
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Gary Johnston, TAAP Master Artist: 2008
Gary Johnston (1937-2020) was born into a large musical family in Barton County. In a tribute, Dr. Howard Marshall wrote “all ‘the Johnston boys’ were versatile players with deep repertoires who enjoyed various styles of music.” Mr. Johnston himself, who picked up fiddle as a child, was known to joke that he thought everyone played fiddle until he was about eight. In another tribute, apprentice Sam Kendrick wrote that Johnston “was a traditional music icon that had no idea of the influence that he had on people across the country. He was, and still is, loved dearly by all of us. While he is gone from this physical plane, he still lives on in our hearts and his legacy. He lives on in the music that he gave us, taught us, and learned from us.”
Gary Johnston was a friendly constant at old-time music events for many years. His friends noted that he brought people together with stories and fiddling. He left behind a legacy of music, in his own sons Beau and Tad, as well as his apprentice Sam, and many, many friends.
In 2015, Tad Johnston backed and recorded his dad playing “Cyril’s Tune” linked here.
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Van Colbert, TAAP Master Artist: 2003, 2004, 2009, 2017, 2018
For today’s post about master banjo player Van Colbert (Willow Springs) we thank Marideth Sisco for sharing another essay from her series of 2019 interviews in south central Missouri. Sisco and Colbert are old friends, who have traveled miles and miles together. In her post at our Show Me Folk blog, she focuses on Van Colbert’s family history; his participation in the Blackberry Winter Band’s North American tour in support of the independent film Winter’s Bone ; and his 2018 apprenticeship with Cindy Parry.
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Bernadette Randle, TAAP Master Artist: 1992
Bernadette Randle (1947-2016) began playing piano at age 4 and couldn’t recall a time when she wasn’t playing. At 9, her first family gospel group, including siblings and cousins, began playing in her father’s church. Blessed with perfect pitch, Ms. Randle spent time imitating the musicians she admired and attended church in St. Louis where gospel icon, Prof. Aaron Bass Windom, directed the choir.
Her love for music would lead her to SIU where she studied piano on a music scholarship–and ultimately a life as a touring disco and soul music musician. She recorded over thirty-six secular albums with artists like Etta James, Solomon Burke, and Joey Travolta, as well as a stint with The Rimshots who performed for Soul Train. Eventually, Ms. Randle returned to her gospel roots. She began to direct the choir at her church, arranging, rehearsing, and conducting the church’s rhythm section. She also pursued a degree, then a career, in gerontology including as a long-term care ombudsman.
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Tommy Martin, TAAP Master Artist: 2006
Emigrating from Ireland to St. Louis, Tommy Martin filled a gap in the St. Louis community for Uilleann Pipe playing. It only took him a few years to settle into his new community and begin teaching, as the only master piper in St. Louis at the time. A complicated instrument to play, as he told us, the Uilleann pipe was once banned in Ireland and was not resurrected until the 1900s when Irish independence and the founding of Irish organizations intent on preserving and revitalizing Irish language and music traditions came about.
After picking up the Uilleann pipes at age 12, Tommy Martin spent years learning to play the instrument and more years becoming a master. His teacher Mick O’Brien influenced him the most in the development of his talent and love for the instrument; attending summer camps and workshops throughout his teenage years solidified this love. Typically an instrument played by men, Martin used his time during our program to teach Sarah Hale, then an avid student at @St. Louis Irish Arts. Martin spent time later touring with Celtic Women, then worked in his shop, devoting a great deal of his time crafting pipes and whistles.
In the video linked here, Martin describes a chanter he’s crafted, then plays “The Raveled Hank of Yarn” on it.
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Robert Ryan, TAAP Master Artist: 2022
Robert Ryan is new to the apprenticeship program this year, working with apprentice Daniel Gutting. Their stated goal was for Daniel to learn 30 new Irish tunes on fiddle in 30 lessons—an ambitious goal but one that Mr. Ryan called “conservative” in the team’s application. He thought Daniel was not only up to, but would surpass, the challenge. We’ve heard through the grapevine that, though recently started, the apprenticeship is going quite well.
Robert Ryan was born and raised in England, the son of Irish immigrants, though he now calls St. Louis home. There, he is active in the local Irish music scene, teaches music in the schools, and is a well-regarded instructor at St. Louis Irish Arts. He tells us that as a child he played the tin whistle for three years before taking up the fiddle, one of the instruments favored by his beloved grandmother back in Ireland. “My parents had emigrated to England, and Irish music was a traditional art form which helped keep them connected to their culture and community. There was Irish music played in the house, and we attended concerts, classes, and other cultural events . . .“ Ryan writes, too, about the lasting influences of more formal lessons with master Irish musicians at culture centers in England and as importantly, the ongoing influences of the informal “sessions” that he calls the “lifeblood of Irish traditional music.” Most recently, Ryan has released a CD with Irish harpist Eileen Gannon, called Down the Rocky Road. Earlier this year, they performed tunes for the new release at an outdoor concert at The Focal Point in St. Louis. Followers can watch/listen to the whole concert at the link, via YouTube.
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Dean Frenzel, TAAP Master Artist: 1995
When she wrote her application to teach in Missouri’s apprenticeship program in 1994, Dean Frenzel (1928-2004) explained that she had been embroidering for forty-five years. For the apprenticeship, though, she was to teach her niece Sally Charles to embroider designs onto Irish step dance dresses. Though Ms. Charles was already then an advanced embroiderer of twenty-five years, she recognized the need for the apprenticeship to conquer some complex techniques required to execute the intricate Celtic designs, inspired by the Book of Kells. The pairing was apt, as the master artist had picked up the tradition about ten years earlier from a sister; Ms. Charles’s mother, also Ms. Frenzel’s sister, was also an avid embroiderer.
Ms. Frenzel’s application came with a letter of support from Helen Gannon, president of St. Louis Irish Arts, who pointed out that finding someone in the region to embroider the designs onto SLIA dancers’ dresses was getting to be quite difficult, and ordering from Ireland was cost-prohibitive. Frenzel agreed, pointing out that “it takes up to one year to get a dress from Ireland.” A note that the Irish step dance dresses at that time, as described by Missouri Folk Arts then-director Dana Everts-Boehm, had “evolved in this century from a simple, floor length skirt and blouse to these elaborate, above the knee velvet dresses complete with lace collars, small capes, and embroidered designs adapted from ancient Irish illuminated manuscripts” (see page 4-6 of a 1994 essay/PDF by Dr. Everts-Boehm for black/white images of the dresses she describes.
Of course, the dresses and their embellishments continue to evolve to this day, though we understand from Mrs. Gannon that the Celtic embroidery tradition in the region is waning once again.
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Dominika Fidala, TAAP Master Artist: 1988
When they applied to the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program in 1987, master needleworker Dominika Fidala and her apprentice Krystyna Haas-Bsdyl were both fairly recent immigrants to St. Louis from their homes in Poland (Ujejsce and Krakow, respectively). Ms. Fidala recalled that as a child of ten years old she started to learn to embroider on napkins, as she worked to learn stitches and patterns. In their approved work plan, Fidala outlined four needlework projects that the team would work on from October 1987 to May 1988: napkins, a wall tapestry, a traditional folk dress for a doll, and a traditional folk dress for a girl.
In May of 1988, outside evaluator Kathryn James visited the team at Ms. Haas-Bsdyl’s home. Outside evaluations are a component of Missouri’s apprenticeship program to this day. Ms. James noted that the team typically conducted their lessons in their shared language, though that day they spoke English to include her. She remarked not only on the quality of the traditional works of art that the apprentice produced but on the relationship the two women had strengthened while working together over dozens of hours and seven months, an opportunity both of them welcomed as newcomers to the U.S. and Missouri. The apprentice also shared with the outside evaluator how much she welcomed the opportunity to pursue the lessons, as she was an avid student of her home country’s history and culture, had long admired the traditional folk costumes and their intricate needlework. They all noted how much the apprenticeship with Ms. Fidala in St. Louis was an answer to her apprentice’s dreams to learn the tradition but never had the opportunity in Poland.
Photo description: Dominika Fidala poses with two versions of a traditional Polish folk costume. Photo credit: Keith Frausto
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Haregewoin Kinfu, TAAP Master Artist: 1988
Haregewoin Kinfu is another master embroiderer, a bearer of the tradition that she learned as a child of six years old from her mother in Adwa, a town in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Ms. Kinfu explained that embroidering traditional dresses, like those worn in her homeland and in St. Louis on special occasions, was her hobby, occupying her spare time when she wasn’t working, at that time, at International Institute of St. Louis via VISTA. Her apprentice Addis Eshetu had only picked up the tradition two years prior to when they applied to the apprenticeship program. Ms. Eshetu explained that the tradition wasn’t one that her own mother practiced, but when she arrived in refugee camps in Sudan, her Ethiopian peers wore traditional dresses with the distinctive embroidery; she knew she “needed the knowledge” and “started imitating” her friends.
Haregewoin Kinfu made a lesson plan that taught more than embroidery. She taught Ms. Eshetu to measure, cut, and sew the dress from cotton; to consider color choices; and to plan her borders. She also taught how to draft the complex, interlocking embroidery patterns using graph paper and pencil before putting needle and thread to cloth. Additionally, Ms. Kinfu modelled the dressmaking and embroidery processes by working side-by-side with the apprentice, each creating an embroidered dress during the apprenticeship. In a letter to then-Program Coordinator Keith Frausto, Kinfu wrote that she was very pleased with her apprentice’s “beautiful” dress.
Photo description: Haregewoin Kinfu embroiders onto cotton fabric during a site visit in 1988. Photo from the Missouri Folk Arts archives at the State Historical Society of Missouri.
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Akec Dut Bak, TAAP Master Artist: 2007
Akec Dut Bak participated in our apprenticeship program as both a singer and dancer, passing on the culturally entwined song and dance of the Dinka Mu-Lual people of the Aweil region of Southern Sudan. She was immersed in the art form since birth with a mother and relatives who actively sang and danced. It was no surprise that Akec Dut Bak picked up on traditions from the time she could talk and walk and has carried them with her throughout life.
What makes these Dinka Mu-Lual songs so interesting is their ever-changing nature, which depends on the singer and her community. Akec Dut Bak’s songs are essential oral and cultural histories, recording the Dinka Mu-Lual people, their ancestors, histories, and migrations in a culture where historically nothing was written down. In Kansas City, the Dinka Ma-Lual came together to sing and dance weekly. Almost everyone participated in the dances, and the Sudanese Community Association works to ensure that all tribes are celebrated. With the apprenticeship, Akec Dut Bak was able to renew the song and dance transmission process with her daughter, who was learning the songs in her youth until they were separated for seventeen years. The apprenticeship offered a dedicated spate of time and space to reunite and catch up in the tradition.
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Asunta Bol Arop, TAAP Master Artist: 2008
Asunta Bol Arop comes from the Dinka Twic Mayardit of Southern Sudan, another distinct tribe with its own distinctive songs and dances. Years of brutal war left many in refugee camps; the various Dinka groups sought refuge and scattered around different countries and US cities. In the Dinka Twic Mayardit traditions, as explained by Asunta Bol Arop, everyone in a family participates in singing and dancing, but it is a mother’s role to keep and pass down a family’s history. The Dinka’s method of singing centers history and prioritizes creation. The master artist was born with what the Dinka Twic Mayardit consider the gift of making and singing good songs from one’s dreams–a gift passed down through one’s mother.
At the time of the apprenticeship, Bol Arop’s mother was still stuck in refugee camps, unable to join the rest of the family in Kansas City, thus leaving it to this elder daughter to teach the family’s history to her sister and children. During the apprenticeship, Asunta Bol Arup was able to pass along family traditions to her sister, who missed these valuable traditions while isolated from here family for many years before joining them in Kansas City. The pair worked, too, to teach their children the family history their mother cannot, a history in which is not written but celebrated orally through song and dance. In addition to sustaining the songs, the tradition is another way for the family to sustain their language.
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Rachel Whitesitt, TAAP Master Artist: 2003
Rachel Whitesitt (1908-2006) began braiding hair as a young girl, learning from her mother who braided her daughters’ hair on their family’s Minnesota farm. Young Rachel braided hair, strips of fabric, and horses’ tails/manes. Braiding rugs followed that progression. After about 40 years of struggling to braid rugs on her own, Mrs. Whitesitt sought lessons from master rug makers, who taught her the ins and outs. She then continued the tradition of repurposing old coats, men’s suits, and wool blankets into attractive and functional rugs. She attributed rugbraiding, quilting, and other handwork to her general health and wellbeing: “braiding keeps arthritis at bay, keeps my mind active, and keeps me involved with people.”
After perfecting her craft in her fifties, Mrs. Whitesitt (who lived and farmed in Salisbury, Mo. with her family for about fifty years) began teaching others. She took on students for private lessons, gave demonstrations at schools and heritage festivals, and discussed her craft further with regional media. At 94, Mrs. Whitesitt applied for our program with the intent to share her knowledge very intensively with her daughter Sharon Hutchinson. In turn, her daughter intended to keep the tradition active, teaching her own children and grandchildren. Today, Ms. Hutchinson does carry on the tradition, via Shepard’s Way Arts & Crafts. Her family has also honored her mother by working with @Boonslick Area Tourism Council, installing a barn quilt square in the “weathervane” pattern on their 1900-era gable-style barn in Salisbury; page down to entry 14: “Gran [Mrs. Whitesitt] was a weather watcher all her life, as many farmers are, so this quilt pattern seemed appropriate.” https://www.boonslicktourism.org/howard-county-quilts
Photo description: 1. Rachel Whitesitt (right) stands to instruct daughter Sharon Hutchinson, who works on a rug during a lesson documented by Program Specialist Deb Bailey.
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John T. White, TAAP Master Artist: 2005
John White (1936-2017) recalled that he learned to play the fiddle sometime between birth and 1951, though he didn’t remember a time where the instrument wasn’t part of his life. He learned his first tunes from his grandfather, who quickly booted young John because he was that good. His second, and a constant, teacher was his mother Lucille. They played in a North Missouri-style that John White sustained throughout his life, with a little nagging from his mother after he briefly picked up a more “notey” style in Boone County. After his stint in the military and a degree at University of Missouri, Mr. White committed himself to the marriage of music and dance, playing dances at Lily Dale schoolhouse. Later John and Betty White, a well-respected couple in Central Missouri’s old-time music community, founded a dance at the Hallsville Community Center, which they coordinated for many years.
John White taught informally for decades, joined Bethel Youth Fiddle Camp as a master teacher for several years, and paired with Jordan Wax in the 2005 Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. There is a splendid profile of Mr. White on the Missouri Traditional Fiddle and Dance Network that tells John (and Betty) White’s story so well, with images and ten tunes to enjoy at the link.
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Charlie Walden , TAAP Master Artist: 2022
Speaking of John T. White, Charlie “Possum” Walden credits the North Missouri-style fiddler as the “first fiddler [he] heard in person,” when Mr. White played at an ice cream social at Walden’s Boone County school. Walden grew up amidst Boone County’s best fiddlers, and Taylor McBaine was his “first teacher.” For quite some time now, Walden was has been a key player in Missouri’s old-time fiddling community, and we are excited that he is a new TAAP master artist in an apprenticeship to teach Thomas Coriell of St. Louis. They are specifically working on Missouri Valley tunes, from the region where Walden’s dad grew up (Carroll County), a style that Walden learned directly from the late Cyril Stinnett (Oregon, Mo.) and Iowa octogenarian Dwight Lamb (a 2017 NEA Heritage Fellow and longtime @Bethel Youth Fiddle Camp master teacher).
Charlie Walden has earned a number of awards in his own right, and he has been a keeper of the Missouri State Old-Time Fiddlers Association, for instance, digitizing a number of old videos from fiddle contests and fiddle camp (some of which have made appearances this year in “200 Stories.”) With the onset of the pandemic, Charlie and Patt Plunkett began “Camp Possum” YouTube livestreams on a weekly basis, hosting both concerts and fiddle lessons with fiddlers in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Recently, too, they have partnered with Folk School of St. Louis at KDHX for online lessons. There are so many places to check out his work, but a good start is the Charlie Walden channel on YouTube.
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Ward Westbrook, TAAP Apprentice: 1993; Master Artist: 1995
When Ward Westbrook first joined the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program in 1993 he was an apprentice to bladesmith Guy McConnell; both lived in Macon County. Two years later, Mr. Westbrook returned to apply to the program with his own apprentice, Tom Rowland. These two blacksmiths had only met rather recently when they applied, but they had immediately bonded and found common ground, especially as the grandsons of blacksmiths. Westbrook wrote about the legacy of his grandfather and his pride in being chosen as the grandchild who inherited the forge, which he relocated from Chillicothe to La Plata.
Westbrook and Rowland also had hunting in common and were particularly interested in forging beautiful and functional Damascus knives, created by laminating several layers of metal in the high heat to create distinctive patterns in the blades. The team worked exceptionally well together, as noted in the December 1994 site visit report by then-director @Dana Everts-Boehm: “this team has a remarkable rapport, commitment, and vision.” Due to their skills and that rapport, Dr. Everts-Boehm invited the team to demonstrate in April 1995 for “Tuesdays at the Capitol,” where the team set up a portable forge near the Rozier Gallery in Jefferson City. While they worked at the forge, visiting school children and tourists were able to stop to observe and ask questions of the bladesmiths.
Photo description: Ward Westbrook (left) watches apprentice Tom Rowland while he hammers at the anvil. December 1994. Photo credit: Dana Everts-Boehm
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Ronald Westfall, TAAP Apprentice: 1986; TAAP Master Artist: 1995
Ronald Westfall (1946-2014) was born in Higbee into the Westfall family of renowned white oak basketmakers. His father Everette (1925-1985) and his uncle Earl (1901-1982) were both widely recognized as master makers of farm and market baskets. In fact, Dr. Howard Marshall spent a great deal of time interviewing and documenting Mr. Everette Westfall, producing a chapter in the important 1979 textbook _Readings in American Folklore_, edited by Dr. Jan Brunvand.
When Ronald Westfall was ready to devote himself to mastering the family basket making tradition (from tree to basket), both his father and uncle had died. Luckily, their sister Marjorie Westfall Prewitt was also a recognized master artist, who took her nephew as an apprentice in 1986. Ronald and Carol Ann, his wife, then worked for decades to sustain the family business, making and selling baskets in the Westfall way (see image of brochure from our archives). In the late 80s, they relocated from north central Missouri first to New Madrid in the Bootheel, where Ronald followed in his aunt’s footsteps, taking his son Jason as an apprentice in 1995. Photo description: Ronald Westfall demonstrates at the Rozier Gallery in Jefferson City at a “Tuesdays at the Capitol” event in April 1995; photo credit: Dana Everts-Boehm;
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Diane Phillips, TAAP Master Artist: 2005
Diane Phillips grew up in a family of missionaries who lived in the Northwest and in Alaska. An observant child, she told us that she picked up weaving techniques from her mother (of mixed Native American heritage) and from their Native American neighbors, including the Alaskan Athabascans. From her mother, she learned to weave grass and branches into mats and small structures. As a young adult, the family relocated to the Missouri Ozarks, and Phillips she began making baskets with the materials she could find in her area (grapevine, honeysuckle, buck brush, Virginia creeper) and to apply the dying techniques she learned from her mother. Later, Phillips took up pine needle basket making, gathering long needled pines near home and combining with some purchased materials to create both decorative and functional baskets.
Diane Phillips notes that basketmaking is a long-held tradition in the Ozarks, and she has been fortunate to continue to observe and to learn from regional makers at county fairs and folk arts festivals in West Plains and Oregon County. She credits, by name, those basket weavers and the ones she knew as a child with teaching and inspiring her. And, she is conscious to return the favor, teaching members of her own family: sisters, daughters, and sons, even her mother before she died. Phillips continues to teach classes, at locations like Six Sisters Mercantile, and to demonstrate at festivals, like the Old-Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival–both in West Plains. Photo descriptions Diane Phillips (left) discusses materials and techniques with folklorist Willow Mullins during a site visits in 2005 in Thayer. Photo credit: Deb Bailey