2018 Fellows & Finalists in the Traditional Arts Awarded by Mass Cultural Council

We are delighted to announce the 2018 Artist Fellows and Finalists in the Traditional Arts, awarded by Mass Cultural Council. Fellows each receive $12,000 and Finalists each receive $1,000. The next opportunity to apply for these awards will be October of 2019.

ARTIST FELLOWS:
Kieran Jordan, Traditional Irish step dance

At the age of five, Kieran Jordan watched Irish step dancing for the first time in a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Soon after, she was taking lessons in her parish hall on Saturday mornings. Thus began her life-long journey to becoming not only a renowned Irish step dancer, but also a cultural activist and an invaluable resource within the Irish-American community.

Jordan is a gifted dancer, choreographer, and teacher of old style Irish step dances, a tradition that is intricately tied to Irish history, local culture, and traditional music. She displays the aesthetic assurance that naturally evolves from the dedication of a gifted artist who has danced competitively within the Irish traditional step-dancing sphere.

Panayotis League, Greek lauto playing and oral poetry

Panayotis League specializes in traditional Greek music and oral poetry indigenous to the Greek island of Kalymnos, Crete, and their diaspora communities. With family roots in the Greek community of Tarpon Springs, Fla, League pursued his interest in traditional music by journeying to the Greek islands to study laouto and tsabouna, with older master musicians on Kalymnos in 2001 and violin on Crete in 2003.

Today League is one of the few in the US who specializes in the laouto music of Kalymnos. In addition to concerts and festivals, he is a frequent performer at local marriage celebrations, baptisms, and feast days in the Greek diaspora community. He is also a scholar of Greek music. His dissertation focused on the music of Boston’s Anatolian Greek diaspora. League is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, where he is managing the digitization and cataloguing of James Notopoulos’ field recordings from his 1952-53 trip to Greece and Cyprus.

Sidi Joh Camara, Malian dance and drumming

Sidi Mohamed “Joh” Camara grew up in Bamako, Mali surrounded by musicians, praise singers, and story-tellers. He began his formal training with Mouvement Pionnier, and then went on to work with Troupe Sewa and Troupe Districte de Bamako before relocating to the United States in 1996. He has experienced West African dances in their purest traditional form, where a particular dance is unique to that village and the movements have remained unchanged for centuries. Though West African dance companies in urban centers keep the traditions alive, often the context and meaning in which these village dances originated gets lost. “Once they are performed by dance companies in the cities, they are taken out of context. . . As a ballet, it is no longer a part of the ceremony it accompanies.”

Joh’s research has taken him all over Mali to see the dances in the ceremonies of which they are a part. He and his young son Tiemoko were awarded a 2017 MCC Traditional Arts Apprenticeship They focused on the learning of  four dances (Didadi, Korodjuga, Mandiani, and Madan), the songs that accompany these dances, as well as why and in what context they are danced. Father and son will also take part in ceremonies within the Malian and Guinean diaspora community both here and in New York.

FINALISTS:

Geoffrey Kostecki, liturgical painting

Geoffrey Kostecki excels at the sacred art known as liturgical painting. As a young man, he was inspired by the powerful imagery of Catholicism, first created for the Church during the Renaissance. Kostecki moved to Italy to study at University Lorenzo Di Medici in Florence. There he gained advanced painting techniques required for liturgical painting which include site-specific design, fresco painting, figurative sculpting, stencil design, gilding, and marbleizing.

After returning home and earning an MFA, Kostecki apprenticed under  figurative painter Graydon Parrish, who himslef had trained through the Atelier method, and with trumpe-l’oeil painter Robert Bock.

Kostecki’s original work and restorations can be seen in churches throughout Central Massachusetts and upstate New York, including  St. Paul’s Church in West Warren, St. John’s in Worcester, and the 30 x 40 feet nave mural depicted here,  commissioned by St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid, NY.

Fabian Gallon, Colombian tiple player

Fabian Gallon grew up in Pereira, the mountainous coffee region of Colombia, where he learned to play the tiple from his father and brothers. He went on to study with Maestro Benjamin Cardona before entering the conservatory of Universidad Technologica of Pereira.

Similar in shape but distinct from the guitar, the 12-stringed tiple is considered the national instrument of Colombia. It recently gained a renaissance when it began to be played more as a solo instrument. The style Gallon developed went from simple strumming to a complex blend of sophisticated picking and rich variations of strumming figures.

Before moving to Boston, Gallon was very active in Bogata’s musical scene, performing and recording with Trio Ancestro, as well as dedicating himself to bringing up the next generation of leading Colombian tiple players.  He recently recorded with several Latin American musicians in Boston. He continues a tradition of well-known tiple players like Gonzalo Hernandez, Pacho Benavides, and David Puerta. Eduaro Carrizoa, Orquestra Conductor says, “Colombian tiple has in Fabian Gallon its best passionate and knowledgeable interpreter.  In his hands lay the responsibility of keeping the path of the development of the technique and interpretation of the instrument.”

 Emerald Rae Forman, Cape Breton & Scottish fiddle player

The distinctive fiddling style of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia has roots in the strathspeys and reels brought to Canada by early 19th century Scottish immigrants. Emerald Rae Forman has mastered both Scottish and Cape Breton fiddling. She began her study with Boston based Barbara McOwen, renowned for her private library of Scottish music books. Emerald went on to compete in the US Scottish Fiddling Championships, winning the US National Champion title at 18 years old. She went on to earn degrees from Berklee College of Music and the University of Glasgow.

Fiddle and dance are closely related; to become a great traditional fiddler, it helps to know the dance steps the fiddle tunes accompany. In 2011, Emerald Rae completed a Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship in Irish step dance with Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellow Kieran Jordan. In 2016, she was awarded a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship to mentor Elizabeth Kozachek in Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle playing. Emerald Rae works as a professional performer and teacher of multiple styles of fiddle and step dance. She leads workshop at the Boston Fiddle Club and has served on the Boston Celtic Music Festival

Soumya Rajaram, Bharatanatayam dancer

Soumya Rajaram performs and teaches Bharatanatyam dance, a South Indian classical tradition with strong spiritual connections to Hindu religion and mythology. Although originally a hereditary tradition, the teaching of Bharatanatyam has become institutionalized. Indeed, Soumya came up within a deep lineage of dance teachers trained at the Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, India. In addition to her years of dedicated training in the technique and expressive elements of Bharatanatyam, she has extensive training in Carnatic music, which is integral to Bharatanatyam dance.

Known for her exacting standards, Rajaram is skilled in nritta (abstract dance) and abhinaya (emotive aspect). She performs regularly at festivals and concerts and is thought of highly by senior dance teachers who first brought Bharatanatyam to southern New England. Soumya is an active contributor to the India arts community in Greater Boston. She continues to enhance her learning under the mentorship of Sheejith Krishna, spending a few months a year at his studio and home in Chennai.

 

 

MCC Awards 2016 Fellows & Finalists in the Traditional Arts

FELLOWS:

Portrait of Shannon Heaton

Shannon Heaton, Irish flute playing, singing, & composition

No matter how well any of us play, our Irish cred lies in
how tightly we can play with others. Irish music is social.

Shannon Heaton is highly regarded in Irish traditional music circles for her beautifully expressing playing, composing, and dedication to teaching and promoting the music. She was fortunate to learn firsthand from musicians in Chicago’s rich traditional Irish music scene and later in repeated trips to County Clare, Ireland. For National Heritage Fellow, Seamus Connolly, Shannon’s playing encapsulates the tradition, “In it I hear so many elements of the old styles, such as the playing of Kevin Henry from County Sligo, Ireland, who lived in Chicago and whose music goes back to another time.”

Shannon co-founded the Boston Celtic Music Festival in 2001, a festival that continues to bring Irish musicians together with other Celtic styles. “Live Ireland,” an Irish music radio show broadcasting from Dublin, nominated Shannon “Female Musician of the Year” twice. In addition to performing regularly, Shannon is a sought after teacher, not only of tunes and technique, but also of the tradition’s social and musical customs, e.g., the importance of session etiquette.

 

Dimitrios Klitsas at his workbench
Dimitrios Klitsas, architectural and ornamental woodcarving

Both students and seasoned wood carvers come from around the country to study with master woodcarver Dimitrios Klitsas in his studio in Hampden. Like the architects and designers who seek out his impeccably carved ornamental work for fine homes and churches, these students are inspired by Dimitrios’s ability to shape slabs of walnut, mahogany, or oak into breathtaking architectural and figurative works. Guided by his deep knowledge of the fundamentals of classical European design, Dimitrios patiently creates carvings that exemplify both his unique talent and his devotion to the tradition of his craft.

Dimitrios began his training in classical carving at age 13 at the Ioannina Technical School near his home in the foothills of northwestern Greece. After graduation, he served a five-year apprenticeship and then ran his own woodcarving shop in Athens for another five years, before coming to Massachusetts nearly four decades ago. His work here has been recognized nationally with commendations including the Arthur Ross Award for Artisanship from the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. Many of Dimitrios’s students have gone on to professional carving careers, including his son, Spiro.

FINALISTS:

Delft redware by Stephen Earp

Stephen Earp, redware pottery

Stephen Earp works within the redware tradition, the common name for a variety of domestic, leadglazed
pottery made in New England between the 17th and 19th centuries. Originally, redware was produced to meet the daily needs of food storage, preparation, and serving such as plates, platters, and pitchers. On occasion, redware served commemorative and decorative purposes. Stephen has perfected the functional forms and sgrafitto of Colonial redware, and more recently found his way to his own heritage through making Dutch Delftware.

Most of Earp’s pottery is thrown on a wheel that he designed and built. He uses local materials including clay from a family owned pottery in Sheffield, Massachusetts, which mines clay from a local seam. His glazes include locally dug clay, as well as ashes from the hay of a nearby farmer. In 2007, Stephen was included in Early American Life Magazine Directory of Traditional Crafts. Stephen was named an MCC Finalist in the Traditional Arts category in 2008. He writes an engaging and informative blog, This Day in Potter History.

Soumya Rajaram

Soumya Rajaram, Bharatanatyam dancer

Soumya Rajaram performs and teaches Bharatanatyam dance, a South Indian classical tradition with strong spiritual connections to Hindu religion and mythology. Although originally a hereditary tradition, the teaching of Bharatanatyam has become institutionalized. Indeed, Soumya came up within a deep lineage of dance teachers trained at the Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, India. In addition to her years of dedicated training in the technique and expressive elements of Bharatanatyam, she has extensive training in Carnatic music, which is integral to Bharatanatyam dance.

Known for her exacting standards, Soumya is skilled in nritta (abstract dance) and abhinaya (emotive aspect). She performs regularly at festivals and concerts and is thought of highly by senior dance teachers who first brought Bharatanatyam to southern New England. Soumya is an active contributor to the India arts community in Greater Boston. She continues to enhance her learning under the mentorship of Sheejith Krishna, spending a few months a year at his studio and home in Chennai.

Lutchinha

Maria Neves Leite, Cape Verdean singer

Known in the performing world as  “Lutchinha,” Maria Neves Leite is a singer of Cape Verdean songs. She was born into a singing family on the island of Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands, part of an archipelago off the coast of West Africa. She began singing at age seven, first with her father and later with family friends who would come to the house. Luchinha’s first solo CD Castanhinha bears the title of a mourna that her father wrote for her mother. She went on to become one of the winners at the Todo Munco Canta singing competition, representing her island of Sao Vicente. Engagements in the Soviet Union and in Portugal soon followed.

Lutchinha enjoyed a successful performing career in Europe before she joined her parents in immigrating to the United States. The family settled in Brockton. Lutchinha sang out in the local region, performing for Cape Verdean weddings, Noite Caboverdiana, and other community events. Her repertoire continued to draw from the deep well of traditional Cape Verdean song including the morna, coladeira, batuku,and funana Only recently, with her own children grown, Lutchina has returned to performing outside of the Cape Verdean community, including appearances at major festivals like the 2014 American Folk Festival in Bangor, ME. and the 2015 National Folk Festival in Greensboro, NC where she was backed by an all-star band of Cape Verdean musicians from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

  Textile with hole to be repaired Invisible reweaving

Toni Columbo, invisible reweaving

When is a traditional art at its best when it can’t be seen? Toni Columbo excels at invisible reweaving, French weaving, over weaving, and reknitting; all are traditional ways of repairing holes and damages by hand as imperceptibly as possible in woven and knitted fabrics. Threads or a frayed piece of fabric are harvested from an inconspicuous spot on a jacket, pants, coat, or sweater, and rewoven thread by thread, into the damaged area, rendering it virtually invisible.

Toni learned needle arts from her mother, who in turn, learned from her mother. Toni was born and raised in Boston’s North End, and she maintains a vital connection to this Italian American community. She is highly regarded by customers and by high end retail stores for her excellent skill in mending cherished items of clothing. Using the skills passed down through her family, Toni repairs and restores suits, sweaters, coats, couches, tapestries, and uniforms (including Babe Ruth’s 1926 New York Yankees baseball jersey). In addition to working on heirlooms, Toni keeps up with the new weaves and fibers used in today’s textiles. To work on these micro fabrics, some containing between 100-125 threads per inch, Toni uses a high powered surgeon’s loupe.

Traditional Arts Fellows and Finalists, a Diverse Group

Every other year, the Massachusetts Cultural Council awards  Artist Fellowships in the traditional arts, recognizing individuals for their artistic excellence, authenticity, and deep roots in traditional culture. Among the awardees this year is Irish-American button-accordion player Joe Derrane (Randolph, MA), who is also a National Heritage Fellow.
JOE DERRANE, Irish American accordion player

Joe Derrane is a living legend in the Irish traditional music community. Born in  Boston to Irish immigrant parents, Derrane developed an early affinity for the button accordion and Irish traditional music. At age 14, he was playing regularly in the ballroom dance scene that was booming in the Dudley Street section of Roxbury. At age 17, Derrane recorded the first in a series of 78-rpm recordings, which have since become legendary in the Irish music world. Decades later, Derrane’s musicianship is marked by his unique ornamentation, vigor, and flawless execution.  In addition to his virtuosity on the button box, Derrane is known for his tune compositions, many of which have entered the repertoire of Irish musicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

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YARY LIVAN, Cambodian ceramicist

An MCC Artist Fellowship also went to  Yary Livan (Lowell, MA), master of traditional Cambodian ceramics and kiln building. His work draws on the rich heritage of Cambodian culture, including influences from ancient imperial Khmer kiln sites, such as Angkor Wat, and incorporates Khmer imagery, relief carving, and design. Livan recently served as master artist in MCC’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, passing on what he knows of kbach, the basic element of design in Khmer art, to apprentice Samnang Khoeun. The two are building a smokeless wood-burning kiln on the grounds of Lowell National Historical Park.

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In addition to these two Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts, four Finalist awards were announced.

VERÓNICA ROBLES, Mariachi musician

Verónica Robles has Mariachi music in her blood. “I first learned the traditoinal music of my home country, Mexicao, from my grandmother, whom I would spend hours with in the kitchen as she prepared dishes such as chicharron prensado, con calabazas, elote y nopales.  .  . ” It was in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, the cradle of Mariachi music, where Verónica was introduced to the Mariachi group led by El Chiquis. She began working with his group at age 15, learning hundreds of songs and musical styles. Robles has made Massachusetts home since 2000, where she specializes in performing for young audiences through school assembles, residencies and dance workshops. Her television show, Orale con Verónica, has been on the air since 2002.

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KHENPO CHOPEL, Tibetan torma maker

Khenpo Chopel was born in Tibet and became a monk at the age of 14. Holding the title of “khenpo” (a spiritual degree given after three years of intensive study in Tibetan Buddhism), Chopel is a master torma  maker and tantric practitioner.  Tormas (pictured above) are a traditional art form essential for everyday practice in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and households. These ritual forms — in conical shapes of bright colors — are made both as an offering to a deity and as a representation of a deity.  Since 2009, Chopel has been living at the Drikung Meditation Center in Arlington, Massachusetts, where he serves as a master torma-maker and tantric practitioner.

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JORGE ARCE, Afro Caribbean percussionist and educator

Jorge Arce grew up in the Bélgica, a working class neighborhood of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Ponce is known as the wellspring of bomba, plena, and danza, traditional Afro Caribbean styles of music and dance. Born into a family of dancers and singers, Arce grew up with Plena folk groups and musicians.  Arce credits Don Rafael Cepda and family with expanding his knowledge of bomba. In addition to his life-long work in Bomba and Plena, Arce is an experienced actor, dancer, and cultural historian. He is considered an expert on the history of Puerto Rican’s African people and their descendants. Touring the United States since 1975 as a musician and educator, Arce continues to give workshops, lectures, residencies and performances at schools, festivals, and community organizations.

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DANNY MEKONNEN, Ethiopian American musician

By the time he was an accomplished saxophonist, Danny Mekonnen sought out master Ethiopian musicians to learn to play the traditional instruments of his Ethiopian heritage. In 2006, Mekonnen founded Debo Band, an Ethiopian music collective melding traditional East African polyrhythms, American soul and funk, and the layered instrumentation of Eastern European brass bands, to form a sound that is a jubilant reinvention of music that once rocked Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. He also performs for events within the Ethiopian community, such as weddings and adoption community gatherings for American parents of Ethiopian children.

Traditional Arts Fellowships Available

  

Cape Breton fiddler Joseph Cormier, rhythm tap dancer, James Godbolt, a.k.a. Jimmy Slyde, wooden boat builder Harold A. Burnham, Malian balaphon player Balla Kouyaté, and Irish step dancer Kieran Jordan  . . . these are just some of the individuals who have been awarded MCC Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts since 1999.  All were recognized for their artistic excellence within art forms that are deeply rooted in tradtional and ethnic culture.

These fellowships are awarded biennually.  The postmark deadline to apply is October 7, 2012. Guidelines are available online.