That’s All Folk

Virginia Folklife Program welcomes new apprentices with 2017 apprenticeship showcase.

Preserving a region’s heritage isn’t just about poring over dusty tomes or aged letters. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty—or, if you’re a folk fiddler, a little calloused.

Virginia history, specifically Virginia’s vibrant folklife (food, arts, music, dance and craft) will be celebrated May 7 with the Virginia Folklife Program’s annual apprenticeship showcase at James Monroe’s Highland in Charlottesville—featuring art, crafts, music and cooking from folk masters—such as candy maker Gene Williams and Sephardic ballad singer Susan Gaeta—folklife program alumni, current apprentices and new recruits.

An offshoot of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH), the Folklife Program’s apprenticeship program began in 2002 as a way to better maintain Virginia’s cultural legacies, preserving material and performance practices handed down from generation to generation. Over nine months, masters and their apprentices get down to brass tacks on a particular Virginia trade or craft, from soul food cooking, spinning and weaving, and paper sculpture to decoy carving and log-smithing. Nearly 150 local artists and craftsmen have participated in the program during the last 15 years.

These aren’t 101 classes, either, as director of the program and state folklorist, notes.

“The apprentices are often quite accomplished,” Jon Lohman explains. “They really want to learn from a particular master, soak up the stories and nuances of it.”

This year’s showcase will host two stages for the first time, one for performance and the other for material artists to speak about and display their work.

Opening the showcase will be old-fashioned “hillbilly” band the Cabin Creek Boys, whose members are all Folklife apprenticeship alums hailing from southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina. Closing the show will be a Bolivian mesa ceremony— a ritual in native Quechua culture to honor La Pachamama (Mother Earth)—with master Julia Garcia and apprentice Marcela Alejandra Ardaya Barron, and a square dance called by Ellen and Eugene Ratcliffe and their apprentice Hannah Johnson. The showcase will be held from 12:00 – 5:00 p.m. Admission is free. VirginiaFolkLife.org

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