Vermont Folklife Center Middlebury Vermont

Vermont Governor's Heritage Awards

Recipient Commendations

The Louis Beaudoin Family
2003 Artist Award Recipient

Both Louis Beaudoin and Julie Lacourse's families had sold their farms in Quebec and emigrated to this country in hopes of earning a better living working in the cotton mills. Louis and Julie met at Lakeside and by the time they married, Louis was already a fine musician, playing his fiddle at local and family gatherings. Both were steeped in strong Franco family traditions, Louis bringing his fiddling and dancing, Julie her singing and strong culinary arts to the marriage and to family celebrations. Their family grew to five daughters, and when his oldest, Louise, was seven, Louis taught her how to play chords and encouraged each daughter in turn to accompany him. His youngest, Lisa, was interested in learning some of her family's traditional dance steps. Always inclusive, Louis encouraged the girls to perform with him-- either Louise, Sylvia or Lisa accompanying him, Lisa clogging and sometimes Carmen and Nina singing.

Every Sunday after mass, Louis would take out his fiddle, one of his daughters would accompany him, some might play the spoons, while others would attend to brunch. This delight in music and each others company was shared by them all. When Louis's life was cut short unexpectedly in 1980 his family went into deep mourning and for almost two years did not feel like playing or dancing. Then one day they put on one of their father's records and with tears streaming down their cheeks, Lisa began dancing. She knew the next generation had been asking her to teach them how to dance and she decided that it was important to do this for her father. Meantime Sylvia had begun to play the accordion and had been playing some of her father's tunes. When Rosalynn Carter was scheduled to come to Burlington, the Beaudoins were invited to perform for her. While there was an initial hesitation, they realized how significant the Franco musical traditions were to their father and to his memory, and how essential it was for their family to continue to perform them. With their mother, all five daughters took part. While they continued to perform together, Lisa was teaching a number of the grandchildren to dance, Glen was beginning to play some of his pepe's tunes on the fiddle and Nickie, although she didn't know the French language, was singing in French the songs she heard from her mother. Julie wanted the grandchildren to perform with them, and when that first happened at Mt. Washington, NH, they knew another important dimension had been added to their performance and it filled them with pride.

Today some of the great grandchildren have joined their elders as the Beaudoins continue to perform together for an audience, but they also maintain the tradition of getting together as a family. Recently after the death of David Brown, Louise's husband, four generations performed in a moving and emotional tribute to him at his funeral. What a rich accolade of living heritage: a source of pride, a badge of identity, a wellspring of family unity and always a heap of fun.

[return to slideshow]

Larry Burns
2001 Artist Award Recipient

For Larry Burns teaching is a calling. It's all about the magic of the relationship. In the classroom Larry is part mom and dad, part big brother and part kid himself. He loves the out-of-doors, he's fascinated by math and science, he's an avid reader, he's curious about history, and all of these interests feed directly into his teaching. Larry is quiet and unassuming and he never raises his voice, but his students know and respect his limits because they know and respect him. The atmosphere in his classroom is relaxed and accepting, more like a family than an institution. It’s the kind of environment where students and teacher can get down to brass tacks and really collaborate.

As a teacher Larry embraces personal discovery as his principal learning model. He carefully crafts each learning experience, creating a meaningful context and equipping students with lots of background information, fully preparing them for their own voyages of discovery. When he applies this approach to the study of history, the subject of inquiry becomes personally relevant--which stands in sharp contrast with an abstract lesson one is obligated to learn as a part of the curriculum.

Larry's good at pulling disparate pieces together to create a multi-dimensional experience with a strong hands-on component--which serves his students particularly well when it comes to studying Braintree history. At any particular moment one might encounter a group of nine- and ten-year-olds pouring over the Braintree proprietors' map and drawing lots to divvy up the town, just as the original proprietors did when the town was chartered in the 1790s--or gathering photos and doing interviews to document history in the making, the flood of June 1998--or working on songs, recitations, and a "flag salute" for a program that revisits the Memorial Day Exercises of the early twentieth century.

Hearing stories about the fabric of life in times past fosters a sense of rootedness, of home. Larry facilitates this process by creating a rich learning environment that helps his students forge--in Braintree media specialist Pat Lissandrello's words--"an ardent pride of place." We take inspiration from Larry’s work and celebrate it as a model for heritage education at its best.

[return to slideshow]

Michele Choiniere
2007 Artist Award Recipient

Michele Choiniere grew up in Vermont’s Franklin county where French was her first language and music played an important role in her family life. Her mother, Lucille, is a fine traditional singer; her father, Fabio, plays his father’s repertoire of fiddle tunes on his harmonica, a genre he absorbed by ear and transposed by experiment. Even as a small child Michele accompanied her father on the piano and was exposed to Franco American musical culture both at home and at extended family “kitchen parties” and soirees.

Michele developed her vocal repertoire through an apprenticeship with the late Franco American singer/activist Martha Pellerin. In recent years she has performed with acclaimed French Canadian artists who share her passion for traditional material. Michele’s performances are a unique blend of the traditional songs of local families and new music of her own composition.

For generations French Canadian immigrants were treated as outsiders in Vermont and their cultural traditions received little or no attention. Michele brings Franco American musical culture out of the kitchen and on to the stage, drawing on this aspect of her personal heritage as a resource for creative expression in the present. A extraordinary musician in her own right, Michele has distinguished herself as the premier interpreter of Franco American song traditions in Vermont.

[return to slideshow]

Larry Coffin
2005 Educator Award Recipient

When Larry Coffin was faculty advisor to the Oxbow High School Student Council the students initiated a Senior Prom with a new twist: it was held at Bradford’s Brookside Nursing Home and the students’ dates were the nursing home residents. This straight-from-the-heart project exemplifies Larry’s genius for promoting inter-generational dialogue and building students’ understanding of the history and cultural heritage of their home communities.

As a U.S. history teacher, for example, Larry routinely creates materials that illustrate the relationship between national trends and their local impact. For his “Family Slice of Life” activity students create and follow a fictional multi-generational local family through three periods of American History, and his “Update Your Neighborhood” activity has students exploring the environs of their homes using the 1877 Beers Atlas maps as a starting point. When Larry’s classes were studying World War II he organized a school-wide program in which fifty-five members of the local community shared their war-time memories with students.

Larry knows his community, he knows its history, he knows its resources, and he knows how to craft projects that help his students understand big concepts in the context of local life. In the words of Larry’s colleague Mary Chin, “He is both a ‘tradition bearer’ and a tradition builder, and for the past forty years has worked diligently to bring an understanding of the past to citizens of the future.” We wholeheartedly concur. This is heritage education at its best.

[return to slideshow]

Maureen Dobart
2006 Educator Award Recipient

Each year Proctor teacher Maureen Dobart and her third grade class use an "enchanted" map to explore Proctor history. Their focus is the village center near the place now known as Sutherland Falls, and they visit and revisit this location at critical intervals over four centuries. Along the way they meet the first white settlers, visit a newly opened quarry, witness the forming of a new town, observe the growing marble industry, and join recent immigrants in a holiday celebration.

The basis for this magical tour is a book written by Maureen titled The Enchanted Map: A Journey Through Proctor's Past. She produces a new edition annually that includes the names of her current students, because it's not just a textbook–it's a record of their personal journey. Each year her class undertakes a special project with a new focus. This year it was immigration history, and they explored Proctor's culturally diverse community by learning about the family histories and traditions of the people who actually live there.

Maureen knows Proctor history because it is her history. Not only was she born and raised in Proctor, but one of her ancestors was a mason who built foundations for marble company housing and others worked in the quarries and the mills. She makes history live for her students because it is personal and concrete, less a classroom exercise than a field study. When her class is researching Proctor history the entire town becomes a resource, including buildings, bridges, quarry holes, and the landscape itself.

Maureen knows the thrill of historical discovery from her own family research, and she has brilliantly succeeded in bringing this same sense of excitement to the work she does with children. In the process she imparts a love of history that will stay with her students throughout their adult lives. Her fine work exemplifies heritage education at its best.

[return to slideshow]

Judy Dow
2003 Educator Award Recipient

When Judy Dow was growing up each spring her family would move to their summer camp in South Hero. At camp she and her extended family would fish, garden, and gather wild edibles. On their return to Burlington at summer's end, the car would be packed with preserved food to sustain her family over the winter months.

As an adult Judy began to realize that her family wasn't like every other family. Indeed, this round of seasonal migration bore a striking resemblance to the historic cultural pattern of Abenaki families in the region, which prompted Judy to begin researching her family's genealogy. In time Judy discovered that she was Abenaki and that the values, knowledge, and skills she absorbed growing up were part of a long cultural continuum. With this information in hand she finally asked her grandfather, "Are we Abenaki?" and his reply was a cautious "yes."

Judy Dow is a master basketmaker as well as an accomplished beader, and this past year she added snowshoe making to her impressive array of skills. Add to this her firsthand experience with edible and medicinal wild plants and you have a veritable encyclopedia of traditional skills and knowledge, which Judy shares nationally through such organizations as the American Indian Scouting Association, and locally with students of all ages.

Judy's fundamental goal is to promote the understanding that all forms of life are related and every action has a consequence. But she is also a powerful advocate for Native people, insisting that Native cultures be understood on their own terms while reaching out to non-Native people in order to facilitate that process of understanding. Judy is a compelling teacher who can help us see the world from more than one point of view, and in a culturally plural society that is a very great gift indeed.

[return to slideshow]

Cher Feitelberg
2000 Educator Award Recipient

When Cher Feitelberg’s class of fourth and fifth graders assemble to begin a new year the first order of business is to cooperatively draft a “community living charter.” This document establishes guidelines for the ways in which Cher and her students will interact--in and out of school. I quote three items from this year’s charter:

  • Be Respectful: Respect yourself and others. This includes feelings, beliefs, thoughts, bodies, property , and privacy.
  • Be Accepting: Accept people the way they are for their ideas, talent, personality, looks, and their heritage and culture.
  • Treat Everyone Equally and Fairly: Treat everyone the same way. Each person is an important member of this community with valuable things to share.

This credo sets the stage not only for classroom relations, but for instruction as well. Cher’s students explore the American Revolution not only from the perspective of the colonial patriot but also from British, Native American, and African American points of view. When studying this or any other era they learn about the experience of women and of children as well as that of men. In Cher’s class every month is Black History Month because she teaches African American history as an integral part of every epoch of American history, just as it is in real life.

Respect lies at the heart of the Folklife Center’s mission; respect for the significance and diversity of human experience within this region, which we document through research and present through public programming. Respect is also the core of Cher’s work as an educator, a deep and abiding respect for human dignity which engages cultural pluralism on a continuum from the local to the global. When Cher’s students study Abenaki life in Vermont her class is led by Native teachers; thus students learn directly from the people to whom the stories, traditions, and history belong. This offers her students an opportunity to enter into a parallel but fundamentally very different world view, which is presented as a living reality that is every bit as valid as their own. This is multicultural education at its very best, bridging cultural difference by inviting people to share their lives in an environment founded on openness and respect.

When I visited Cher recently to talk about this award she showed me a paper she’d written in seventh grade titled “The Big Hole in Our Education.” At 13 she was already pushing the envelope, exploring the lives of African Americans in the midst of the riots and racial tensions of the 1960s. Today Cher’s passion, intelligence, and commitment enrich the experience of a generation of children in Charlotte. Thank you, Cher, for your good work.

[return to slideshow]

Myrtle Dunbar Gonyaw
2000 Artist Award Recipient

Myrtle Dunbar Gonyaw is one determined woman with a creative spirit shaped and nurtured by her heritage. The youngest of ten children, she grew up on Walden Mountain far from town or village. By today's standards it was a rugged life-- no electricity, no running water, no telephone, no neighbors, walking to school, living off their garden and off the land. Myrtle's mother claimed her youngest daughter always put everything she had into what she was doing. Myrtle started life as a tomboy-- holding her own with her next three older brothers, hunting, fishing and woodworking. While she enjoyed the outdoors, she also loved to sew. Her mother was a fine seamstress, making all her children's clothes as well as quilts and most of the household furnishings. Myrtle remembers working with her mother in the winter--sewing and humming as the snow fell outside. "Busy hands are happy hands," her mother would tell her.

Today with ten children of her own, numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren, Myrtle finds she turns to sewing in the winter months, usually making several quilts often from worn out scraps put together in a pattern of color and creativity. Her work is recommendation enough to be the recipient of the Vermont Folklife Center's Heritage Award, but there is another important ingredient here.

In 1986 Myrtle suffered a debilitating stroke which left her unable to walk and her right side paralyzed. Driving home from the hospital, her husband told her that he was afraid her quilting was over. It was the spur she needed. "I'm always going to sew," she stated quietly, firmly. She worked with a physical therapist for several months, gradually regaining some strength. Against all odds she persisted-- first beginning to sew with her left hand and completing a quilt for her youngest daughter's graduation. And when the vigor in her right hand didn't return, she took up woodworking-- first hammering nails into boards, to improve her strength and coordination. Nobody expected her to walk again, but once more she defied all expectations. While today many interests vie for Myrtle's time: woodworking, gardening, cooking-- quilting is still her first love. She continues to be master of her craft, passing it on to younger members of her family, and a role model for us all.

[return to slideshow]

Phil Grant
2007 Educator Award Recipient

When Phil Grant was a boy he found himself wondering why school couldn't be more like summer camp. At camp he absorbed knowledge about science, ecology, and the natural world while having fun out-of-doors in the very environments about which he was learning. In a sense, this youthful quandary set the course for Phil's work as an educator.

As a Humanities teacher at the Compass School in Westminster, Phil helps students explore the network of relationships that bind people to the natural world. Just as at summer camp, the best "laboratory" for making these discoveries is out in the communities where the students actually live.

For his "Changing Faces of Farming" unit students began by examining their evening meals and then spread out to area farms to explore where food comes from and the larger food production network. Interviewing local farmers, they learned about the history of each farmstead and the changes that occurred during the 20th century. In the process students also began to understand how they themselves fit within a complex global system.

This is heritage education, not as curio or keepsake, but as a tool for deepening young people's knowledge of the world in which we live. Phil's exemplary work well illustrates the role history can play in preparing a new generation for the challenges of the 21st century.

[return to slideshow]

Delsie Hoyt
2008 Artist Award Recipient

Delsie Hoyt is descended from the illustrious Scotsman William Nelson who arrived in Vermont in 1774 and settled in the town of Ryegate. This lineage anchors Delsie firmly in the traditional culture of this region, where for generations families got their living from the farm and women made everyday household items--such as quilts and rugs–that were of great utility and often of compelling beauty.

Delsie's great-grandmother, Annette Abbott Nelson, born in 1861, made rugs from braided strands of woolen fabric recycled from worn-out clothing. But rather than sewing together similarly colored braids in concentric rings, in some rugs she changed the color of the braids three times in each circuit creating a pinwheel pattern on the surface of the rug.

Delsie grew up with these rugs and others made by family members, so it's no surprise that she eventually chose to take up rug braiding herself. But Delsie's work as a braider charts new frontiers for rug braiding and–drawing inspiration from her great-grandmother's innovations--challenges our conception of what a braided rug can be.

The rug braiding tradition is integral to the culture of this region, expressive of Delsie's own family heritage, and a powerful creative medium for Delsie as an artist. As a maker of rugs of arresting beauty, Delsie honors the work of the generations of women artists that preceded her while exemplifying the dynamism and vitality of the traditional arts. We celebrate both her role and her work with the 2008 Governor's Heritage Award for Outstanding Traditional Artist.

[return to slideshow]

Harold Luce
2003 Artist Award Recipient

Born to a central Vermont farm family, Harold Luce grew up in a world where fiddling was part of everyday life. As a teenager he would sit behind the piano at dances in the Sons of Union Veterans Hall and discreetly play along with legendary fiddler Ed Larkin. He was too shy to perform publicly, but not for long. At a kitchen junket that Ed Larkin couldn't attend, Harold was asked to take Ed's place. He ended up both playing the fiddle and calling changes, no mean feat for a sixteen-year-old, and the beginning of long career of music-making.

Over the course of the past seventy years Harold has played his fiddle in every conceivable setting: from the kitchens of Tunbridge and Chelsea to the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife and two New York Worlds Fairs. He and his band perform weekly at nursing homes and senior centers throughout the Upper Valley, and his living room sports rows of trophies from fiddling competitions around the Northeast.

Fiddle music is an irrepressible force in Harold's life and everyone he touches feels this, especially his students. Because Harold is not only an inspired performer, he is also a dedicated teacher, sharing his knowledge, experience, and passion with upwards of thirty students in a given year

As we honor Harold with the Governor's Heritage Award we are recognizing a lifetime of dedication to a musical tradition that exemplifies the rural culture of Vermont. That this tradition remains vital and alive today is in no small part thanks to Harold's work as both an artist and a mentor. He is a modest man, but his achievements are anything but modest. Congratulations, Harold, on a job well done. We are richer for your efforts.

[return to slideshow]

David "Stoney" Mason
2005 Artist Award Recipient

When David Mason builds a stonewall he takes his inspiration from the site itself. In his words, "Just let's start and let Mother Nature take care of it. She'll tell you where to go with it. And she does, too."

David's approach to wall building is deeply rooted in tradition. His father was a farmer and a master of the basic skills–such as carpentry, blacksmithing, and masonry--that farming used to require. David learned by example and initially followed his father's lead. But like many of his generation he left farming for other work. When in later years he built a stone retaining wall on the home place, a neighbor noticed it and called to ask if David could build a wall for him. That was in 1975 and the phone still hasn't stopped ringing.

On the one of hand David is a highly skilled practitioner of a craft process that was integral to Vermont's agricultural heritage--as evidenced by the network of stonewalls that still crisscross our landscape. But of equal importance, David approaches each new project as an artist, looking for the ugly rock that will "get people talking," designing complex s-curve steps to add interest, or building a bench at an odd angle aimed toward a sweeping vista.

Above all, David is a master stone mason, reinterpreting an ancient form in the greatly changed context of the modern world. We are all the richer for his fine work.

[return to slideshow]

Peggy Pearl
2002 Educator Award Recipient

Ask Peggy Pearl about the roots of her interest in history and she’ll tell you it all began in a cemetery. From age five on her father was superintendent of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in St. Johnsbury and she and her family lived adjacent to the cemetery grounds. Peggy’s father not only buried people, but could turn right around and bring them to life again through the stories he’d tell about their lives and experiences. Her parents were important exemplars in another regard: they taught her the importance of visiting. Peggy has vivid memories of walking along the street with her father when he’d meet a neighbor and stop for a visit; from this she learned the value of family and neighborhood. And now, according to Peggy, visiting has become her favorite form of relaxation.

Peggy grew up in St. Johnsbury, graduated from the Academy, went off to the Navy, and came back to Lyndon State College where she majored in history and education. After a stint teaching seventh grade in Barnet, her life took an unexpected turn when then Fairbanks Museum director Fred Mold, offered her the opportunity to run an environmental education program at the museum. That was in 1973. Two years later she created the Traveling History program, which took artifacts from the museum’s collection on the road to classrooms throughout the region. As Education Coordinator and Curator of Historical Collections Peggy has presented a new theme every year, ranging from folk medicine, covered bridges, and ice cutting to the history of logging and river drives. And when the opportunity arises, she offers these programs in a “first person” character: Pete the old-time logger from the Northeast Kingdom who visits classrooms to show tools of the trade and tell tales of his buddies is also known (in another life) as Peggy Pearl.

Along the way Peggy initiated the Festival of Traditional Crafts so that students could sample hands-on demonstrations of the old-time skills that she was presenting in the classroom visits. With upwards of 40 different craft demonstrations going on simultaneously and an annual audience of 800 students and 1,000 public visitors, this event has, in the words of Fairbanks Museum director Charlie Browne, nurtured an entire generation of heritage enthusiasts.

So keep in mind that if you come looking for Peggy this spring, chances are you’ll find her, now as in years past, leading a rapt group of students on a tour of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery. This is truly heritage education in action.

[return to slideshow]

Bob Spear
2006 Artist Award Recipient

When Bob Spear was a boy his mother, a school teacher, nurtured his interest in the natural world with the gift of Ernest Thompson Seton's Two Little Savages. In an era before Peterson field guides, Seton's book modeled ways to observe birds in the wild and encouraged young people to sketch what they saw. According to Bob, Two Little Savages was his "bible" growing up, and it set the course for a life-long passion for birds.

Bob did his first carving in 1938 when he and his father ran a farm on the Williams Road in Colchester. A stray parakeet flew into the woodshed and Bob decided to see if he could carve it. He had an old jackknife, he made up some little chisels, and there was plenty of scrap wood. Later he did simple carvings of chickadees and other small birds that he sold in gift shops. But when Bob operated the Audubon Nature Center in Huntington and started creating dioramas of birds in their habitats as a teaching tool, his carving really began to take off. Now, nearly five hundred carvings later, Bob's Birds of Vermont Museum is a gem among the state's educational institutions.

Through the Heritage Awards program, we honor Bob as a traditional artist, carrying on the time-honored farm tradition of whittling, which in Bob's hands has been elevated to a high art. At the same time, Bob has put his art to work in the service of a high ideal. In our headlong rush toward modernity it is essential that our actions remain in balance with the natural world. Building public awareness of nature – through advocacy, outreach, research, organization-building, and, of course, woodcarving – has been Bob's life work. Today we celebrate these many accomplishments, knowing that Bob will also be remembered for generations to come.

[return to slideshow]

Mark Sustic
2008 Educator Award Recipient

Mark Sustic's first exposure to traditional music was listening to his immigrant Serbian grandfather play such classic American tunes as "Redwing" on his fiddle. Mark, who grew up in western New York State in the 1950s, also remembers going with his parents to square dances in private homes where he and his age-mates would fall asleep to the sound of dance music. As a teenager Mark went on to play guitar and bass in rock and roll bands. But he came back to traditional music through the college coffeehouse circuit where he met such influential figures as Vermont's incomparable Margaret MacArthur.

When he came to Vermont in 1979 Mark was surprised by the lack of performance venues for traditional music, a discovery that led him to found Burlington's Welcome Table Coffeehouse and in 1983 the much-beloved Champlain Valley Folk Festival. More recently Mark has produced the annual Young Tradition concert in Burlington featuring musicians twenty-five and under. And in 2003 he initiated the Fiddleheads ensemble, a group comprised of some fifty young people aged five to twenty that blends instruction and performance and focuses on the region's Yankee, French, and Irish fiddle repertoire. All this as an unpaid volunteer.

As Terence Naumann writes in his nomination essay, "Mark has successfully melded his vocation of childhood education with his avocation of traditional music by adding unlimited amounts of personal energy, enthusiasm, and talent, to the benefit of Vermont children." We honor Mark's many achievements with the 2008 Governor's Heritage Award for Outstanding Educator.

[return to slideshow]

Gordon Tallman
2002 Artist Award Recipient

Clifford and Gordon Tallman were brothers who grew up on a farm in Hyde Park, doing chores and bringing in extra income through logging. Immersed in life around them, they absorbed the contours of the land, a familiarity with plant life, the habits of the game, the sounds of the woods, the smell of the outdoors and a delight in the natural world.

Both Clifford and Gordon capture that way of life in their stories, songs and poems. Their talent with words has been shaped by a traditional art form that is not as common as it once was-- the ballad and recitation tradition which was shared within the family and community in years gone by. It served both as entertainment and as historic commentary, embodying local events, capturing values and attitudes, as well as musings on the happenings of the day. This is an art form which is usually acquired early, although it frequently does not manifest itself until later in life when one has more time to create. While we want to honor Gordon as a living master, we would like to acknowledge his deceased brother Clifford's work as well. Both of you must be recognized as exceptional artists in this tradition, contributing uniquely to gatherings of friends and family, using your poetry to brighten and delight the spirits of the assembled group.

Clifford's poems and songs date back to the early 1960s, although he learned to play the guitar as a young boy and as he said of himself, he was "always putting words together." His work continued into the '80s and as poet and songwriter he left no doubt where he'd like to end up: "When the roll is called up yonder/ And my hunting days are done/ Leave me lay out on some hillside/ Where the old red foxes run...." Gordon's poems date from the 1990s forward and he follows in his brother's footsteps writing with humor and a deep appreciation for the natural world. When a relatively new neighbor discovered a deer (during deer season) hanging from one of Gordon's trees (she had been crossing his property on her daily nature walk) she took offense and wrote an outraged letter to the editor of the local paper. Gordon, as a rejoinder contributed a poem, "Of Trees and Tolerance" which tells of his rock maple tree and their interdependence: the tree, there long before Gordon was born, gives him shade and in turn during dry spells, he succors the tree with water. He concludes: "Couldn't find a better neighbor/ In this world anywhere/ For we respect each other/ And we mind our own affairs/ The way that neighbors use to/ We get along just fine/ He lives his life the way he wants/ And he lets me live mine." What a gentle response. This is a great gift and your creative expression within a traditional art form nourishes us all while it maintains the tradition itself.

[return to slideshow]

Ron West
2001 Artist Award Recipient

Ron West grew up in the era when kitchen dances--known as junkets or tunks--regularly brought farm neighbors together to socialize and make music. Ron's mother played the parlor organ and his father and uncle were fiddlers. Ron talks about learning mostly from observation, by watching and listening. By the time he was fifteen, he, too, was playing for kitchen dances. Over the intervening years, Ron has hardly put his fiddle down, playing in a variety of bands, informally with friends, in solo concert, and for his own enjoyment. A shy, unassuming person, he has accumulated shelves of fiddling competition trophies and is widely recognized as an outstanding old-time fiddler.

Ron is not just a fine musician, he's a master traditional artist. This means that Ron's music is linked to--and, in a sense, an expression of--the time-honored life-ways of rural Vermont. In addition to the pleasure we take in the music itself, Ron's playing links us to a world where farm neighbors were bound together in a common occupation; where Ron's father met a neighbor with a load of furniture and bought a fiddle, passing instrument and payment from wagon to wagon on the tines of a pitchfork. Ron's music brings this world into our midst.

Through the Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and private lessons, Ron has offered promising young musicians something he never had: the opportunity to train with a master musician. As Ron's most recent apprentice, Rachel Hayes, recently observed: "He's really down to earth and he talks to me like we're equals. When I go to practice it's not really a practice, it's like we're playing together for fun. It's fun for him so it's fun for me."

That's Ron all over. He's quite simply one of the warmest, most laid-back guys in the world and anyone who knows him will say the same. But when it comes to music he's serious, disciplined, and, if you will, passionate. Take a moment to imagine five-year-old Ron sneaking in to hold his father's violin because of the powerful attraction it held for him. In the next moment imagine that same attraction flowing through seventy years of continuous music making, enriching not only Ron's experience but the lives of everyone his music touches.

[return to slideshow]

Ginger Wimberg
2003 Educator Award Recipient

When Ginger Wimberg was growing up in rural New Jersey her next door neighbor was an older man whom she knew as "Uncle Maurice." He was an uncle by affection rather than a blood relation, and he had a keen sense of history. Maurice's family had lived in Beesly's Point for generations. He had a letter signed by Abraham Lincoln that released his ancestor from military service and stories of Indian people in the neighborhood from the era of his childhood. These are salient memories for Ginger which speak of Maurice's passionate interest in the history of everyday life in this particular place. Maurice shared this passion with her, neighbor to neighbor, informally, through storytelling. Needless to say, she delighted in his company. And the ways in which Maurice personalized the past to make it relevant and real for a neighbor girl bear striking resemblance to the work Ginger now does with some forty children a year. As Ginger observes, "I think that's where it all comes from."

Ginger teaches fourth grade social studies at the Weathersfield Middle School where she's been a member of the faculty for seventeen years. Each year she takes an entire nine-week marking period to teach a course in Weatherfield history. She's quick to credit town historian, Edith Hunter, whose book A History of Weathersfield for Young People serves as both inspiration and essential resource for the course. But the heart and soul of this endeavor is Ginger's passion--and her storytelling. The course starts with the glaciers and follows the history of Weathersfield up to the present time, and at each step along the way Ginger brings her students face-to-face with the tangible record of the past in the present. Imagine listening in as Ginger describes a section of the school bus route that follows the path of the Crown Point Military Road or the pink house students pass every day where Submit Grout lived after she was ransomed from captivity. In Ginger's words, "These people were alive. They were real. And there was a lot going on before we were here."

Ginger's Weatherfield history course builds students' historical consciousness, develops students' research skills, and passes on vast quantities of information–about Weathersfield in particular and past life in general. But perhaps even more importantly, this course helps students forge a life-long connection to the place where they live. In the words of Weathersfield school librarian, Kay Faust, "Ginger makes local history come alive in a way that engenders a love of this place. I think of this as one of her most valuable contributions – to her students and to the life of our town."

[return to slideshow]

Hours of Operation
Exhibit and Sales Galleries :: Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm
Archive & Research Center :: By Appointment
Office :: Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm

Vermont Folklife Center
88 Main Street
Middlebury, VT 05753
info @

Follow us on:

© 2002 - 2014 Vermont Folklife Center. All rights reserved.

Events & Programs
 » Calendar
 » Exhibitions
 » Traveling Exhibits
 » Heritage Awards  » Irene Project

Sales Gallery
 » Books
 » Childrens Books
 » Documentaries
 » Visit'n
 » Margaret MacArthur

 » Apprenticeships
 » Workshops
 » Discovering Community
 » Internships
 » Vision & Voice
 » Youth Radio VT

 » Collections
 » Info & Services
 » Digital Archive
 » Field Guides
 » Links

 » Childrens Books
 » Their Own Words
 » New Neighbors
 » Podcasts
 » VFC Radio
 » Visit'n Voices
 » Womenspeak

Join VFC
 » Email List
 » Newsletter

Vermont Folklife Center Middlebury Vermont

About VFC
 » Contacts
 » Staff
 » Annual Reports
 » Employment
 » Board Members
 » Directions

 » Tell a Friend
 » Bookmark us