Traditional Arts Apprenticeships

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Traditional Arts Apprenticeships

Susan Creighton

This month, the archives blog post focuses on the Vermont Folklife Center’s ongoing work to support traditional arts in the state through the Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (VTAAP). VTAAP provides financial assistance for a collaboration between a community-acknowledged master teacher of a culturally-grounded art form and one or more apprentices. Through these apprenticeships, the program works to support not only the transmission of traditional arts, but also the sharing of knowledge about the historical, cultural and social contexts that made—and continues to make—these practices meaningful. Across the 28 years of the program, VFC has supported over 180 arts apprenticeships representing a wide variety of cultures in Vermont including Abenaki, Lao, Somali Bantu, Congolese, Tibetan, Bosnian, French-Canadian, and Vietnamese among many others. These apprenticeships focus on arts such as music-making, traditional dance, sculpture, weaving, basketry, blacksmithing, quilting, leatherworking and stone-cutting.

As a part of the program VFC folklorists conduct ethnographic fieldwork around the state to identify and document master artists. VFC’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program archival collection contains several different kinds of interesting resources:

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Partnerships: The collection includes audio interviews with various master teachers and apprentices as well as accompanying written transcripts and sometimes also photographs or video. Take the example of Jeanne Brink, an Abenaki Vermonter who as an adult developed an interest in exploring her family’s history of basket making. Through the program, Jeanne studied with Sophie Nolett, an Abenaki elder from the Odanak Reservation in Québec. After several years of working with Sophie and developing her skills, Jeanne moved from being an apprentice to a master teacher herself. In recent years, she worked with her adult son, John Brink, to teach him the same techniques. In the archives, you can find interviews of Sophie and Jeanne together talking about Sophie’s memories of growing up and learning to make baskets—including methods of preparing the materials and how her family made a living with baskets.

You can see a video of Jeanne and John talking about their work together here: Abenaki Basket Making.

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Sometimes these partnerships are between a master teacher and members of a community, such as the collaboration between master-teacher Mediha Jusufagic and the “Bosnian Lilies,” a group of children who were learning Bosnian traditional dance.

 Master teachers Mohamed Bulle and Osman Hassan worked with members of their Somali Bantu community to pass on traditional music. Watch and hear examples of their music and an interview: Somali Bantu Singing and Drumming.

Interviews with master artists: The collection also includes interviews with artists carrying on cultural traditions who could serve as potential master teachers for an apprenticeship. One example is the interview with Tai Nguyen, an immigrant from Vietnam, who talks about the role of a marriage mediator, and the traditional process for arranging a marriage and having a wedding ceremony. Another example is the interview with Claude Methé, a French-Canadian fiddler, who grew up in Québec surrounded by traditional music. He talks about the roots of French-Canadian traditional music, and plays several examples of typical French-Canadian tunes.

Examples of past apprenticeship applications: Each year, the Folklife Center receives a number of applications for apprenticeships. These applications are available as a resource to potential applicants and other interested parties along with the response to the application (funded, or not funded and why).

Would you or someone you know be a potential apprentice or master teacher? The Apprenticeship Program has just closed applications for this year, but you are welcome to express your interest anytime, and will find information about other past Traditional Arts Apprenticeships on our website: Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.

The Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

 Our thanks to the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, whose support makes this blog series possible, and whose mission includes providing cultural heritage learning opportunities in the Champlain Valley region.