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Charleston blacksmith designs new National Heritage Fellows medal for NEA

From the National Endowment for the Arts Article and medal photo by Cheryl Schiele, NEA Folk and Traditional Arts Specialist

[caption id="attachment_28251" align="alignright" width="250"]National Heritage Fellows medal The new NEA National Heritage Fellows medal. Click for a larger view.[/caption] As we approached the 34th anniversary of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, our staff began to review and ponder the ways that we could deepen our recognition of these extraordinary artists. A question that kept coming up was—what kind of physical award might we produce that would truly celebrate our Fellows with artwork and design worthy of their accomplishments? We took note that our Fellows are often recognized not only for the exemplary artistic skills and passion that they bring to their work but also for their commitment to passing along their skills and knowledge to future generations. We began researching and brainstorming through ideas such as producing a statuette, a custom-made plaque, or a wearable medal. With the idea of a medal in mind, two artforms stood out from the pages of our previous 33 program books—ornamental ironwork found in Charleston, South Carolina, and Osage ribbonwork, two craft traditions celebrated in 1982, the inaugural year of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships. A little backstory on the award: Since 1982 our NEA National Heritage Fellows have received great distinction at an awards ceremony in their honor, recognition from peers and the press, and a monetary award for their dedication to folk and traditional art, work, and performance. To commemorate the fellowship, they have also received a personalized certificate or plaque to display in their homes, workshops, and studios. What will make this year different from the others is that instead of a certificate or plaque, our 2016 Fellows will receive a newly designed and commissioned award medal. One of our inspirations for the new award was the work of the late Georgeann Robinson. A citizen of the Osage Nation, Robinson received a National Heritage Fellowship for her intricate ribbonwork stitched by needlepoint onto clothing worn by Osage people for the In-Lon-schka dances and other important social gatherings. We first reached out to Robinson’s great-granddaughter, Jami Powell who has been working diligently to document Robinson’s work. After we discussed the idea of ribbonwork as a part of an award design, Jami spoke to her mother Lisa Powell (Georgeann Robinson’s granddaughter) and they both eagerly agreed to contribute to this unique award. Lisa Powell continues the family tradition of ribbonwork from her home in Eudora, Kansas. Together, they drew inspiration from one of Robinson’s designs creating a red, blue, and yellow traditional Osage design, which would allow the Fellows to wear the medal around their necks. To design the medal itself, we reached out to the Philip Simmons Foundation, named in honor of the late master blacksmith and ironwork designer who received a National Heritage Fellowship for his ornamental ironwork. A notable feature of Charleston, South Carolina’s unique visual and cultural aesthetic, Simmons’ remarkable wrought-iron gates, fences, balconies, and freestanding sculptures still grace many of the homes, gardens, and businesses in the city and its surrounding areas. Carlton Simmons, who apprenticed with his uncle Philip from age 13, continues to work in the same workshop on the grounds of the former residence and now Museum Home of Philip Simmons (which also houses the Philip Simmons Foundation and Gift Shop). After discussing and reviewing several of our ideas, Carlton Simmons took matters into his own hands, literally, and presented us with an award medal in a signature heart motif. Carlton Simmons’ filigree heart symbolizes the passion that drives each National Heritage Fellow, while Lisa Powell’s delicate ribbonwork represents the love of family heritage and culture radiating upwards to envelop each Fellow. Instrumental to these efforts were collaborators Rossie Colter of the Philip Simmons Foundation and Gomez & Associates Co. Inc. Together, these traditions and community members represent legacies of perpetuation, distinction, and extraordinary commitment to cultural heritage. Every fall, when we finally get to meet the Fellows in Washington, DC, they bring with them the past and make it present through their stories and artwork. They bring with them family legacy and family lineage, generously sharing vital cultural knowledge with future generations. They bring with them the important lesson that we are linked together through songs, fabric, stories and mostly importantly people. In a tactile way, this new medal links the legacies of Georgeann Robinson and Philip Simmons to our present-day NEA National Heritage Fellows, and reminds us all of our links to community, as well as to the past, present, and future. Join us in person or online at arts.gov as we honor the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowships at a celebration concert on Friday, September 30 at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC.

“Blues Doctor” Drink Small awarded National Heritage Fellowship

South Carolina singer, songwriter and blues artist Drink Small -- known as the Blues Doctor -- has been awarded a 2015 National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Heritage Fellowship is the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts and includes an award of $25,000. The National Heritage Fellows will be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony Oct. 1, 2015, and a free concert on Friday, Oct, 2, 2015. "This is a great honor for a South Carolina native son," said Ken May, South Carolina Arts Commission executive director. "Drink Small's accomplishments as a musician and his dedication to teaching others have enriched the cultural fabric of our state and our nation. He is certainly worthy of this prestigious recognition." “The art forms represented in this year’s class of National Heritage Fellows are wide-ranging,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Not surprisingly, the artists have a common bond in their efforts to both share their art forms within their communities and across the nation, while also ensuring their art forms are passed along to the next generation through teaching and mentoring.” As a musician and teacher, Small has preserved the heritage of his community in South Carolina and has traveled around the county and abroad to share his unique blues styling and his deep bass voice. His style is drawn from the Piedmont blues tradition but also includes gospel, rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie, and Delta and Chicago style of blues. Born in 1933 in Bishopville, South Carolina, Small grew up in a family of singers and musicians. He was a musician from a young age, having taught himself guitar and performing at house parties and at church. After high school he played guitar with the gospel group The Spiritualaires, even performing at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. During this time, Small was named best gospel guitarist by Metronome. In 1959 Small began to record and perform the blues, starting with the single “I Love You Alberta” on Sharp Records. He has toured nationally and internationally, performing in a host of historic venues such as the Chicago Blues Fest, the King Biscuit Festival, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as two international world fairs. In 1990 Small received South Carolina’s Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, the state’s highest award for lifetime achievement in the traditional arts. Small was featured on the cover of Living Blues, the renowned magazine on contemporary and legendary blues artists, in 1992. He was inducted into the South Carolina Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 2013 received the Bobby “Blue” Bland Ambassador for the Blues award from the Jus’ Blues Foundation. A book about Drink Small’s life, Drink Small, the Life & Music of South Carolina’s Blues Doctor by Gail Wilson-Giarratano, was published in 2014 and funded in part by the South Carolina Arts Commission. During his long career, Small has given back to both his local community and the larger tradition by mentoring younger performers and sharing his knowledge with students of all ages. Small has released seven albums over the course of his career and continues to perform. Previous National Heritage Fellowship recipients from South Carolina are Mary Jackson, sweetgrass basketweaver (2010); Janie Hunter, singer/storyteller (1984); Mary Jane Manigault, seagrass basketmaker (1984); and Philip Simmons, ornamental ironwork (1982). Each year the National Endowment for the Arts celebrates master folk and traditional artists that embody our nation's constant evolving artistic landscape and diversity of culture. The recipients of this year’s NEA National Heritage Fellowships represent art forms ranging from those born and bred in the United States – such as the quilters of Gee’s Bend from Alabama – to those that are newer to our country – such as Rahim AlHaj, who immigrated to the United States from Baghdad. The 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients:

*Daniel Sheehy is the recipient of the Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award. The Bess Lomax Hawes Award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage. Profiles of the artists are available in the Lifetime Honors section of the NEA’s website, along with photos and audio and video samples of their work. The 2015 National Heritage Fellows will be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony at the Library of Congress on Thursday, October 1, 2015, and a free concert on Friday, October 2, 2015, at 8 p.m. at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public. Concert tickets are first come, first served and will be available later this summer. The concert will also be webcast live at arts.gov. More information about these events will be available this fall. With the announcement of the 2015 class, the NEA has awarded 404 National Heritage Fellowships, recognizing master artists working in more than 200 distinct art forms, including bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, sweetgrass basketweaver Mary Jackson, cowboy poet Wally McRae, Kathak dancer and choreographer Chitresh Das, and gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples. About the NEA National Heritage Fellowships For more information on the NEA's National Heritage Fellowships, including bios, interviews, and audio selections for the Heritage Fellows; portraits by Tom Pich of more than 170 Fellows in their homes, studios, and at sites that most vividly reflect the essence of their artwork; and publications such as a 30th anniversary publication, and a Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide, visit arts.gov. Nominations for the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowships The NEA is currently accepting nominations for the 2016 class of NEA National Heritage Fellowships. The deadline is July 16, 2015. Visit the NEA's website for more information and to submit a nomination. About the National Endowment for the Arts Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Via: National Endowment for the Arts