South Arts Awarding More Than $160,000 to 18 Artists

See All News

Atlanta – South Arts, the nonprofit regional arts service organization advancing Southern vitality through the arts, announces the recipients of two fellowship programs. Nine visual artists (one per state from AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, and TN) will each receive a $5,000 State Fellowship; additionally, they are now in competition for the $25,000 Southern Prize with a residency at The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences as well as the $10,000 Southern Prize Finalist awards. Another nine traditional artists and culture-bearers from Central Appalachian counties in KY, NC, and TN will each receive a $9,000 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship to continue their lifelong learning and practice.

The 2020 State Fellowship recipients are:

  • Carlton Nell. Drawing. Opelika, Alabama.
  • Alba Triana. Experimental. Miami, Florida.
  • Fahamu Pecou. Painting. Decatur, Georgia.
  • Letitia Quesenberry. Multidisciplinary. Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Karen Ocker. Painting. New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Ashleigh Coleman. Photography. Jackson, Mississippi.
  • Sherrill Roland. Multidisciplinary. Morrisville, North Carolina.
  • Kristi Ryba. Painting. Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Bill Steber. Photography. Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The 2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipients are:

  • Roger Cooper. Old-time music. Garrison, Kentucky.
  • Charlene Long. Willow & honeysuckle basket making. Upton, Kentucky.
  • Octavia Sexton. Storytelling. Orlando, Kentucky.
  • Janet Calhoun. Pottery. Lenoir, North Carolina.
  • Susan Leveille. Handweaving. Webster, North Carolina.
  • Bobby McMillon. Ballad singing. Burnsville, North Carolina.
  • Meredith Goins. Violin luthiery. Dunlap, Tennessee.
  • Jordan Hughett. Ballad singing. Winfield, Tennessee.
  • Mark Newberry. Chair-making. Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee.

Meet the 2020 State Fellows

Meet the 2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Fellows

“South Arts is immensely proud to support every one of these artists, craftspeople, and tradition-bearers,” says Susie Surkamer, executive director of South Arts. “Especially as our country enters the economic disruption caused by COVID-19, artists are among those most vulnerable to losing income. Yet their creativity, work, and stories are what carry us forward and will be integral to rebuilding our communities.”

Applications were open for both fellowship programs in the fall of 2019. The State Fellowships application pool was reviewed by a panel of experts including Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba of the New Orleans Museum of Art, Edward Hayes, Jr. of The McNay Art Museum, independent art historian and consultant David Houston, and Marilyn Zapf of the Center for Craft. The panel made their recommendations based on the artistic excellence of their work and inclusiveness of the diversity of the Southern region. The Folk & Traditional Art Master Artist Fellowship applications were reviewed by a panel including Native American potter and storyteller Beckee Garris, Zoe van Buren of the North Carolina Arts Council, Mark Brown of the Kentucky Arts Council, Evangeline Mee of the Tennessee Arts Commission and Alexia Ault of Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College. The panel made their recommendations based on the artists’ history and mastery of their respective tradition as well as the proposed lifelong learning opportunity.

The nine State Fellowship recipients will be featured in an exhibition that is scheduled to open at the Bo Bartlett Center at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia in May 2020; due to the current closures of facilities, this date may be postponed. The announcement of which State Fellowship recipients will also be named as the Southern Prize winner and finalist will be announced at a ceremony surrounding the opening of this exhibition.

“I would like to thank each and every one of our donors and sponsors,” continues Surkamer. “Their support and investment in the arts, culture, and tradition of our region is vital even in the best of times, and their ongoing generosity is more important than ever before.”

To view the work by each of these fellowship recipients and read more about the artists and tradition-bearers, visit


About South Arts

South Arts advances Southern vitality through the arts. The nonprofit regional arts organization was founded in 1975 to build on the South’s unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts. South Arts’ work responds to the arts environment and cultural trends with a regional perspective. South Arts offers an annual portfolio of activities designed to support the success of artists and arts providers in the South, address the needs of Southern communities through impactful arts-based programs, and celebrate the excellence, innovation, value and power of the arts of the South. For more information, visit 

About the Artists


Carlton Nell. Drawing. Opelika, Alabama.
2020 South Arts Alabama Fellow

Carlton Nell’s painting and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the country and are included in many public and private collections. He is a professor at Auburn University and lives in Opelika, Alabama where he maintains a studio. He is represented by Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York, and Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta.

Artist Statement:

These silver drawings are part of on-going work expressing thoughts that originate from direct observation of immediate visual surroundings. My interest is how abstract visual properties — shape, tone, pattern, scale, etc. — form a framework for seeing the world. By using these properties as a prism with which to view and suspend the observed world, my hope is that it leads to a deeper experience of it. 


Alba Triana. Experimental. Miami, Florida.
2020 South Arts Florida Fellow

Colombian composer/sound artist Alba Triana is known for a hybrid musical production that explores the interface between natural science, art and technology, materializing in nonconventional and varied formats ranging from experimental concert music, interactive installations, sound and light sculptures to vibrational objects.

Alba’s work has been showcased internationally in over a dozen of countries in Europe, Latin America and the U.S., winning prizes, grants and residencies including the highly prestigious Civitella Ranieri Fellowship. She has received commissions, residences, and grants from world-class institutions and ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet, American Composers Forum, ArtCenter/South Florida (USA), GMEB (France), ProHelvetia (Switzerland). Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds her work as part of its High Quality Cultural Portfolio.

Artist Statement:

My work emerges from a deep interest in how nature intrinsically operates. Universal laws of chance, natural behaviors and phenomena, and fundamental modes of operation frame my approach to art/music making. This is why I engage creative methods that are holistic, complex, and multidimensional. Thus, my oeuvre crosses the boundaries of a diverse set of fields.

My artistic production is hybrid and takes a variety of forms, including interactive musical installations, resonating spaces, sound and light sculptures, and vibrational objects. These pieces, expressed in both space and time, are heard, walked through, and seen.

Especially in the past 10 years, the fields of the sonic and the visual have become unified in my work. In that time, I have experimented with the properties and behaviors of different types of waves, and the resonance phenomena in acoustic spaces and physical bodies that emit sound and/or light.

As in the universe, my artworks tend to be self-generating and evolving. Statistics and probabilities are used to set the conditions that define the identity and functioning of different parameters in a work. This allows for an infinite amount of outcomes that can be determined and controlled.

By promoting a meditative contemplation of nature at a micro, intangible level, my goal is to induce a state of awe, and a feeling of communion with an integrated wholeness that is active, interconnected, and unified, provoking a profound identification with the essential elements that animate and connect us.


Fahamu Pecou. Painting. Decatur, Georgia.
2020 South Arts Georgia Fellow

Fahamu received his BFA at the Atlanta College of Art in 1997 and a Ph.D. from Emory University in 2018. Dr. Pecou exhibits his art worldwide in addition to lectures and speaking engagements at colleges and universities. As an educator, Dr. Pecou has developed (ad)Vantage Point, a narrative-based arts curriculum focused on Black male youth.

Pecou’s work is featured in noted private and public national and international collections including; Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Societe Generale (Paris), Nasher Museum at Duke University, The High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Seattle Art Museum, Paul R. Jones Collection, Clark Atlanta University Art Collection and Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia.

Pecou was recently named the inaugural Artist-in-Residence for the Atlanta Beltline. In 2017 he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition “Miroirs de l’Homme” in Paris, France. His work also appears in several films and television shows including; Black-ishThe Chi, and Lifetime’s The 10th Date.

Artist Statement:

Through paintings, drawings and performance-based work, I work to complicate various images and representations that inform perceptions of Black male masculinity. By engaging the various stereotypes and misconceptions about Black men — both those imposed and those assumed — I attempt a critical intervention concerning our collective understandings of Black identity.

In staged photo shoots and performances, I embody stereotypes about Black males as a way of exploring and subverting them. Subsequently, I engage these stylized images in dramatic paintings and drawings, often incorporating various expressions of the African diaspora which includes the visual iconography of Yoruba (Ifa) spirituality, the somatic attitude of hip-hop bravado, and philosophy of the négritude movement.

In mining the Black experience across time and place, I can dynamically engage my themes with works that despite being rooted in the Black experience, provide meaningful engagement and insights across all walks of life.


Roger Cooper. Old-time, Swing, and Jazz Fiddle. Garrison, Kentucky (Lewis County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

Roger Cooper of Lewis County grew up in a family of musicians. His father’s family was filled with guitar and banjo players, and he had one uncle who played fiddle. At eight years old, Cooper began playing the guitar, and at twelve he was playing backup to local fiddlers. Throughout the years, he played with most of the fiddlers residing in Lewis County, learning as they played together. In his early teens, local fiddler Buddy Thomas convinced Cooper to quit playing the guitar and focus on the fiddle. Thomas mentored Cooper, and they remained close until Thomas’ death in 1975. His teacher and friend’s death was hard for Cooper, but “by then he had done what he set out to do which was make me a fiddler,” he explains.

In the years following, Cooper worked hard and won multiple old-time fiddle contests, including contests throughout Kentucky and The Ohio State Championships. He also placed in the top 20 at the World’s Championship at Union Grove, North Carolina. Cooper has taught three apprenticeships through the Kentucky Arts Council, and in 2017, he received a Kentucky Governor’s Award in the Arts for his fiddling.

The fellowship will allow Cooper to focus on expanding his experience as a swing and jazz fiddler which he also enjoys playing in addition to old-time. He plans on traveling to meet some of the great swing fiddlers in the region, like Kenny Sears of Nashville, Greg Dearth of Franklin, Ohio, Dave Edmundson of Cincinnati, and Tom Cunningham of Louisville. He also plans on recording a swing fiddle album with the funds.

Charlene Long. Willow and Honeysuckle Basket Making. Upton, Kentucky (Hart County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

A love of baskets for Charlene Long of Hart County began when she was given a basket at the age of 15 by the woman who later became her mother-in-law, Gertrude Long. Her husband, Charlie, representing the fifth generation to make baskets in his family, learned as a child and passed the skill along to his wife. The Long’s baskets represent both tradition and innovation: basket making with local materials is a longstanding tradition in Appalachia. The first generations of their family to make baskets in the 1800s used strictly willow, but the Longs began weaving with honeysuckle, another plant native to Hart County, in addition to willow. The materials are first gathered locally, boiled, and stripped of bark. The Longs also “invented different forms, like trays, a covered cake plate, cups and saucers, fans and dippers, mostly decorative items,” for an age of people that use baskets for decoration instead of  utilitarian purposes, Long explains.

Long’s baskets are a staple in her community, winning top prizes at the Hart County Fair each year. She has demonstrated at schools and participated in festivals. She is continually learning from observation, and with the fellowship, she plans on taking classes on basket weaving with other styles from Beth Hester in Scottsville, Kentucky, Jo Campbell-Amsler in Iowa, and teachers at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee, Mullins Log Cabin Country Basket Makers in Berry, Kentucky, and the Appalachian Center for the Arts in Pikeville, Kentucky. She also has a deep dedication to teaching, so the fellowship will also support the gathering and processing materials for classes in her community. 

Letitia Quesenberry. Multidisciplinary. Louisville, Kentucky.
2020 South Arts Kentucky Fellow

Letitia Quesenberry lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati. Through the play of material, process, surface and technology, her work surveys the boundaries of visual perception. Recent solo and group exhibitions include 57W57Arts New York, NY; Pieter PASD, Los Angeles, CA; Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY; Quappi Projects / 21C Museums / KMAC / Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. She is the recipient of grants from Great Meadows Foundation, the Al Smith Fellowship and the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship.

Artist Statement:

Hypnotic bewilderment.

Attempts at structure in the face of explicit uncertainty.

To me, the clamor for constant decisive action invites a contrast of more subtle encounters. I use abstract filters, color and light as a means to activate the boundaries of optical experience. My creative efforts focus on the limitations of memory and questions about perception. These concerns involve the cultivation of an aesthetic inscrutability, a kind of visual veiling that destabilizes visibility. To this end, I work with drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, text and light. I combine semitransparent materials like tinted resin, color correction film, beeswax, sanded plexiglass with reflective or opaque materials like fluorescent paint, mica dust, coal slag.

Several concurrent series reveal my recent observations of space, color, and light. Using LEDs, I build geometric boxes and room-sized installations where layered concentric bands of color film change hue in an unpredictable motion. The combination of semi-opaque layers illuminated by slowly changing lights creates a pulsing visual effect. Shapes and colors advance and recede in an endless hypnotic loop.

The BLSH series takes the form of the light boxes but instead uses reflected color and depth rather than light itself for an overall more subdued effect. Other ongoing series use the visual structure of SX70 Polaroids as a jumping off point. My labor-intensive process involves building dimensional frames to house layers of specific material elements. Squares bounded by rectangles contain recurrent shapes, patterns and symbols; an imagined architecture for ephemerality, desire, loss.

Octavia Sexton. Storytelling. Orlando, Kentucky (Rockcastle County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow                                        

Rockcastle County’s Octavia Sexton grew up telling stories. At the one-room schoolhouse she attended, the children would gather during recess and tell each other stories. As she explains, “Growing up, the oral tradition was a part of everyday life. Kinfolks, neighbors, and friends told stories. Many of them had little or no formal education, but they knew what was, is, and what will be through story. Stories were the most precious thing they had, and they gave them to the young and old and those in between.” She continues to gift these stories to those who listen to her. She has worked extensively in her community and state to create common ground and enrich lives through storytelling. She has performed in schools, detention centers, professional development academies for artists and educators, addiction recovery programs, and library and community programs for several decades. She also is dedicated to mentoring up-and-coming storytellers “to find their own voice.” She has been described as strong and compassionate, deeply committed to social justice and improving those with whom she associates.

Sexton is unable to trace her education in storytelling back to any one person, but she inherited a treasure trove of stories from her grandma and grandpa, both master storytellers. Many of those stories were passed down to them from the Scotch-Irish settlers that populated the Appalachian region and brought their stories with them. With the fellowship, she will be able to explore her Scotch-Irish roots by traveling to Ireland to delve into the collections at the National Folklore Collection house at University College in Dublin. She hopes to better understand the stories she knows and learn new stories in the process.


Karen Ocker. Painting. New Orleans, Louisiana.
2020 South Arts Louisiana Fellow

Karen Ocker is an award-winning New Orleans artist. Her work has been included in exhibits at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, CANO, McKenna Museum of African American Art and A.I.R. Gallery, New York. Her work has appeared in Day for Night, the 2006 Whitney Museum Biennial Catalog, two covers of Offbeat Magazine’s “Jazz Fest Bible,” an All-State NBA Allstar weekend promotion, and in the recently released Netflix  feature film Tall Girl. Her work can be found in collections throughout the United States and Europe, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Memphis Blues Hall of Fame, and Luciano Benetton’s imago mundi collection in Italy.

Artist Statement:

My working medium is directly influenced by my grandmother, who introduced me to painting as a small child. The floods that followed Hurricane Katrina were the pivotal moment that changed my trajectory. I abandoned working as a graphic designer, and began painting full time. It felt like the world had ended. I had nothing to lose. My materials are influenced by the new tools that I learned to use rebuilding my flooded home and materials amassed from debris piles. My work gives new life and beauty to things others have discarded. This series of paintings pays tribute to the music, history, magic and indomitable spirit of this place, even in the face of devastation, tragedy or loss.


Ashleigh Coleman. Photography. Jackson, Mississippi.
2020 South Arts Mississippi Fellow

Ashleigh Coleman is a self-taught photographer. As she susses out where she lives and what is required of her as a mother, Ashleigh looks through the lens of an inherited Hasselblad.

In the meantime, her photographs have exhibited across the United States, including solo shows at the Fischer Galleries in Jackson, MS, the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and the Claire Elizabeth Gallery in New Orleans. Her work has also been shown at the Griffin Museum of Photography, the University of West Virginia, the University of Southern Mississippi, and is currently part of Looking for Appalachia’s traveling exhibition. She is a founding member of Due South Co.

Ashleigh lives on the land of her husband’s family in rural Mississippi.

Artist Statement:

What if I slowly discovered I am not who I thought I would be as a woman, as a mother?  What if “[t]he evidence of my life lay before me, and I was unconvinced.” (Leif Enger)

The reality is that every day mishaps feel shocking. Noise threatens to unglue. Baking rarely occurs. I am terrified of being used up, of losing myself, of not actually knowing what coherent adult thoughts feel or sound like anymore.

These are glimpses into a woman coming to terms with the quotidian mystery of motherhood, into staking out joy in the chaos—outside, looking in; inside, looking in—into learning to be here.  By capturing the collision between childishness and adult expectations a dim path is illuminated through the Sisyphean mess.  Perspective charges the horizon: maybe not in that exact second, maybe a month or two later—they are growing; destructive curiosity mellowing, possibly.

For now, it’ll do.


Janet Calhoun. Pottery. Lenoir, North Carolina (Caldwell County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

Janet Calhoun of Caldwell County comes from a family that does it all. She has inherited a rich, diverse Appalachian heritage from her parents, both former North Carolina Heritage Award recipients. Calhoun is a keeper of many traditions, but her life’s work has been dedicated to traditional pottery. On her mother’s side, the family have been potters since the early 1800s. She began learning to throw pots as a young child, and by five years old, she says, “I could make bowls that would pass Grandfather’s standards.” By high school, she was producing items “at the production level.” She learned by observation and through her elders’ tutelage.

In 1992, she and her husband, Michael Calhoun, opened Traditions Pottery near her parents’ operation, and they still work closely with each other. Calhoun’s style is marked by a blending of tradition and new shapes. She makes both traditional, functional pieces that mirror her grandfather’s style, but she enjoys creating her own shapes. She and her family dig and prepare their own clay and make glazes from two family recipes but they have also created new colors. By innovating shapes and creating new family recipes, she gives her work a dynamic sense of continuity.

Like her parents and grandfather, she takes every opportunity to teach her grandchildren. She hopes to use the fellowship not just for creative growth, but for business and professional growth in order to facilitate the survival of the pottery tradition in her family. She plans to attend an intensive ceramics course at Starworks in Star, North Carolina, in order to improve her throwing techniques and knowledge of glazes. She would also like to attend the American Handcrafted Show in Pennsylvania which “features the largest collection of handmade wholesale artists across North America.” She will be able to attend workshops on marketing and business practices. 

Susan Leveille. Hand Weaving. Sylva, North Carolina (Jackson County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

Jackson County’s Susan Leveille is a pillar of the local arts community, an advocate for traditional arts in addition to being an artist herself. In this way, she continues a family legacy of teaching and encouraging traditional skills which stretch back to her ancestors’ arrival to Western North Carolina in the early 1800s. Leveille’s great-aunt, Lucy Calista Morgan, founded the well-known Penland School of Crafts in 1929, and many of Leveille’s family members learned hand-weaving and other skills there through the years. Her own father learned to hammer pewter at the school and used those skills to put himself through medical school. He was later one of the first individual members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Her mother, from New England, grew up learning textile arts. Leveille herself was inspired to learn hand weaving at a very young age when a relative came to live with them for a few years, bringing her loom with her. At about the age of ten or twelve, Leveille attended Penland to learn how to set up a loom, and from then on she was a weaver. She majored in Crafts with a concentration in weaving at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and she also studies with Marion Heard, who was then the director of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

Since finishing her studies, she has amassed countless hours of teaching and retail experience. “I have taught weaving at my private studio and community colleges, craft schools and workshops throughout the southeast,” Leveille explains. Again, following in her parents’ footsteps, she has operated several businesses in Dillsboro, North Carolina, “including a weaving shop and craft gallery.”

This fellowship will fund a research project in which she will travel to museums within 200 miles of her home to study overshot weavings, their history and the transmission of patterns between weavers in the area. 

Bobby McMillon. Ballad Singing. Burnsville, North Carolina (Yancey County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

Both a collector and performer of traditional ballads and song, Bobby McMillon of Yancey County has dedicated his life to preserving the oral tradition of Central Appalachia. He began his life’s work at age twelve, as he learned song from his grandmother, other relatives, and neighbors growing up in Eastern Tennessee. In his early teens, he was tutored in documentation and fieldwork methods by Cratis Williams, the “Grandfather of Appalachian Studies,” at Appalachian State University.

McMillon is also a dedicated teacher. He has worked in schools since 1978 as a visiting artist and has taught and performed at many local, regional, and national festivals and gatherings. Forever a folklorist, he encourages student and audiences to appreciate their own family background and roots. He elaborates, “I have seven-hundred papers of sayings, stories, and jokes (some of them would peel your eyelids) from school children that I encouraged to go home and record their own people.” McMillon is a North Carolina Heritage Award winner, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship nominee, and a recipient of the North Carolina Folk Apprenticeship grant.

In addition to these student collections, McMillon has a library of notebooks filled with handwritten songs, stories, jokes, and sayings—decades of knowledge from his travels in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Through this fellowship, McMillon will undertake a project of life-long learning preservation. He plans to digitize his collections and record his research and personal memoir using modern technology. He hopes to be able to learn how to use modern fieldwork equipment and other technology to, as he puts it, “bring my story, this cornucopia of mountain life, to the web, and print.

Sherrill Roland. Multidisciplinary. Morrisville, North Carolina.
2020 South Arts North Carolina Fellow

Sherrill Roland was born in Asheville, North Carolina. He received both his BFA in Design and MFA in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Sherrill is an interdisciplinary artist and the founder of The Jumpsuit Project. His Socially Engaged Art project has been presented at Open Engagement Chicago, Oakland City Hall and the Michigan School of Law. Recent exhibitions include CAM Houston, LACE: Los Angeles and Studio Museum of Harlem. He was recently an Artist-In-Residence at the McColl Center of Art + Innovation in Charlotte, NC and a Rights of Return USA Fellow.

Artist Statement:

The perception of innocence, identity, and community can dictate our access to basic human rights.

My interdisciplinary practice addresses the complex construction of these three core entities: innocence, identity, and community; and reimagines their social and political implications in the context of the American criminal justice system.

For more than three years, I was forced to relinquish control of my life to the criminal justice system due to wrongful incarceration. After spending ten months in jail for a crime I was exonerated for, I looked to art as a vehicle for self-reflection and an outlet for emotional release. I began a year-long performance at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in which I wore an orange jumpsuit every day until graduation. The Jumpsuit Project challenges audiences to address their prejudices about the jumpsuit, my body, and the issues surrounding incarceration. The work reshapes the narrative of the incarcerated and provides support for those most impacted. By sharing my story, and creating a space for others to share, I work to illuminate the invisible costs, damages, and burdens of incarceration.

As I migrate through traditional and non-traditional art spaces, I recognize the need to expand the conversation surrounding incarceration. Recent work incorporates the voices of the formerly incarcerated, increases the access of audiences to current resources, and provides new forms of content through performance, sculpture, drawing, and community workshops.


Kristi Ryba. Painting. Charleston, South Carolina.
2020 South Arts South Carolina Fellow

Kristi Ryba enchants viewers with her narrative works as she combines the elaborate skill of handmade egg tempera painting with subjects that explore contemporary events and messages of morality. Museum visitors will experience the different stages of a painting; how the artist lays out the composition, prepares the painting supports, grinds the pigment, and applies gold leaf to envelop the final piece in regalia.

Kristi Ryba holds an MFA from Vermont College, Montpelier, VT and most recently won 2nd place in the esteemed annual visual art competition ArtFields (2018). The artist is represented by Corrigan Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina and is in numerous private collections including the Medical University of South Carolina.

Artist Statement:

Over the last several years, my interest in the study of Medieval and Renaissance art has informed my work. This series of paintings is taken from images from centuries ago and serve as a vehicle to simplify an urgent message by providing the symbolic and instructional imagery to illustrate and illuminate the leadership crisis we are in. All the gold, elaborate surroundings and messages of morality and ethics corresponded with what is happening in our government; the gutting of our social safety net and health care, eliminating environmental protections, the lack of restraint in spending money on personal enrichment and pleasure and the build-up of military spending and deficit in international diplomacy to name a few.


Meredith Goins. Violin Luthiery. Dunlap, Tennessee (Sequatchie County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

Meredith Goins from Sequatchie County is an accomplished fiddler turned violin luthier. She has apprenticed with master violin luthier Jim Humble from Ooltewah, Tennessee to learn violin building and repair for several years. In addition to building violins, she has become skilled at re-graduating violin tops, varnishing unfinished student model violins, and repairing violins for clients. Music is an essential component of the region’s cultural identity, but there are few violin luthiers left to support up-and-coming musicians.

Through this fellowship, Goins will be able to continue working with Mr. Humble who is nearly 80 years old. Goins hopes to share her work with musicians in her community with the skills she learns. In this way, she hopes to honor her father who passed away a few years ago. She says of his influence on her, “My dad was really supportive and introduced me to those who were knowledgeable in the violin luthier community. This is very important for me to continue because it’s something my dad was proud and supportive of. He was a very loving generous person who always tried to help anyone he could, and I’d like to do that in the future.”

Jordan Hughett. Ballad Singing and Banjo. Winfield, Tennessee (Scott County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

Although still young in age, Jordan Hughett of Scott County has already dedicated himself to traditional ballad singing and banjo playing. Hughett’s family has deep roots in East Tennessee, as his fifth great grandfather brought his family to East Tennessee in the 18th Century on a Revolutionary War land grant.

Hughett’s mother and father both sang in the church choir and were always supportive of his musical pursuits. Hughett requested his first banjo when he was 3 or 4 years old. When his mother bought him a toy banjo, he looked up at her and said, “Mommy, I want a real banjo.” His parents obliged and found him one. He eventually began bluegrass banjo lessons with a family friend.

At the age of 13, Hughett first heard a recording of Buell Kazee, a Kentucky ballad singer and banjo player who recorded nearly 60 songs in the late 1920s, and became, as he puts it, “immediately enamored with his singing and playing style.” At that point, he began learning frailing and clawhammer banjo from instruction books and from a woman with whom he attended church.

During Hughett’s sophomore year, by chance, Buell Kazee’s great-granddaughter transferred to his high school. He learned from her that her grandfather, Philip Kazee, also played the banjo and lived in East Tennessee. Hughett jumped at the chance to study with the son of his musical idol. He has spent “countless hours” with Mr. Kazee learning his family’s songs and banjo playing style. He feels the urgency to learn as much as he can in order to preserve the Buell family legacy, as the younger generations of Kazees, though appreciative of the music, have chosen not to do so.

With the fellowship, Hughett hopes to study with noted ballad singers Sheila Kay Adams, and Daniel and Carmen Hicks in order to learn the songs and stories they have collected over the years to add to his widening repertoire.

Mark Newberry. Chair Making. Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee (Macon County).
2020 Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellow

Mark Newberry from Macon County, Tennessee makes truly traditional Appalachian chairs. His family has been making chairs since 1840 using the same materials, patterns, and construction techniques from one generation to the next. Now the fifth generation of chair makers, Newberry has participated in the family’s process since childhood, at first accompanying his father and grandfather into the woods in search of a hickory tree and to shave the bark for weaving chairs. Although they now utilize modern tools and make larger chairs to fit modern sizes, “the style of lean posts, handwoven hickory bark bottoms and bent backs are the same traditional style as was used in the 19th Century,” says Newberry. He and his family make rockers, dining chairs, high-chairs, corner chairs and crooked back chairs.

Chair making is tied to the Newberry history of farming and a larger “farmer craftsman” tradition. They used chairs to supplement the income from the farm. Eventually, as tobacco farming became unsustainable, the Newberrys made the switch to timber milling to continue the chair making tradition in addition to selling lumber from their property. They have struggled for years to preserve these skills and in 2008, through a Fund for Folk Culture grant, they were able to add a new shop building to their operation. Their chairs were exhibited in South Arts’ (then the Southern Arts Federation) exhibit Tradition/Innovation: Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art. Newberry and Sons received the Tennessee Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award.

With this award, Newberry will work with chair makers from the Appalachian region and abroad in order to learn new techniques in chair making. He would also like to teach others these skills that he and his family want to preserve for future generations.

Bill Steber. Photography. Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
2020 South Arts Tennessee Fellow

Bill Steber has documented blues culture in Mississippi for the last 20 years, chronicling the state’s blues musicians, juke joints, churches, river baptisms, hoodoo practitioners, traditional farming methods, folk traditions and other significant traditions that gave birth to or influenced the blues. The work is gathered in his exhibit “Stones in my Pathway” as well as in the pages of Living Blues magazine and other publications.

Steber, a native of Centerville, TN, was a staff photojournalist for the Tennessean in Nashville from 1989-2004, winning dozens of regional and national awards while shooting everything from national politics to New York runway fashion and the Super Bowl.

His latest passion is exploring 21st Century American culture through the use of 19th century wet plate photography, including tintypes, ambrotypes and glass negatives.

In addition to his photography, Steber makes music with The Jake Leg Stompers, the Hoodoo Men, The Jericho Road Show and The Worried Minds.

Artist Statement:

My father first put a camera in my hand when I was 10 years old, an act from which I’ve never recovered. I’ve been documenting the South for most of my life: its people, its landscape, its traditions, its surprising beauty and its maddening contradictions. Vernacular culture is born of poverty mixed with genius, and the South has plenty of both to spare. It is the pursuit, preservation and celebration of that culture that drives my own creativity.

I come from a family that regarded creativity as something as natural as breathing. My own personal expression found voice in my love of photography, discovering that I could engage in the world in real time, in ways that engaged my subconscious and made me feel alive and connected.

Since 2005, I have been pursuing the use of 19th Century collodion wetplate photography for my Southern documentary work, discovering that the patience required for the difficult fieldwork and long exposures bring out in the subjects a deeper essence. Though cloaked in the visual artifice of an earlier time, I find that these tintypes and ambrotypes speak to themes that make the South unique, namely, connection to history, family, and the land. Or, as William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

I draw great inspiration from the South, from the people, the stories, the landscape, the sad and beautiful history, but mostly, from the aspirations of those who love it as it is and seek to make it better.