Emerging Traditional Artists Program Cohorts

The following participants have been selected for the initial cohort of the Emerging Traditional Artists Program. This first cohort will convene over the course of this multi-year program, and receive funding to support their individual projects.

2021 Emerging Traditional Artists Program Cohort

Allie Dudley. Brasstown, North Carolina. Craft/Material Culture

ALLIE DUDLEYAllie Dudley (they/them) is a textile artist, working within multiple traditional Appalachian handweaving styles. They first learned to weave as a college student and, since moving to Western North Carolina, have joined a community of weavers from whom they continue to learn.

Allie weaves tapestries on a frame loom they built out of galvanized plumbing pipe. “Before starting to weave,” Allie describes, “I usually create a design for my tapestry, which I translate into a stenciled outline, also known as a cartoon, that I secure to the loom in order to have a layout I can follow. I then insert wefts in varying colors and textures to create an image.” Allie also weaves historical overshot drafts, or weaving patterns, on a counterbalance loom, a type of floor loom that was the primary tool for Appalachian weavers prior to the twentieth century.

“For a contemporary audience unfamiliar with the process of weaving, producing cloth can seem like a mystery, or like magic,” Allie explains. “For most of history however, weaving was so central to our survival that looms were a commonplace household item. Decades ago in Appalachia, before mill-woven cloth was readily available, local weavers produced all the cloth that their household would need, including yardage, linens, and bed coverings. People were able to produce what they needed for their families and communities. Many people today have forgotten we do not need to rely on industry for something so basic as cloth. I want people to see and understand the way cloth is made, to bring it within the grasp of everyone as a means of self-empowerment.”

As the Resident Artist in Weaving at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, Allie manages the Folk School’s weaving studio and assists with teaching classes in tapestry and needlework. Allie’s work also appeared in the 2021 exhibition, Pulling the Thread: A Brief Survey of Appalachian Textiles, at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Clayton, Georgia, alongside the work of their mentors, Tommye Scanlin and 2020 In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipient Susan Leveille.

With their Emerging Traditional Artists Program award, Allie will pursue new opportunities to learn about historical weaving techniques, such as studying the collection at the National Museum of the American Coverlet in Bedford, Pennsylvania. They also hope to hone their skills in spinning yarn and blacksmithing, to be able to create the tools they need to weave themselves.

“In short,” Allie says, “the history of weaving is the history of humanity, as well as its future; losing the knowledge of handweaving would mean losing a part of our human selves.”

Andrew Finn Magill. Asheville, North Carolina. Music

Andrew Finn MagillAndrew Finn Magill (he/him) began learning the fiddle at age ten, but he has been surrounded by traditional music his entire life. His parents are both musicians, and his father, Jim Magill, founded the Swannanoa Gathering music education program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. Attending the gathering every summer, Finn was able to learn from noted fiddlers from around the country.

Finn’s musical community, however, extends beyond the Swannanoa Gathering, where he would go on to work as a staff member. “It's hard to think of a force in my community stronger than old-time music,” Finn says. He names Phil Jamison and John Hermann of the New Southern Ramblers as two of his mentors, as well as a community of peers who play together in Asheville. “As I grow older,” Finn describes, “my community of old-time musicians seems to be ever-widening and transcends geographical borders. Appalachian music has traveled well beyond Appalachia, but the idea of Appalachia and the significance of its place to this music [goes with it]. Be it Glasgow or Seattle, when we play this music, it always feels as if we're in the Appalachian Mountains.”

Finn learns new fiddle tunes primarily by ear and has been a teacher himself for fifteen years. He has delivered lessons on old-time fiddle techniques, tunes, and cultural history throughout the United States and internationally. For his Emerging Traditional Artists Program learning opportunity, Finn will travel around Western North Carolina, interviewing other fiddlers, especially community elders, and documenting their repertoires. He hopes to develop the material he collects into educational tools, to bring the musicians’ wealth of knowledge to new audiences. 

“Now more than ever,” Finn says, “we need to document these people's lives, record their music, and hear their stories so that future generations can understand the people responsible for passing this music on to the subsequent generations… Its cultural importance is truly immeasurable.” 

Bonnie Lenneman. Brasstown, North Carolina. Foodways

Bonnie LennemanBonnie Lenneman (she/they) describes herself as an “herbalist, forager, cook, wildcrafter, and gardener.” Her love for plants began with her mother, Michele Lenneman, and her “Bumpa” (great-grandfather), Frank Bishop.

Bonnie has studied traditional medicine and foodways at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina; the Lane’s End Homestead in Brasstown; the BotanoLogos School of Herbal Studies in Clayton, Georgia; and the Terra Sylva School of Botanical Medicine in Madison County, North Carolina. “Ultimately, though,” Bonnie says, “the plants have been my greatest teachers. It has been through curious exploration of and deep relationship with the woods, fields, and gardens around me that I have learned to trust my own intuition and senses in developing my skills as an herbalist.”

Bonnie has been an instructor at the John C. Campbell Folk School since 2015, teaching and assisting classes in traditional foods and herbalism. She is also actively involved in the earthskills movement -- through her work with the Firefly Gathering, she helps facilitate the sharing of traditional skills and ancestral knowledge around the region. She shares herbal products and seasonal offerings with her community through her business, Hearth & Hedge.

“Up until very recently in human history,” Bonnie explains, “herbal medicine and traditional foods were the primary method of healing practiced throughout the globe. Herbal medicine ties us to our ancestors… connects us to the land we inhabit, [and] empowers us to take our health into our own hands.”

Bonnie will use her Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to deepen her connection to her local community and compensate those who share their knowledge with her. She also hopes to offer her own workshops at low or no cost, to share her skills in an accessible way. “My hopes for the future are to become a respectful and knowledgeable community herbalist,” Bonnie says. “Ultimately, my dream is to carry on herbal traditions and inspire others through living a life well-lived, in deep relationship with the plants, and in service to my community.”

Bradford Harris. Loyall, Kentucky. Craft/Material Culture; Music

Bradford HarrisBradford Harris (they/them) is a musician and luthier based in Harlan County, Kentucky. With help from their father, woodworker Steve Harris, and their family’s collection of Foxfire books, they began building banjos in the summer of 2020, and have finished more than twenty instruments in this short period.

After finding a cache of handmade instruments, tools, and notes left behind in the Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College woodshop by luthier Al Cornett, Bradford tracked down Cornett and introduced themselves. They now count Cornett among their mentors.

“The banjo plays a super huge role in Appalachian life,” Bradford says. “I would love to be able to show people how to build their own instruments and understand the history of the banjo, Appalachian banjo music, and how the banjo was stolen from Black culture through an Appalachian narrative. I love being able to have these conversations about the origins of the banjo and tell people how it got here and why it’s important to give credit to the people who brought it to this area.”

Bradford is also the lead guitarist and vocalist for the punk band L.I.P.S., representing the interconnectedness of old-time music with other genres in Southeastern Kentucky. They are actively involved in the STAY Project, connecting young people in Central Appalachia in support of building healthy communities.

With their Emerging Traditional Artists Program award, Bradford hopes to outfit the woodshop they are building in their backyard. They sell their instruments through their business, Harris Banjo Works.

Brian Melton. Knoxville, Tennessee. Craft/Material Culture

BRIAN MELTONBrian Melton (he/him), based in Knoxville, Tennessee, creates hand-carved wooden portraiture. “I love the challenge of wood,” says Brian, who often uses downed trees and found branches for his raw material. “Worm holes, knots, sap inclusions, punky areas, and even cracks from drying can work to show the real, un-photoshopped characteristics of people. The nature of imperfect wood also connects back to our heritage, our roots, as it draws me, personally, back to the folks who literally carved out a living in these hills.”

Since he began learning to carve, Brian has found a diverse community of woodcarvers and sculptors, both locally in and around Knoxville, and internationally. He joins the tradition of woodcarvers in Central Appalachia, exemplified by artists like Fred Carter and the Brasstown Carvers of North Carolina. Brian is also an example of how the dynamics of tradition in the twenty-first century often bring together artists separated by great distances, who nonetheless develop a unique culture of sharing knowledge through the internet.

In 2021, Brian showed his work in his first solo exhibition, Voices of Appalachia, at the Dogwood Arts Gallery in Knoxville. Brian is also a public school teacher and finds opportunities to share his love of art with his students by leading his school’s art club and creating instructional videos.

Brian will use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to travel to Italy and study under portrait sculptor Bruno Walpoth in Val Gardena—a community known for its woodcarving artists. He hopes to bring together the skills and traditions of Central Appalachia and Val Gardena in his own work.

Carrie Carter. Whitesburg, Kentucky. Music

Carrie Carter“As a child I was surrounded by music,” says Carrie Carter (she/they). “My earliest memories are of my father and his brothers playing music with my brother, sister, and cousins. Every gathering has a soundtrack because we can't keep our instruments out of our hands, and we can't keep tunes to ourselves.” Carrie’s family’s tradition of playing the fiddle goes back generations, and she learned much of her repertoire of Kentucky bluegrass fiddle tunes from her father and her uncle, Robbie Wells.

“Though we have a long family history of fiddle and traditional music, there was never a limitation on sticking to one style, genre, or instrument,” Carrie explains. She is also active in the vibrant Eastern Kentucky punk scene, where she plays electric bass in the feminist punk rock group Slut Pill. “Music gives a community a voice,” Carrie says, “to claim its traditions, to share its concerns, to demand action, and to bring people together. I love the parallels between the political nature of a lot of old-time music surrounding the coal industry and the political statements made in the punk music scene. Music and art have always been a powerful way to communicate the issues we face socially and politically and how we wish to enact positive change in our communities, regardless of genre or style. And when you live in an area such as rural Appalachia, there is a lot to sing about, positive and negative.”

Carrie hopes to use her Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to attend old-time music workshops, such as the Augusta Heritage Center music weeks in Elkins, West Virginia, and the Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, North Carolina. She also plans to invest in tools to help build her online and social media presence.

Cody Bauer. Knoxville, Tennessee. Music

Cody BauerCody Bauer (he/him) is a fiddler based in Knoxville, Tennessee, playing bluegrass, old time, Western swing, and Irish styles. “I originally became interested in playing fiddle through my mother's side of the family,” Cody explains. “I stayed with my cousins one week when my parents were out of town. My cousins had just begun the process of learning traditional instruments. I was most captivated by the fiddle. I asked for a fiddle for my birthday and began lessons at the age of twelve.”

Thanks to the variety of fiddle styles in Cody’s repertoire, he performs frequently, both as a solo artist and with various bands. He is also a Field Office Coordinator for Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM), managing youth traditional music programs in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, and often teaches private lessons himself.

With his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award, Cody hopes to study with knowledgeable musicians and dive deeper into the unique characteristics of bluegrass, old time, and Irish fiddling styles. He also would like to purchase a new instrument from luthier Ron Stewart, to use for his performances.

“Both bluegrass and old-time music are very communal forms of music,” Cody says. “People gather on front porches, community centers, churches, bars and restaurants, concert halls, and of course festivals to play tunes for hours and days on end. The music brings people together in various contexts.”

Darrius Flowers. Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. Music

Darrius FlowersDarrius Flowers (he/him) is a musician and dancer based in Stokes County, North Carolina. He plays bluegrass and old-time music and is skilled in multiple instruments, including the fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and bass. He also practices traditional flatfoot and square dancing. “The dancing and music go hand-in-hand,” Darrius explains.

Darrius and his siblings learned music and dance through the Surry Arts Council’s Traditional Arts Program. Now, he teaches music and flatfoot and square dancing to kids through the same program. He explains that, when he plays at dances and events, he is often one of the youngest people there. “It’s important for young musicians to teach others so the artform stays alive,” he says. He has also been featured as a musician on the WPAQ Merry-Go-Round, the second-longest continuously running live radio broadcast in the country.

Darrius plans to use his Emerging Traditional Artists program award to take lessons in songwriting and music production. “Music production would help me be able to spread traditional music and enlighten others about the importance and the historical value in the music,” he explains.

Delia Turner. Murphy, North Carolina. Craft/Material Culture

Delia TurnerDelia Turner (she/they) practices several forms of basketweaving, including split-wood, wickerwork, and folded bark basketry. “In keeping with tradition,” Delia explains, “I weave only with materials I harvest locally and prepare myself with just a few simple hand tools—garden shears, scraping knife, hatchet, draw knife, and hand-built shave horse which was gifted by a weaving mentor.” From materials including white oak, hickory, hazel, willow, magnolia, tulip poplar, kudzu, honeysuckle, and bittersweet vines, Delia weaves baskets made for both display and everyday use.

Delia names as her mentors many weavers from Western North Carolina, including Nancy Basket, Mary Ann and Bill Smith, Pattie Bagley, and In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipients Sue Williams and Betty Maney. From each of them, Delia has learned specific styles and techniques for basketmaking. She has also traveled to Romania to study the European roots of Appalachian split basketry.

With this strong foundation in tradition, Delia still loves to experiment. “I have been processing kudzu and other abundant plants using the same techniques as for white oak, to weave baskets just as strong and durable, with traditional Appalachian designs,” she describes. “By incorporating kudzu and other invasive [plants] into my craft alongside traditional materials, I am able to produce baskets with a positive ecological impact, that cost nothing to make. I believe that doing so increases the accessibility of the craft and allows it to remain a living, breathing folk art form.”

Delia teaches classes in basketry through her organization, School of the Greenwood. She hopes to expand her teaching offerings to include free lessons at her local library and multi-week immersion programs for teenagers to learn traditional lifeways. She also recently began sharing instructional videos online. She plans to put her Emerging Traditional Artists Program award towards further developing her web presence, to introduce basketry to larger audiences. Delia also hopes to develop her craft further through continued apprenticeships with her mentors.

Eliot Smith. Boone, North Carolina. Craft/Material Culture

Eliot SmithEliot Smith (he/him) is a violin maker based in Boone, North Carolina. He built his first instrument, a guitar, when he was 14 years old, and has studied violin making at Surry Community College in Dobson, North Carolina, and the North Bennet Street School in Boston, Massachusetts.

“I greatly enjoy that in violin making you can create a piece of art that allows others to create their art,” Eliot says. “I make all of my instruments from quarter sawn curly maple and spruce… primarily using hand tools and traditional techniques. The hand tools that I use are primarily chisels, knives, planes, and scrapers. Building with these tools allows you to have very precise control over your work, and to make a consistent and quality product out of a naturally inconsistent material.”

Eliot is also a musician and has taught music classes to children through the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program. With his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award, he will connect with other violin makers by attending the Violin Makers of America annual conference and competition. He also plans to enroll in the Hans J. Nebel Violin Repair Workshop at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, to further his craft in pursuit of building a full-time career in his hometown of Boone.

“We are currently in a new era of violin making where there is so much more information readily available, and so many more people who are willing to help you along than ever before,” Eliot explains. “However, there is still a long way to go before we have an approachable profession that young people even know may be an option for their career. I hope to help this through encouraging the next generation of makers and continuing to help spread awareness of this growing craft.”

Ian Kirkpatrick. New Tazewell, Tennessee. Music

Ian KirkpatrickIan Kirkpatrick (he/him) is a ballad singer based in New Tazewell, Tennessee. Though he grew up surrounded by gospel music, he says, “it wasn’t until college that I learned the term "ballad" and began to explore this particular repertoire with intention.” He has since immersed himself in the community of ballad singers in Madison County, North Carolina, and, in 2020, participated in an In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Cross-Border Apprenticeship with his mentor, National Heritage Award-winning ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams. With Adams, Ian “was able to learn in the traditional ‘knee-to-knee’ style, where a specific song is taught in a sing-and-repeat fashion.” Ian has also apprenticed with Tennessee ballad singer Carmen McCord Hicks, from whom he learned a different repertoire of ballads unique to his home region of East Tennessee.

Ian sees his study and practice of traditional English ballads as a return to his family’s heritage. “At one time,” he explains, “this art form was commonly practiced by my family and my community. I have friends and relatives who continue to sing those ballads that were able to survive in the bluegrass and country genres, though they often do not know the history of those particular songs. The Tennessee families that once sang folk ballads began singing country songs, and the few ballads they preferred were modernized and sung to musical accompaniment… My style preserves a Capella performance aspect that has largely died out in the area outside of my family.” He represents the seventh generation in his family to practice balladry.

Along with other young ballad singers in the region, Ian started a virtual “ballad swap” during the pandemic, which mimics traditional, in-person ballad swaps. The group includes elders like Sheila Kay Adams, Carmen McCord Hicks, and 2020 In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipient, the late Bobby McMillon. After McMillon’s passing in 2021, Ian will use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to study the extensive library of ballads McMillon collected throughout his life. “I can think of no better way to honor Bobby’s memory,” Ian says.

Jackson Grimm. Otto, North Carolina. Music

Jackson GrimmJackson Grimm (he/him) is a musician and songwriter who plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. Jackson studied traditional music at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina, and is actively involved in the Western North Carolina music scene. “Living in the mountains where such a rich musical heritage already exists, music serves to create a sense of place and perspective for the place I've called home for the past ten years,” Jackson describes. “Understanding that the way we play songs here is unique to this region and recognizing the cultural and musical vernacular is distinct here, gives an added significance to this music in a historical context. It serves as additional motivation not only to participate in this musical tradition, but to take great care that it is respected and brought forward into the modern era in a way that serves all those involved.”

Jackson is also a music teacher at the Blue Ridge chapter of Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM). He is committed to sharing the unique aesthetics and cultural context of traditional Appalachian music, and to making the music accessible. “Too often, there are barriers in place that prevent new students from participating in the arts,” he explains, “and it is my goal to remove those barriers for anyone who might want to be a part of the traditional music community here in Western North Carolina… As a tradition that predates all of us, it belongs to everyone. Appalachian music has such a wide range of influences, and not a small part of its beauty is in its diversity.”

With his respect for tradition, Jackson still works to put his own spin on music. “Adapting your own creative style to another artist's work is a challenging but rewarding exercise which is undoubtedly led to my growth as a musician,” he says. He also writes his own songs, inspired by the subject matter and melodies of the traditional tunes he loves.

Jackson will use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to attend music education events like the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina and Bryan Sutton’s Blue Ridge Guitar Camp.

Malcolm Davis. Paint Lick, Kentucky. Music

Malcolm DavisMalcolm Davis (he/him) is a musician and oral history performer based in Eastern Kentucky. “I create one-man theatrical performances that utilize original music inspired by the Affrilachian cultural blend of the region of my birth,” Malcolm explains. His work explores the history and experiences of his ancestors, African American and Indigenous Kentuckians.

“History has been alive through art in my home for as long as I can remember,” says Malcolm. He follows in the footsteps of his grandmother and his father, storyteller and 2020 In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipient Hasan Davis. “The most important thing for me to achieve artistically is to fit into this familial and cultural tradition of storytelling, this lineage of artists ensuring the voices of our ancestors and the world we work to build are widely heard and cherished.” Malcolm also studied theatre at Grinnell College and has taught youth poetry and theatre classes at Berea College’s Upward Bound program and the Hindman Settlement School.

Malcolm plans to use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to study bluegrass banjo. He hopes to integrate banjo music, its cultural origins in Africa, and its contemporary place in Central Appalachian culture into his performances.

“My goal is to bring these narratives from the back, to the front, to ensure that the beautiful people of my family, my community, and this region are respected and seen with dignity and culture,” Hasan says. “The only way we can control the narrative is by creating our own.”

Micah Wiles. Somerset, Kentucky. Craft/Material Culture

Micah WilesMicah Wiles (he/him) of Pulaski County, Kentucky, is a basketmaker specializing in split white oak basketry. He began making baskets as a college student and has gradually learned to work with various materials—from bittersweet vine, to split oak, to willow, to traditional Romanian split hazel—and weave many styles, from egg baskets to pack baskets. “I find that learning different styles and materials helps you to become a better basket maker,” Micah says.

“Sourcing materials locally is very important to me,” Micah explains, as he describes the practice of selecting a tree, splitting it into sections, and preparing them for weaving. “Even though there are hours of work involved just to get your weavers ready, I would much rather go through this process than order reed or rattan from another continent.”

Micah works on his family’s land, Cedar Creek Farm, in Somerset, Kentucky. He often teaches workshops there on sustainable lifeways such as mushroom cultivation, rotational cattle grazing, hide tanning, and fermentation. With his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award, Micah hopes to take classes with white oak basketmakers Sue Williams (2019 In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipient) and Billy Ray Sims.

Reflecting on his future as a basketmaker, Micah says, “There are very few white oak basket weavers around today, and while they are still teaching, I have not seen very many younger people taking up the craft... I think it is important in preserving craft to be able to keep traditions alive, but also to be able to adapt those traditions to modern circumstances.”

Nathan Bush. Robbinsville, North Carolina. Craft/Material Culture

Nathan Bush (he/him) practices traditional Cherokee copper art and blacksmithing. He crafts tools such as arrowheads and knife blades, as well as embossed wristbands, armbands, and earrings out of copper.

Nathan began his apprenticeship with Cherokee blacksmith William Rodgers in 2015. “That’s when I first learned that my people worked with metal thousands of years before the first European landed ashore in America,” Nathan describes. “William gave us a very clear history lesson of the relationship between the Cherokee and copper. I was amazed I had never learned this before about my own culture. Then we made our first tools in his blacksmith shop. I was hooked.” Studying historical examples of Cherokee copperwork has also had a strong impact on Nathan’s work.

When Nathan first learned to work with copper, there were very few in his community practicing the art form, but as he and his peers have shared their work, it has led to opportunities to teach others. Nathan now works as a program coordinator at the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, North Carolina, where he oversees the mentoring program for youth learning about Cherokee crafts, history, and culture. “There comes a responsibility with being Cherokee,” Nathan says. “You learn what you can, as much as you can, so you can teach others… Now there are dozens of people around the Qualla Boundary that can do this art form, and hundreds of Cherokee now know that our people worked with metal before the Europeans ever landed on shore.”

Nathan will use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to further study historical examples of Cherokee metalwork by visiting the archives of the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture and other museums.

Robbie Teasdale. Richmond, Kentucky. Craft/Material Culture

Robbie TeasdaleKentucky potter Robbie Teasdale (he/him) credits working with clay for getting him through the most difficult periods in his life. “Clay is its own best teacher,” he says. “You cannot force it to do what you want; you have to ask nicely and then proceed to form it with care. Over time you learn its limits; if you pull a form too thin it collapses, if you dry it too fast it cracks, and if you fire it too hot it melts.”

Robbie first began working with clay in high school, while attending boarding school in Kenya. Later, as a student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, he met his mentor Roger Jamison, who introduced him to the process of wood firing. “I prefer wood-fired pots over gas and electric fired ones,” Robbie explains, “because of the unique surfaces and colors that the flames and melting wood ash produce. In wood firing, the potter must give up control of the finished piece to the kiln. While many new technologies for firing make the process more convenient and economical, firing with wood is the most traditional way of preserving clay as ceramicware and has been practiced for millennia.”

Robbie is now actively involved in the wider community of potters in Eastern Kentucky, and connects with clay artists around the world via social media. He also teaches student potters through the Berea College apprenticeship program and leads workshops at the Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman, Kentucky.

Kilns for wood firing are often shared among community members, who fire their pieces together in batches. Robbie plans to use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to build his own wood-fired kiln. By building his own kiln, Robbie will be able to better keep up with demand for his wood-fired work and can share the kiln with other potters in his community.

Saro Lynch-Thomason. Asheville, North Carolina. Music

Saro Lynch-ThomasonSaro Lynch-Thomason (she/her) is a singer and educator working within a variety of traditional genres, though she focuses primarily on balladry. “Ballads are a distinctive style of narrative song that crystallized in Europe in the Middle Ages,” Saro explains, “the form and literary techniques of which have remained much the same in succeeding centuries. My practice as a ballad singer is chiefly informed by the genre's usage in historic Appalachian communities, with singing communities in Western North Carolina serving as my main influence.” Saro has studied with Sheila Kay Adams, the late Bobby McMillon, and other members of the Western North Carolina ballad-singing community, learning through the traditional “knee-to-knee” method and absorbing the songs’ important social functions—“from fostering debates on morals and ethics, to expressing personal grief and conflict”—along with their lyrics.

Saro’s repertoire also includes other singing traditions from in and around Central Appalachia, such as Shaker songs, shape-note singing, and work and protest songs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “Traditional songs expand a singer’s understandings of the beliefs and lifeways of past peoples, creating broader perspectives on contemporary issues,” she says. “I've also found these genres to be an innate tool to advocate for social change and conveying strategies of resistance.”

Saro has a Bachelor’s degree from Bard College and an MA in Appalachian Studies from East Tennessee State University, where she completed her Master’s thesis about the gendered experiences of women ballad singers. She is dedicated to educating others about the music that she loves through delivering workshops around the country; planning community singing events near her home in Asheville; and her ongoing YouTube series, Songs that Speak, supported by her Patreon subscribers and an Emerging Artists Grant from the Country Dance and Song Society.

Saro will also use her Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to support Songs that Speak, by purchasing new equipment and taking courses on how to grow her online presence. “Making this series is an opportunity for me to take deep dives into the historical backgrounds of traditional songs and to explore the questions and common experiences which the songs evoke,” Saro says. “My hope is that this series can maintain the interest of people who already have a love of traditional song, but also attract audiences who have interests in the related topics I explore, from European folklore to social justice history, serving as a venue for new fans of historical song genres.”

Shaina Naillieux. Jackson, Kentucky. Craft/Material Culture

Shaina Naillieux (she/her) grew up in the quilt shop run by her mother and grandmother in Breathitt County, Kentucky, and started learning to piece her own quilts at age 6. “For so many people throughout the Appalachian region, quilting is a legacy,” she says. “It's a story, in art, that their foremothers wrote with thread.”

Shaina now runs her own quilting business, Sew Knot Fancy, where she still uses the pattern books her mother and grandmother passed down and repairs other family’s treasured heirlooms. “The story these quilts tell can be one of poverty or one of wealth,” Shaina describes. “Many quilts are made of whatever fabric they had on hand—be that old curtains, dresses, dress pants, jeans, flour sacks, old sheets—whatever they could sacrifice. Often their patterns couldn't be quite perfect because they ran out of a specific fabric, and often they couldn't just go to a store to pick up more. But they made it work, and the work they produced was absolutely beautiful. Throughout the hardship, they chose to make something beautiful for such an important task, the task of keeping a loved one warm.”

Shaina is already teaching two of her five young daughters to quilt. “It's been absolutely amazing watching her thumb through fabrics, some of which belonged to her great-grandmother, to pick out fabric for her next quilt,” Shaina says of her eldest daughter. “She enjoys quilting them just as much as she does piecing them and has been asking to quilt more and more.” Shaina still quilts with her mother as well—they recently worked together to create a thirty-foot-long quilt titled Our Breathitt, displayed at the Breathitt County High School graduation ceremony.

Shaina will use her Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to study historical quilt patterns, starting with a visit to the archives of the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. She hopes to develop her research into teaching tools, to share what she learns.

Sienna Shute. Murphy, North Carolina. Craft/Material Culture

Sienna ShuteSienna Shute (she/her) is a potter based in Cherokee County, North Carolina. She began practicing pottery after taking classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School, later studying at Lantern Hill Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, and the Professional Crafts Program in Clay at Haywood Community College, where she met her mentor Emily Reason. She has since joined the active community of potters in Western North Carolina and started her own studio, Sienna Shute Pottery, where she produces and sells functional pieces.

“As the world becomes more digital, I believe it is important to keep ourselves grounded and connected with others and our planet,” Sienna says. “What better way to do both than to preserve an art form that promotes intimate interactions with objects made by hand, from materials provided by the earth around us? My favorite thing about functional pottery is knowing these pots become an everyday object in someone's home. Others live with these pieces and often interact with them on a daily basis. It's my belief that people find joy in using objects they know were made by another person's own hands instead of by machines.”

With her Emerging Traditional Artists Program award, Sienna hopes to pursue new educational opportunities through the Penland School of Crafts in Mitchell County, North Carolina; the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee; the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine; and the Ceramic Materials Workshop. Her goals also include teaching more classes in pottery, attending the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference, and becoming a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

Trevor McKenzie. Boone, North Carolina. Music

Trevor McKenzi“Much of my ‘formal’ music training happened in between haircuts at Jim Lloyd's Barbershop in Rural Retreat, Virginia,” says fiddle, banjo, and guitar player Trevor McKenzie (he/him) of his first music teacher. Since moving to North Carolina to attend Appalachian State University, Trevor has immersed himself in the traditional music scene there. Among his mentors, Trevor names the late Watauga County banjo and dulcimer player Lonnie Ward and flatfoot dancers Rodney Sutton and the late Robert Dotson. In 2020, Trevor also began an apprenticeship with Paul Brown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, studying the unique fiddle tunes of the Virginia-North Carolina border.

Trevor plays regularly at dances and other events with various bands, including the Elkville String Band. He also teaches at the Junior Appalachian Musicians programs in Ashe and Watauga Counties and works to document and share music traditions with West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s “Inside Appalachia” Folkways Reporting Corps and the North Carolina Folklore Society. In 2021, Trevor was named Director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at his alma mater, Appalachian State University.

With his strong foundation in traditional music, Trevor still likes to experiment and cultivate his own style. “While I have a great respect for these traditions and mostly play with techniques and styles learned from elders and mentors,” Trevor explains, “I have also tried to expand upon them and reach new audiences, such as collaborating with those with hip-hop influences… In recent years, I even experimented with presenting old ballads and tunes from Western North Carolina on electric instruments, which seems to catch the ear of those who would not otherwise give traditional music a chance.”

Trevor plans to use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to further his ongoing projects, such as producing an album of previously unrecorded traditional songs; creating a documentary on Galax, Virginia, fiddler Luther Davis; or researching a book on North Carolina balladry.

Tyrique Brown. Johnson City, Tennessee. Music

Tyrique BrownTyrique Shahmir Brown (he/him) is a hip-hop musician based in Johnson City, Tennessee. Growing up listening to hip-hop greats, he wrote his first lyrics at age fourteen, and found his style “battle rapping” with his friends. “It’s really a true testament of your mental focus,” Tyrique says, “to come up with something off the top of your head, or to just look at someone and incorporate that” into the lyrics. As a teenager, Tyrique was also a member of the hip-hop collective Full Grind, where he learned how to collaborate with other musicians to pair his lyrics with the right beat.

Now, when creating new songs, Tyrique starts with a beat, often by a local producer, and develops the lyrics through a combination of writing and freestyling during his performances. When describing what makes for successful lyrics, Tyrique says, “people will listen to you, if you have something to talk about. I’ve noticed that people love when you can relate to things going on in their area, or the struggles that they’re going through.”

Tyrique is a mentor to many other rappers, including his younger brother. He shares his skill for everything from writing music, to engaging audiences during performances, to uploading and marketing music online. Tyrique is also a persistent advocate for the Tri-Cities hip-hop community, making connections with local venues and curating shows. “I pride myself on being one of the people to open the doors for my peers and others going forward,” he says.

Tyrique plans to use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award, in collaboration with other musicians and producers, to open a designated studio space in Johnson City for hip-hop artists to record. “It’ll show that this area isn’t just rock music, or folk music, of county music—that we actually have a whole genre here, from R&B to hip-hop, that needs to be noticed.”

William Ritter. Bakersville, North Carolina. Foodways; Craft/Material Culture; Music

William RitterWilliam Ritter (he/him) describes himself as a “dedicated evangelizer for traditional, community-sourced seed saving,” the practice of preserving seeds and roots from one year’s crop for future planting. As William describes, seed saving is “a central component of the traditional garden and dinner table, but also a locus for a sense of place, familial pride, social trust, and a crucial component of past and future community health and resiliency.” “In order to best ‘save seed,’” William explains, “one must be well-versed in garden practices, knowledgeable about plant isolation, and seed and root storage”—skills he was first introduced to in his family’s garden growing up and has continued to learn from other Western North Carolina farmers.

In addition to seed saving, William is an accomplished musician and music educator with the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program and the North Carolina Arts Council Traditional Arts Programs for Students (TAPS). He understands the cultural connections between traditional music and the land. These connections inspired him to found Song-to-Seed—a project advocating for both seed saving and music traditions through community events such as seed swaps, potlucks, and music jams. In 2020, as part of his apprenticeship with the late ballad singer Bobby McMillon, William developed the “Bean-String Ballad-Sing,” an event that showcased ballads in their traditional context as work songs, sung while snapping beans.

William will put his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award toward developing a Song-to-Seed podcast, where he will share seed saving resources, conversations with other tradition bearers, and “ethnobotanical” songs he writes about heirloom crops and traditional foodways.

“As a practice, the tradition of seed-saving largely continues as a means by which community members can connect with their ancestors, family, and neighbors,” William says. “In planting ‘Granny's’ seeds, one is able to maintain a link to their historic and culinary heritage. Seed saving, like other traditional arts, offers an important means by which we can bridge the growing gulfs and fissures in our communities. I don't just want to get seeds to people, I want to give them tools and roots to grow their local social capital.”

Willow Keasler. Saxapahaw, North Carolina. Music

Willow KesslerNorth Carolina-based old time fiddler Willow Keasler (she/her) began studying fiddle and other string instruments, via the traditional “call and response” method, in the Watauga County Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program. Willow, who names Cecil Gurganus, John Engle, and flatfoot dancer Phil Jamison among her mentors, went on to teach music lessons in the same JAM program, as well as at camps and festivals such as Bruce Molsky’s Old-Time Rollick in Ashokan, New York, MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and the National Folk Festival.

“‘Old time’ is much more than just a genre or style of music,” Willow says. “It encompasses the history, culture, and community of the Appalachian Mountains. Knowing the history and cultural meaning and importance behind the music” is just as vital as learning the tunes. To learn more about that cultural context, Willow completed a Bachelor’s Degree in traditional music from Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. There, she wrote her thesis on the fiddling style of her great-great uncle, blacksmith and musician Marion Reece, who appears on 1936 recordings by Alan Lomax. Willow also recorded an album of Reece’s tunes to accompany her research.

Willow plans to use her Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to begin a new research and recording project about the Scotch-Irish roots of old time music. She hopes ultimately to develop a series of video lessons for learners of varying skill levels, teaching both tunes and their cultural history.

Of her role as an emerging musician, Willow says, “currently, it is a new and exciting time for old-time music. Millennials that are now leading and continuing the old-time genre are providing new content, tunes, and styles that showcase a plethora of talent. I would like to document and collaborate with these musicians to record the modern development of the genre.”