Bess Lomax Hawes (1921-2009)
December 3, 2009
Bess Lomax Hawes. Photo by Michael Geissinger, NEA file photo
It is with great sadness that we report that Bess Lomax Hawes passed away on Friday evening, November 27. A lifetime advocate of how *art works* in communities across the nation, Bess was the Director of Folk Arts at the NEA from 1977 to 1992. It was her vision and her power of persuasion, aided considerably by her ability to tell a good story, that shaped the folk arts field as we know it today. During her tenure, she put in place an infrastructure of folk arts specialists based at state, regional, and local arts agencies and organizations; she initiated statewide folk arts apprenticeship programs; and she created the NEA National Heritage Fellowships. After her retirement, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts and we named one of the National Heritage Fellowships in her honor.
One of Bess's most eloquent statements about the power and significance of folk and traditional arts remains something that she wrote about the Heritage Fellowships: "... they present to Americans a vision somewhat idealized but profoundly longed for and so, in significant ways, profoundly true. It is a vision of a confident and open-hearted nation, where differences can be seen as exciting instead of fear-laden, where men of goodwill, across all manner of racial, linguistic, and historical barriers, can find common ground in understanding solid craftsmanship, virtuoso techniques, and deeply felt expressions."
Bess was a great mentor to all of us who had the privilege of working with her and a great inspiration to all who met her in person or through her good work.
Barry Bergey, Director of Folk & Traditional Arts