Art Works Blog

Finding Heritage Fellows at Blue Star Museums

The 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellows have just been announced, and they are an impressive bunch who practice a vast range of traditional art forms. While you’ll get to see many of these art forms in person at our concert on Friday, September 19, 2014, why not give yourself a primer with a road trip to a few Blue Star Museums? The five museums listed here will help introduce you to some of this year’s NEA National Heritage Fellows by showcasing the art form or culture they represent. So grab your map and let's go!

International Quilt Study Center & Museum
(Lincoln, Nebraska)

Carolyn Mazloomi is being honored with the Bess Lomax Hawes Fellowship for her amazing work to preserve and raise awareness of the African-American quilting tradition. An artist, historian, curator, and creator of the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN), Mazloomi uses her beautiful quilts to tell the story of the African American experience using needle and thread. To see the work of other African-American quilters, check out the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, which include the Robert and Helen Cargo Collection of African-American Quilts. The collection features 156 quilts from 32 quilt-makers, most of whom hail from Alabama. Because the museum is so vast (it is the world’s largest collection of publicly-held quilts), you’ll be able to place these artworks within the context of other cultures’ quilt-making traditions, as well as with different styles that have been used throughout history. This summer, the museum is hosting exhibitions on log cabin quilts, and on quilts made from kits—a popular trend during the 1920s and 30s. If you can’t make it to Lincoln, you can also view the museum’s collection online. 

African American Museum of Iowa
(Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

When the Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland and Delaware received an NEA National Heritage Fellowship this year, the agency was recognizing not just those musicians living today, but an African-American religious tradition that predates the Civil War. Its origins were a reflection of the times, and first took root in secret outdoor meetings. At the African American Museum of Iowa, visitors can take a closer look at how the African-American experience has shaped and been shaped by music in Behind the Beat, open through March 28, 2015. The interactive exhibit approaches music as a history lesson of sorts, revealing how episodes such as the Civil Rights movement, slavery, sharecropping, and Jim Crow are reflected in musical genres that range from spirituals and hymnals to jazz, hip-hop, blues, and funk. A three-dimensional jazz club is meant to evoke the immersive nature of jazz culture, and a mural showing portraits of hip-hop icons helps reveal the evolution of the art form.

Ukrainian American Archives & Museum of Detroit
(Detroit, Michigan)

Art can be a way of keeping traditions alive, and for many Ukrainian Americans, it is a way of remembering their homeland and their ancestors. Vera Nakonechny is one of these individuals, and has become an NEA National Heritage Fellow for her work as a Ukrainian embroiderer and bead worker. Born in Germany to Ukrainian parents, Nakonechny came to America as a teenager and continued to practice the craft of embroidery, which she learned from watching her mother. You can see examples of Ukrainian textiles at the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum of Detroit, which also houses collections of visual art, photographs, musical instruments, and crafts. Detroit has one of the country’s largest populations of Ukrainian immigrants, and the museum is designed to show the impact of Ukrainians not just on the city, but on the wider American landscape. The museum also acts as a gathering place for those who share a common background and want to keep their heritage alive.

National Museum of the American Indian
(Washington, DC)

Three of the Fellows honored this year practice traditional Native-American art forms: Henry Arquette is a Mohawk basket maker, Yvonne Walker Keshick is an Odawa quill worker, and Rufus White is an Omaha traditional singer and drum group leader. Although representing different Nations and art forms, each uses their artwork to remember and honor their culture and ancestors. At the National Museum of the American Indian, visitors can learn still other ways that art and craft have been used to uphold heritage among Native Nations. The museum offers a vast range of exhibits and collections that look at the history of tribes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and also explores contemporary artists, crafts, and lifestyles. For example, this summer you’ll find modern photography at the exhibit The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson, as well as a study the role of traditional beliefs in the ongoing exhibit Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World. The museum also offers an activity center for children called imagiNATIONS, with includes the Native Beats Music Room where kids can play native percussion instruments just like Rufus White.

Institute of Texan Culture
(San Antonio, Texas)

NEA National Heritage Fellow Manuel "Cowboy" Donley is considered by many to be the Grandfather of Texas Tejano, and is being honored for his work as a Tejano musician and composer. Folk music created by Texans of Mexican descent, Tejano is a unique place-based musical form with deep historical roots and has become a vibrant part of Texas culture. At the Institute of Texan Culture, exhibits and collections honor Texans from all backgrounds, from early frontiersman to people who have immigrated to Texas from all over the world. One of their current exhibits, Folklife in the Piney Woods is an NEA Art Works grantee, and showcases photographs and objects that reflect the artisan activity in the Pineywoods of East Texas. 

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