Tennessee claims some of this country's most honored folk artists. These individuals have preserved art forms and culture distinctive to their families and communities.
The Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program has engaged in a multi-faceted project, Tradition-Tennessee Lives and Legacies that is the result of 25 years of fieldwork experience by its director, Dr. Robert Cogswell. He has chronicled the lives of 25 different folk subjects in a hard bound full color book to be published by the Commission.
"These individuals are some of the state's greatest resources." shares Rich Boyd, Executive Director of the Tennessee Arts Commission. "Tradition is a testament to the agency's work in the traditional arts under the leadership of Dr. Robert Cogswell. This project is a tribute to the artistic tradition that has remained alive in Tennessee and the relationships and trust Roby Cogswll has established through the years."
The Tennessee Arts Commission contracted Nashville photographer Dean Dixon to provide visual images to compliment Cogswell's expressive essays. Dixon spent over 18 months traveling the state and provided stunning photography for the book. A supporting touring exhibition, produced by the Commission in partnership with The Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, highlights the photography. This exhibit will travel throughout the state to selected venues for a 3 year period.
The book and supporting exhibition testify to the strength and diversity of Tennessee's grassroots cultural life, and to the importance of everyday people who continue to sustain art forms and practices through their mastery and dedication.
The subjects — mostly individuals and a few pairs and trios of people — represent different parts of Tennessee, different ethnicities and different cultural specialties-from music and crafts to cooking and marble-playing. Dixon's photographs capture the personalities of these interesting and mostly unsung people in settings significant to them.
The individuals highlighted in this project include diverse artists such as Charlie Acuff, who stayed in his home area and kept traditional music alive; old time musician Roy Harper in his bright red suit and his additional talent as painter of railroad scenes; Mary Prater's joy of life woven in her baskets and infectious smile, buckdancer Thomas Maupin skipping across a shallow stream at dusk; the classic tradition of Bob Kounlavong's Laotian musician and dancers; Minnie Bell and her Choctaw sisters preparing food over an open fire; Eda Rodriguez preparing Salvadorian food; Billy Tripp's "Mind Field," a tribute to his Methodist parents and many more unique subjects.
Tradition speaks to the reality, dignity and vibrancy of Tennessee folklife in ways not often represened in our institutional culture or mainstream art circles. Tradition will be on view at The Arts Center of Cannon County's Marly Berger Gallery, January 3rd through February 26.