About the Tennessee Artists

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 Bluesmagazine 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.