Twelve Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Projects Awarded Across the State

From Dr. Bradley Hanson, Director of Folklife –

Sharon and Kennedy Owen, Choctaw Language Master Artist and Apprentice

The Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program has awarded funding to twelve projects as part of the 2023 Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. Entering its seventh year, the Program is designed to sustain Tennessee’s diverse folklife practices by investing in the passing of traditional art forms from master artists to the next generation.

“The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program has developed into a key initiative for preserving distinctive Tennessee traditions.  Although our state is defined by its diverse and rich cultural heritage, many of these art forms are endangered or fragile. This program is designed to help maintain these traditions into the next generation and beyond,” said Stephanie B. Conner, Tennessee Arts Commission Board Chair.

Each of the twelve teams selected to participate is committed to preserving a traditional folklife art form that is deeply rooted in their cultural community. The artists will embark on one-on-one or small group training for an eight-month period.

“Traditional arts are essential to the story we tell about ourselves, and that we tell visitors,” said Anne B. Pope, Executive Director of the Tennessee Arts Commission. “For many of these artists, this program is an investment in the sustainability of their family business or a way of life. Folklife practices enhance livability and the pride of place in all Tennessee communities, especially in our rural areas.”

The master artists awarded this recognition from the Tennessee Arts Commission are of exceptional skill as recognized by fellow artists, community members, and folk arts leaders. Five of this year’s master and apprentice teams from the Appalachian region are funded through a special partnership with the South Arts’ initiative In These Mountains: Central Appalachian Folk Art & Culture.

Eric Strong, Flint Marble Making Master Artist

The awarded apprentices are chosen by the master artist. Each apprentice demonstrated outstanding aptitude and potential in the chosen traditional art form. Folklife practices include traditional music, crafts, dance, foodways, and occupational skills. Traditional art forms are learned and passed down informally by imitation, word of mouth, observation, or performance in cultural communities that share family, ethnic, tribal, regional, occupational, or religious identity.

“Tennessee has a great wealth of folklife traditions, some that have been here for decades or centuries, and others that are newer. However, many traditions have only a handful of living practitioners,” said Dr. Bradley Hanson, Tennessee Arts Commission Director of Folklife. “Since 2016, the Commission has funded over seventy folklife apprenticeship projects. Taken as a whole, these artists represent the extraordinary breadth of Tennessee culture.”

Masters and apprentices will also share their work together in public and online performances and demonstrations. All projects are documented by the Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program to further archive and preserve the state’s current folklife practices.

A panel of traditional arts and folklife specialists reviewed a deep and highly competitive applicant pool and recommended the following awardees:

2023 Master Artists and Apprentices 

John Brooks, Sr., master and John Brooks, Jr., apprentice. Chessboard Making and Woodworking. Johnson City, TN.*

Marcella Buis, master and Donald Simonton, apprentice. Gourd Art and Carving. Morristown, TN.*

Trenton Caruthers, master and Emma Tinch, apprentice. Traditional Music of the Cumberland Plateau. Cookeville, TN.*

Manuel Delgado, master and Lila Delgado, apprentice. Stringed Instrument Making. Nashville, TN.

Lynn Dudenbostel, master and Gil Draper, apprentice. Carved Top Mandolin Making. Maryville and Knoxville, TN.

Tim Graves, master and Amelia Brown, apprentice. Graves-Style Dobro Playing. Lebanon and Springfield, TN.

Kelle Jolly, master and Nayeema Hoffman, apprentice. Appalachian Blues. Johnson City and Knoxville, TN.*

Sharon Owen, master and Kennedy Owen, apprentice. Choctaw Language. Halls, TN.

Seemi Rizvi, master and Fizza Abidi, apprentice. Traditional Henna Art. Nashville, TN.

Billy Roberson, master and Joshua Roberson, apprentice. Tennessee River Netmaking. Eva and Camden, TN.

Eric Strong, master and Gracie Strong, apprentice. Flint Marble Making. Celina, TN.*

Eduardo Tellez, master and Moises Rodriguez, apprentice. Danza Azteca Drum Making. Memphis, TN.


*These teams are funded through a special partnership with the South Arts’ initiative In These Mountains: Central Appalachian Folk Art & Culture.