Press Releases

Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program Launches Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program

Nashville — The Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program announces the launch of its Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. The new initiative is designed to encourage the survival, continued development and proliferation of our state’s diverse folklife traditions, especially those that are rare or endangered. 

“The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program was created with a specific focus on preserving folklife practices that are rare and endangered in Tennessee, thus helping ensure that they are as much a part of our state’s future as they have been a part of our past,” said Dr. Bradley Hanson, Tennessee Arts Commission Director of Folklife and the state’s folklorist.

Eight diverse teams of master traditional artists and apprentices have been selected to participate in this inaugural year. Each is committed to preserving a traditional folklife art form that is deeply rooted in their cultural heritage. The teams will embark on one-on-one training for a six-month period. 

Each master artist is an exceptionally skilled tradition bearer. The master artists awarded this recognition from the Tennessee Arts Commission are considered experts in their artistry from fellow artists, community members, and folk arts leaders. 

Selected by the master artist from within their local artist community, each apprentice is a talented student who desires to strengthen his or her abilities. The awarded apprentices each demonstrate outstanding aptitude and potential in the chosen traditional art form. Such practices include traditional music, visual art, crafts, dance, foodways, calendar and life-cycle customs, and occupational skills. 

“Tennessee is rich with an ethnically diverse cultural heritage, including older, regional folklife forms that have been here for decades and centuries, as well as traditional arts that are newer to Tennessee,” said Lisa Bobango, Tennessee Arts Commission board chair.

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. 

“These folklife practices are valuable to Tennessee communities, especially in our rural regions. They help fulfill an authentic sense of place and truly enliven the cultural landscape for locals and visitors alike,” said Dr. Shawn Pitts, President of the Tennessee Folklore Society and a Tennessee Arts Commission board member.

“Tennessee is home to a wealth of creative talent and rich traditions. This initiative is important because these traditional arts help define Tennessee’s cultural heritage and keep these highly skilled artisans working in their communities. In many Tennessee communities, folklife is central to local identity and enhances livability and the pride in place,” said Anne B. Pope, Executive Director of the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Each team will also share their work together in public performances, demonstrations, and in an exhibit at the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery in the Spring of 2017.

A panel of specialists in traditional arts and folklife was convened to review a deep and highly competitive applicant pool. The eight awarded teams include: 

Jean Horner, master, and Austin Derryberry, apprentice, of Westel, TN. Revered luthier Jean Horner will instruct Austin Derryberry in his process of fiddle making in his shop on the Cumberland Plateau. 

Jack Martin, master, and Jack Tipton, apprentice, of Selmer, TN. Fourth generation broommaker Jack Martin will teach apprentice Jack Tipton the technique of traditional broom-making with tools and equipment inherited from Martin’s grandfather. 

Thomas Maupin, master, and Courtney Williams, apprentice, of Murfreesboro, TN. Award-winning buck and flatfoot dancer Thomas Maupin will train Courtney Williams in the improvisational, traditional dance form he learned growing up in a family of dancers. 

Kofi Mawuko, master, and Demarland Dean, apprentice, of Chattanooga, TN. Kofi Mawuko, leader of the group Mawre & Co, will teach Demarland Dean the complicated style of West African Ghanaian percussion on Ewe and Kpanlogo drums.  

Billy Ramirez, master, and Rachel Rodriguez and Khe Cruther, apprentices, of Antioch, TN. Billy Ramirez, lead drummer of the Nashville-based Caribbean band Revolfusion, will teach Rachel Rodriguez and Khe Crutcher to become congueras, or congas players, in a traditional Afro-Caribbean style.  

Sally Wells, master, and Madison Dean, apprentice, of Smyrna, TN. Member of the Mississippi Choctaw band, Sally Wells will train Madison Dean in the art of traditional Choctaw beadwork, specifically crafting headbands, collar necklaces, bracelets and other beaded jewelry work with Choctaw women’s ceremonial clothing.  

Sue Williams, master, and Brenda Kucharski, apprentice, of Morrison, TN. Sue Williams, one of two remaining white oak basket makers in Cannon County and Warren County, will teach Brenda Kucharski how to build a basket from scratch, including selecting and cutting down the tree, processing the splints, and learning the Cannon County Tie basket style.

James Wood, master, and Hillary Klug, apprentice, of Shelbyville, TN. James Wood—a highly decorated fiddler and accompanist—will teach Hillary Klug a regional guitar and tenor guitar accompaniment style for old-time and contest-style fiddle music indigenous to the Middle Tennessee, Northern Alabama and Central Kentucky.

For more information on the Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife program, visit