- Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Traditionby Anne Pryor et al.
The primary purpose of the exhibition Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Traditionwas to celebrate the work of 27 master artists who have successfully taught a promising apprentice through the Wisconsin Arts Board’s Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. Its secondary goal was to mark two important milestones: the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Wisconsin Arts Board in 1973; and the thirtieth anniversary of a pilot program organized by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983 to decentralize funding for folk arts apprenticeships by encouraging state arts agencies to support them, an effort that initially brought the Wisconsin program and nine others into existence. By setting and achieving these goals, Wisconsin Folksdid a great service not only to the folk and traditional artists of the Badger State but also to those interested in the evolution of public sector folklore in the United States.
The dazzling display of art forms included in Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Traditionsclearly reflected the state’s cultural diversity. As might be expected in light of the original focus of the Wisconsin Arts Board’s pilot apprenticeship program on Native American traditional artists, 11 of the masters featured in the exhibit represented six of the 11 federally recognized tribes and bands in the state: Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Oneida, Ojibwa Bands of Bad River, Lac du Flambeau, and Red Cliff. Other artists are descended from the nineteenth- and twentiethcentury European immigrants who settled throughout Wisconsin: German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and Slovakian. Several of the master artists found their way to northern urban centers like Milwaukee as a result of the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South. And still others are recent immigrants from locations as far flung as Ghana, Mali, Mexico, and Togo.
Nearly as varied as the backgrounds of their creators, the artifacts included in Wisconsin Folksnonetheless offered the exhibit viewer numerous opportunities to compare and contrast forms and techniques across cultural boundaries. Pat Ehrenberg’s traditional Anglo-American quilts set off Ethel White’s African American bed coverings. Ramona Kochendorfer’s Dutch hindeloopenpainting bore a close resemblance to Nancy Schmidt’s Norwegian rosemaling, but subtle differences of style and imagery could still be distinguished. Christine Okerlund and Sandra Peterson both create birch bark baskets, but Peterson etches her containers in the tradition of the Lac du Flambeau band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, while Okerlund uses porcupine quills to adorn hers in the fashion typical of the Ho Chunk. Karen Ann Hoffman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, decorates whimsies with Iroquois raised beadwork, while Elena Greendeer and Gerald Hawpetoss use the same materials to decorate Ho Chunk and Menominee dance regalia.
Organized into five broad categories of “Heritage,” “Community,” “Creativity,” “Culture,” and “Masters/Apprentices,” the artwork featured in Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Traditionwas nicely contextualized through a combination of photographs, label copy, and video documentation. In addition to being represented by several pieces of their work, the artists in the exhibition were introduced to the viewing public through labels; each included a color image, a detailed biography, a description of at least one of the apprenticeships in which the artist participated, [End Page 117]and one or more quotations. Video clips, presented on a large flat screen monitor in one of the display cases, were also used to depict steps in the creative process for a number of the visual artists. The four performing artists included in the exhibition were also showcased through videos. Given the centrality of the apprenticeship experience to the organization of the exhibit, it was fascinating to learn of the wide variety of schedules, teaching techniques, and outreach activities that were incorporated into each year-long instructional experience by the different master artists.
In apprenticeships, each Wisconsin Folk Arts Apprentice was required to reach out...