Art Works Blog

Meet the 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellows

"From the Native-American art forms that can be traced to our country's origins to the artistic traditions introduced by our newest immigrants, the National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support and celebrate all of our country's folk and traditional arts and the artists who have dedicated their lives to protecting, celebrating, and sharing them with the next generation."---Joan Shigekawa, NEA Acting Chair

The nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, the NEA National Heritage Fellowships recognize folk and traditional artists for their artistic excellence and efforts to conserve America's culture for future generations. Whether it's teaching the Numu language of the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe at local schools or performing a ballad that dates back to the mid-17th century, the 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellows all share a passion for perpetuating and imparting to others the traditional art forms to which they have devoted their lives and careers. Meet this year's fellows and don't forget to join us for our September 27 NEA National Heritage Fellows Celebration Concert in person or online at

A seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller, and musician, Sheila Kay Adams was born and raised in the Sodom Laurel community of Madison County, North Carolina, an area renowned for its unbroken tradition of unaccompanied ballad singing that dates back to the early Scots/Irish and English settlers in the mid-17th century. Adams learned to sing from her great-aunt Dellie Chandler Norton and other notable singers in the community, such as Dillard Chandler and the Wallin family (including NEA National Heritage Fellow Doug Wallin). In addition to ballad singing, Adams is an accomplished clawhammer-style banjo player and storyteller. Learn more about Sheila Kay Adams here. (Photo by Garius Hill)

Carol Fran's distinct voice and piano-playing style mark her celebrated career that spans more than six decades. Featuring artists associated with the Excello record label, the swamp blues genre is characterized by slow laid back vocals combined with Cajun and Zydeco rhythmic elements. Carol Fran performs in both English and the native Creole French language that her parents and grandparents taught her in the bayous of Lafayette, Louisiana, where she was born in 1933 into a family of seven children. Learn more about Carol Fran here. (Photo by Gene Tomko)

A musician, songwriter, educator, and activist, Ramón "Chunky" Sánchez has become a cultural icon and leader of the Chicano community. Born to Mexican immigrant parents in the California desert town of Blythe, Sánchez was taught traditional Mexican music by his mother and uncles who sang and played guitar. Both of his parents were farm laborers, and he himself worked in the fields, so Sánchez learned early on in life about the struggles in the farm labor movement. As he listened and learned, he began to compose his own music---with a bicultural influence and often socio-political messages---and he was frequently asked to play by César Chávez at rallies and marches for the United Farm Workers Union. Learn more about Ramón "Chunky" Sánchez here. (Photo by Vito Di Stefano)

from l-r: Ralph Burns, David Ivey, Verónica Castillo

Pyramid Lake Paiute elder Ralph Burns is a revered storyteller and native-language specialist. Burns grew up on the Pyramid Lake Paiute reservation in Nixon, Nevada, where he learned the Numu (Northern Paiute) language and traditional stories from his family and community members. After serving in the 1st Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War and subsequent years of working in California, Burns returned home to the reservation to devote his life to spearheading native-language revival and revitalization among the Northern Paiute. Learn more about Ralph Burns here. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Burns)

A master of Sacred Harp singing, David Ivey is a leader in reinvigorating this unique vocal tradition for the 21st century by leading singing schools all over the country and creating the first summer camp dedicated to Sacred Harp singing. Sacred Harp, or "shape note," singing traces its legacy back to colonial New England, from which it spread to other parts of the early United States through the work of itinerant singing masters. The Sacred Harp hymnbook was published in Georgia in 1844 and gives the tradition its name. Singers sit in a hollow square, with voice parts on each side, and sing towards the center where individuals take turns leading the "class." Learn more about David Ivey here. (Photo by Allison Whitener)

A third-generation clay artist, Verónica Castillo was born in Izucar de Matamoros in the Mexican state of Puebla. Castillo's family is known for their creation of Arbol de la Vida (Tree of Life) and candelabra sculptures, an art form which originated in Mexico's Puebla area. Delicate, intricate, and brightly painted, these clay sculptures traditionally depict religious scenes, but Castillo's works also focus and comment on social and contemporary issues such as the violence on the border. In a 2012 interview with the San-Antonio Express-News she noted, "I love my family's pieces. They fascinate me. We see traditions, customs directly in their work. And for me, I want to create another language in clay that shows the difficulties people have in everyday life that create an unjust world." Learn more about Verónica Castillo here. (Photo by Josie Méndez-Negrete)

from l-r: Séamus Connolly, Pauline Hillaire, Nicolae Feraru

Musician, teacher, and scholar, Séamus Connolly is recognized worldwide as a master traditional Irish musician. Born in Killaloe, County Clare, Ireland, into a musical family where both his parents and two brothers played instruments, he began playing the fiddle at age 12. His father encouraged him to listen to the recordings of the famed County Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman, who became one of Connolly's musical heroes. By his mid-twenties, Connolly had won the Irish National Fiddle Championship ten times, a feat unequalled by any other musician, and he traveled throughout Ireland, meeting and playing music with some of the legends of Irish music, such as Paddy O'Brien, Joe Burke, Denis Murphy, and Cathal McConnell. Connolly was also a member of the Kilfenora Céilí Band, an ensemble noted for its strong rhythms, musicality, and rare tunes indigenous to North County Clare. Learn more about Séamus Connolly here. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini, Boston College)

Artist, teacher, native-arts conservator, author and storyteller, Pauline Hillaire works to carry on the heritage of Washington's Lummi Nation and is one of the most knowledgeable living resources of the Northwest Coast's arts and culture. For her contribution to the perpetuation of cultural heritage, she will receive the Bess Lomax Hawes Fellowship, named after the NEA director of folk and traditional arts who initiated the Heritage Fellowships. Known as Scölla or "of the Killer Whale," Hillaire is a member of the Lummi tribe of Washington State's northern coast. As a young child, Hillaire was sent to stay with various elders of the Lummi Nation, or Lhaq'temish -- "People of the Sea" -- to learn tribal arts, traditions, stories, songs and dances that reflected her family's and her tribe's value system.... Throughout her life, Hillaire has worked to preserve these traditions and share them with the next generations. Learn more about Pauline Hillaire here. (Photo by Jill Sabella)

Since immigrating to the United States, Nicolae Feraru has perpetuated the Gypsy traditional music he learned from his father, and other lautari, or minstrels, in his native Romania. The second youngest of seven children, Feraru was born in 1950 in Bucharest, Romania, into a musical family. Feraru's father played the tambal mic(small cimbalom, or dulcimer in the Romanian tradition) and cobza (lute). Despite the warning from his father against becoming a musician because of the long, sleepless, weekend-long weddings, Feraru took up the cimbalom anyway. His father then arranged for him to take lessons on the tambal mic from Mitica Ciuciu-Marinescu, one of the leading Romanian performers on the large cimbalom. From him, Feraru learned formal harmony and theory, but most of the learning was through observation and imitation of the master musician. Learn more about Nicolae Feraru here. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Feraru)

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