South Dakota Arts Council (Pierre, SD)

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Craftsman at work

Apprentice Arne Bortnem of Sioux Falls carves a Norwegian acnthus leaf clock. Arner studied with carver Stan Fillingsness of Canton as part of the South Dakota Arts Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program. Photo by Andre Graham, South Dakota Arts Council

South Dakota is home to a number of different cultural communities, including Czech, Norwegian, German, Russian, Hispanic, and Native American. Through its Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program, the South Dakota Arts Council, which was supported by an NEA Folk and Traditional Arts Infrastructure Initiative grant of $25,000 in FY 2003, helps folk artists in all of these communities continue practicing their traditional arts. Apprentices and masters are supported for one-year periods while they work with a traditional art or craft.

This year, five apprenticeships were awarded. Tilda St. Pierre, a member of the Lakota tribe, taught several traditional art forms, including beadwork, doll making, and quillwork to another member of the tribe, Stephanie Sorbel. Don Green, a member of a local woodcarving club, trained three members of his club in the localized practice of carving canes out of diamond willow branches.

Diane Fields taught her daughter the Scandinavian tradition of nalbinding, or making rugs out of old strips of cloth, which she had learned from her grandmother as a child. LeRoy Graber and his apprentice, his son Kim, made traditional German-Russian willow baskets, and even planted several new willow trees so that they continue the practice of their Mennonite forefathers. Lastly, Norwegian woodcarver Stan Fillingsness trained Arnold Bortnem, and together they carved kubbestols, mangletrees, spoons, clocks, and chairs.

The pieces produced by these partnerships were put on display as part of the exhibition Links in a Chain: The Continuity of Tradition at the South Dakota Art Museum. Several of the artists came to the museum and also demonstrated their art form for visitors and put on special programs for local students.

(From the 2003 NEA Annual Report)