Virginia Folklife Program

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Master & Apprentice Program


Master Artist: Gerald Anderson
Apprentice: : Spencer Strickland
County: Grayson
Folkway: Mandolin Building

The Mandolin is a stringed instrument with historical ties to the Italian lute, introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants in the 19th century. Bill Monroe raised the mandolin to unprecedented popularity, featuring the instrument as a cornerstone of his newly created country-old time hybrid, Bluegrass. Southwest Virginia has always had a rich tradition of “luthiers” – the builders of stringed instruments, and Gerald Anderson, shop-partner of National Heritage Fellow Wayne Henderson, is considered among today’s true masters. His mandolins are coveted for their intricate handiwork by musicians throughout the world. Gerald’s young apprentice, Spencer Strickland, is one of the region’s finest mandolin players, having just won the distinction of “Best All-Around Performer” at the 2004 Galax Fiddlers Convention.

Listen to the VFH Radio story on Mandolin Making:

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Master Artist: Patrick Olwell
Apprentice: Aaron Olwell
County: Nelson
Folkway: Irish Flute Making

While the flute has long played an important role in traditional Irish music, the practice of making flutes specifically for Irish music is relatively new. Previously, Irish musicians used flutes primarily designed for the classical tradition. This began to change in the late 1970s, as several masters began to design wooden flutes specifically for Irish music. Among these pioneering masters is Patrick Olwell. Today his flutes are much coveted and played by some of Ireland’s finest musicians, including Seamus Egan, Matt Malloy, and the late Frankie Kennedy. Patrick has worked with numerous students, but none have shown the dedication of his apprentice, son Aaron Olwell.

Listen to the VFH Radio story on Flute Making:

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Master Artist: Mike Seeger
Apprentice: Seth Swingle
County: Rockbridge
Folkway: Old Time Banjo

Though not originally from Virginia, Mike Seeger has devoted his life to singing, playing, and documenting the Old Time Music of the Appalachian Mountains. Over the years, Mike has absorbed traditional styles of music through direct association with master traditional musicians such as Elizabeth Cotten, Maybelle Carter, Dock Boggs, and many others. He is a founding member of the vanguard old time string band the New Lost City Ramblers, which was formed in 1958. He has long been one of the area’s most beloved musicians, and this past year he was honored with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the National Folk Alliance. His apprentice, Seth Swingle, is a promising banjoist in his own right.

Master Artist: Mary Beery
Apprentices: Mollie Beery and Joan Knight
County: Rockingham
Folkway: Shenandoah Valley Quilting

The Mennonites established their first settlement in the Shenandoah Valley around 1727, and were well established in the region by the 1780s. They remain a vibrant close-knit culture in the region, maintaining traditional customs associated with work, travel, dress, and worship. The Old Order Mennonites practice numerous folk crafts, most notably the art of quilting. While her religious beliefs deter her from drawing attention to herself, Mary Beery has for many years been regarded by her peers as one of the true masters of the often overlooked Mennonite quilting tradition. Mary will be working with two apprentices: her niece, Mollie Beery, and Virginia Quilt Museum Director, Joan Knight.

Master Artist: Broto Roy
Apprentice: Sunil Chugh
County: Arlington
Folkway: Tabla Drumming

Broto Roy is a master of the 5,000-year-old tradition of tabla drumming of India. The tabla is composed of two drums, one made of wood and the other of metal. At the age of five, Broto studied with numerous tabla masters, including the great Bidyut Banerjee of Calcutta. Broto has been teaching privately and publicly for the last 25 years. Broto hopes to reconnect his apprentice, second generation immigrant Sunil Chugh, to the musical culture of India through the study of Indian anthropomorphic compositions.

Listen to the VFH Radio story on Tabla Drumming:

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Master Artist: Norman Amos
Apprentice: John Buck
County: Pittsylvania
Folkway: Snake Cane Carving

Snake Cane Carving is found in cultures throughout the world. It has a particularly rich history in the southern Appalachia. The process begins when a vine wraps itself around a tree branch and fuses to it, ultimately causing the branch to die and fall. The result is a wooden stick with a tightly coiled pattern on it. Retired tobacco farmer and mail carrier Norman Amos of Pittsylvania County stands as the greatest living master of this cherished craft. He recently achieved his lifelong goal of carving one cane for every species of snake indigenous to Virginia. Norman will teach the art of snake cane carving to his apprentice, renowned gunsmith and woodworker John Buck.

Master Artist: Ofosuwa Abiola-Tamba
Apprentice: Monica James
County: Newport News
Folkway: Traditional African Dance

Interest in the teaching and learning of West African dance styles emerged as an integral part of the civil rights and black pride movements throughout the country, including several metropolitan areas of Virginia. Ofosuwa Abiola-Tamba has studied traditional African dance for 40 years, articulating African culture through the story of the dance and music. She has taught thousands of students in a variety of settings, and currently directs the Suwabi African Dance Ballet in the Hampton Roads area. Most recently, Ofosuwa and her apprentice, Monica James, traveled to Gambia to learn dances from the Jola Culture.

Master Artist: Brenda Joyce
Apprentice: Shannon Joyce
County: Patrick
Folkway: Flat Footing

Flatfooting, a kind of old time dance associated with traditional stringband music, is quite distinct from its closest cousin, clogging, and its various styles are often closely associated with specific geographic regions. The small town of Stuart, in Patrick County, has long been revered as a “hotbed” of flatfooters. Brenda Joyce grew up around flatfooting, and the countless blue ribbons won by her father, the late local legend Hoy Haden. While Brenda does not care to compete in flatfooting competitions, she did, with the urging of her father, enter the prestigious flatfooting contest at the 2003 Galax Fiddlers Convention, and took home first prize. Brenda will be sharing her passion and skills with her daughter Shannon Joyce.

Listen to the VFH Radio story on Flatfooting:

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Master Artist: Clyde Jenkins
Apprentice: Sam Cave
County: Page
Folkway: White Oak Basket Making

The traditional skill of making baskets from white oak is hundreds of years old, and involves an in-depth study of the grain structure of the tree. Each white oak tree behaves differently, so basket makers must work with hundreds of trees to gain an intimate understanding of the nuances of the wood. Master artist Clyde Jenkins grew up in one of the old Homesteads in the Shenandoah Mountains, learning this unique craft from various community members. Jenkins is respected as one of the most prolific teachers of this craft, and he is excited to devote extensive time to his apprentice, Sam Cave.