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Missouri Folk Arts Highlights 200 Stories In Bicentennial Celebration

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Provided by Missouri Folk Arts
The Missouri Folk Arts program is highlighting more than 150 regional artists, featuring them in stories that explain their mark on Missouri’s cultural fabric.

This year marks 200 years since Missouri's statehood was established. In that time, Missourians have passed family and cultural traditions down from generation to generation. Despite some lost practices, many folk traditions have persisted in that time — and new ones continue to arise.

To commemorate the state’s bicentennial, the Missouri Folk Arts program plans to publish 200 stories throughout the year. The stories will highlight more than 150 regional artists and explain their mark on Missouri’s cultural fabric. Several dozen more stories will focus on traditions and the programs that have sought to preserve them.

The stories are published first to Facebook and then compiled each month into web posts. You can read January’s stories here and February’s here.

Lisa Higgins, Missouri Folk Arts programs director, said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air that folk art stems from traditions passed down in families, organizations like churches and occupations like blacksmithing. Traditions brought to the state by immigrants also continue to influence the region.

Many of the artists highlighted in “200 Stories” aren’t full-time artists but are considered culture bearers in their own communities. Higgins said one of her mentors refers to them as “everyday citizens of genius” — and their contributions run the regional, racial and craft gamut.

“I would say [for] the vast majority of them, these traditions are core to their beings [and are] not necessarily their full-time jobs,” Higgins said. A good portion of the highlighted artists participated in Missouri Folk Arts’ Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, which works to provide master artists and apprentices with funding opportunities.

The program’s featured stories include the following luminaries:

  • Claude "Fiddler" Williams, a jazz violinist and guitarist who recorded and performed into his 90s and was the first guitarist to record with Count Basie.
  • Jennie Cummings, who founded the Cowboy Poetry Festival that ran for about 15 years in Mountain View, Missouri.
  • Lillie Mabel Hall of African American Foodways in St. Louis. She participated in one of the few food apprenticeships with Missouri Folk Arts as a master artist. Her culinary talents include working what some saw as less desirable and throwaway foods into gourmet meals.
  • Gladys Caines Coggswell, an African American storyteller.
  • Mulu Wani, a master “Kore” drummer who teaches a style traditional to the Kuku people of South Sudan.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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