Maryland Traditions Announces Recipients of 2017 Maryland Traditions Heritage Awards

By September 26, 2017News

Maryland Traditions, the folklife program of the Maryland State Arts Council, is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 Maryland Traditions Heritage Awards, an honor given each year to three of Maryland’s outstanding stewards of folklife, or living cultural traditions.

The recipients are: in the category of person, documentary story quilter Joan M.E. Gaither of Anne Arundel County; in the category of place, the Baltimore American Indian Center; and in the category of tradition, the Deal Island Skipjack Races and Festival. Each recipient will be recognized in a ceremony at the Proscenium Theatre on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 2.

“The Maryland Traditions Heritage Awards are the state’s highest honor for those who teach, practice, or steward our living cultural traditions,” said Maryland Traditions Director Chad Edward Buterbaugh. “By taking time to recognize the people, places, and practices that are vital to Maryland folklife, we also celebrate the diversity that makes Maryland such a unique place to live.”

For more information, contact Buterbaugh at (410) 767-6450 or; or visit the Maryland Traditions Heritage Awards Facebook event at Free, reserved tickets will be available soon, so check back often. The ceremony will conclude with a country blues concert by the Phil Wiggins Blues House Party. Bandleader and harmonica player Wiggins, of Montgomery County, is the recipient of a 2017 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

Photo caption: Skipjacks in the water on the morning of this year’s 58th Annual Skipjack Races & Festival in Somerset County. Photo by Edwin Remsberg Photographs.

2017 Maryland Traditions Heritage Awards recipients

PERSON: Joan Gaither has covered Maryland in the intricate patterns and rich colors of her story quilts, which draw on the tradition of documenting history and heritage through quilting. Her work, which typically highlights the state’s African-American communities, has captured the narratives of the black watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, the hard legacy of slavery and its abolition through Article 24 of the state’s third constitutional convention in 1864, and the earliest grasps for educational equality through the Rosenwald School program, which served black students during the Jim Crow era. Central to Joan’s work is her desire to share her talents with others. Almost 1,000 people from every Maryland county and Baltimore City have learned from Joan, who has emerged as an important bearer of the story quilting tradition.

PLACE: The Baltimore American Indian Center (BAIC) has stood the test of time in Upper Fells Point. Originally founded in 1968 as the American Indian Study Center, it once primarily served as a resettlement resource for Indians who had migrated to the city seeking employment. Linda Cox, a daughter of one of the founders of the BAIC, says, “The Center was created to give us a place like home so we could stay connected and keep our culture alive.” Today, members of Baltimore’s American Indian community have, for the most part, relocated to areas outside of the neighborhood immediately surrounding the BAIC—a neighborhood that had at one time been popularly referred to as “the reservation.” The BAIC now functions as a cultural magnet that draws this dispersed community back in. Offering weekly culture classes, annual pow wows, a full-fledged community museum, a multipurpose meeting space and more, the BAIC continuously sustains the living cultural traditions of American Indians and Alaskan Natives of the Baltimore region.

TRADITION: The skipjack is the symbol of maritime Maryland’s traditional fishing economy. For more than a century, this wind-powered vessel, built heavy and wide to float on the gentle waves of the Chesapeake Bay, has represented the crabbing and oystering trades that have dwindled with natural and human-made environmental changes. On Deal Island, the local Lions Club has commemorated the maritime heritage of the Eastern Shore with its annual Skipjack Races and Festival, now in its 58th year. Every Labor Day weekend, skipjacks and their captains return to the island to race out of the harbor and through a marked course in Tangier Sound. The race is the focal point of a weekend of events that includes a blessing of the fleet for safety and a bountiful harvest, a boat docking contest, and a fishing tournament, all of which commemorate the traditional lifeways associated with Maryland’s maritime culture.