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Meet the Masters of North Country Folklife
a project of TAUNY (Traditional Arts in Upstate New York)

MEET THE MASTERS profiles people who have mastered and conserved a variety of family and community traditions over several generations in the North Country and who actively practice them today. Together, they exemplify a living history of our North Country and a way of life otherwise often difficult to explain.

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Meet the Masters: Paul & Vic Kibler, Fiddler & Pianist, Vails Mills & Plattsburgh

Vic Kibler continues a strong musical tradition in the southern Adirondacks, performing many old-standard jigs, reels, and hornpipes he got from his family. Vic's youngest son, Paul, worked with him in 1992 to produce a collection recognized as an outstanding folk recording by the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Jim & Colleen Cleveland, Ballad Singers, Brant Lake

Jim Cleveland and his daughter Colleen are descendants of Scottish and Irish settlers and sing the traditional ballads of those communities, usually without unaccompaniment. Some of the family's very old ballads have not been collected from any other North American source.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Akwesasne Basketmakers

The traditional basketmakers of the Mohawk nation at Akwesasne are known for fine ash splint and sweetgrass work. Some travel to colleges, museums and international pow-wows to teach and show their craft. Samples of their work are owned by major museums, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Vatican.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Bill Massey, Decoy Carver, Waddington

Bill Massey was one of the last of the traditional St. Lawrence River guides and decoy makers. For more than 70 years, Massey carved countless decoys, both for hunting and for prized decorations. He used no photographs as models; instead he relied on his vast knowledge of St. Lawrence River birds, gained through first-hand contact.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

First celebrated in 1897 as a diversion for tuberculosis patients taking the mountain air "cure," the Saranac Lake Winter Festival includes the construction of an elaborate ice palace, races, snow sculpture, concerts, dinners, dancing, the crowning of royalty and a fireworks display.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Veronica Terrillion, Sculptor, Indian River

Beginning in 1954 with a roadside statue of the Virgin Mary, Veronica Terrillion has created a remarkable thing, a total environment of sculpture on her three-acre homestead in Lewis County. Over 400 images include animals (zebra, deer), religious images (a nativity scene and St. Francis of Assisi), and representations of her family members.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Clarence "Daddy Dick" Richards, Country Music Pioneer, Lake Luzerne

By the age of twelve, Clarence Richards was playing fiddle for local dances in the Corinth area of Saratoga County and substituting for the caller when necessary. Early in his music career, he lost his left hand in a paper mill accident, but within six months he had discovered a way to continue playing. "Daddy Dick" was an early entertainer on Radio WGY in Schenectady. He has performed with many prominent country and bluegrass music stars.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Mohawk Choir of St. Regis

Catholicism has its roots deeps in the history of Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk reservation straddling the St. Lawrence River between the US and Canada, going back to the French Jesuit mission established there in the 1750s. The church choir there preserves a unique tradition of Christian music sung in the Mohawk language, and acts as a bridge between two often discordant cultural traditions.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Ham Ferry, Storyteller, Seveys Corners

Ham Ferry earned the reputation of being an authentic Adirondacker and a consummate storyteller. Ham's Inn, a small bar located at Sevey's Corners near Childwold, was Ferry's natural setting and the spot where he held listeners rapt for hours on end. Much of the material for Ham Ferry's stories came from his life as a woodsman, lumberman, and a wilderness guide.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Edith Cutting, Folklore Collector, Westport

Edith E. Cutting--teacher, author and folklorist--was born in the Essex County town of Lewis, on a small family farm. Encouraged by her college mentor, she interviewed her friends and families and collected examples of their old customs, stories and sayings. Her first collection was published in 1944 as Lore of an Adirondack County.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Don Woodcock, Champion Fiddler

Don Woodcock, a dairyman from Kendrew Corners won the New York Fiddling Championship so often, he was declared grand champion and asked to retire from the competition. He began playing by accompanying his father on piano, and later taught himself a variety of traditional fiddle and dance styles.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Brier Hill Volunteer F.D. Bullhead Feed

The Brier Hill Volunteer Fire Department continues one of the region's oldest community suppers--a bullhead feed. Begun in 1937 as a fundraiser, the bullhead feed is a community-wide social event, with nearly 1000 meals served. An informal master-apprentice system prepares young cooks, who are trusted with the well-guarded "secret recipe" for this regional specialty.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Big Moose Community Church Balsam Bee

As long as 100 years ago, balsam pillows were made and marketed in the Adirondacks to tourists who wanted to take an aromatic reminder of their vacation home with them. This Adirondack tradition is still alive in Big Moose Lake. The Big Moose Community Chapel began holding balsam bees in the 1930s.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: La Famille Ouimet, French American Traditions

The Ouimet family see themselves as preservers of a number of vanishing traditions. They play traditional music in the French American ethnic tradition, and they pass the music on within the family, performing as a family band. Old-style Quebecois rugmaking is among the other talents of this Valley Falls family.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Jim Brabant, 1000 Islands Fishing Guide

Jim Brabant of Clayton is a fifth generation river man and a quintessential 1000 Islands fishing guide. In his teenage years he would hang out with the old guides in the same boathouse where he keeps his boat on French Creek Bay today. Hear him talk about stalking the king of St. Lawrence River Muskies.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Carl Hathaway, Adirondack Guideboat Builder, Saranac Lake

Carl Hathaway of Saranac Lake is a master builder of Adirondack guideboats, which were originally designed, in Carl's words, as "pickup trucks, working boats." Today they are prized as examples of fine woodwork and are featured in many premium museum collections.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Bill Smith, Basketmaker & Storyteller, Colton

Bill Smith is known throughout the Adirondacks and beyond as a master of many traditional arts of the region, including the making of split ash baskets. He also performs and records stories and songs about local life, including his 1994 collection Tales from the Featherbed.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Alice Clemens, Fiddler & Music Historian, Osceola

Alice Clemens of Osceola started fiddling at the age of seven, learning dance tunes from her uncle, Art Colvin. For most of her life, she has played for parties and country dances near home and has collected hundreds of nearly-forgotten tunes from old-time musicians. Alice co-founded the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame, which maintains an extensive archive and sponsors fiddling events each year.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Roger Huntley, Farm and Household Auctioneer

Roger Huntley of Crary Mills has been an auctioneer since the late 1950s. The sixth generation of his family to operate their 300-acre dairy farm in the town of Pierrepont, Roger knows country things and country people. He still conducts the premier old-time sales in the northern Adirondack foothills and St. Lawrence Valley.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: The Hollis Family

The Hollis family lives along the shore of the St. Lawrence River in Red Mills, New York. Along with a generations-old passion for fishing and hunting, the family is known for their popular handbuilt wooden "Hollis punts" and for superbly carved duck decoys.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Bea Reynolds, Grand Champion Cook

Bea Reynolds of Burke has always been well known to her family, church, and community as a special home maker. Helping feed a big family, she learned early from her mother. Bea began in 1985 to enter breads, doughnuts, rolls, cookies, cakes, canned vegetables, fruit, pickles, and pies at the Franklin County Fair in Malone. She came away the Grand Champion Cook.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Norwood Brass Firemen, Community Brass Band

The Volunteer Fire Department Band of Norwood (more familiar to many as the Norwood Brass Firemen) dates back to the late nineteenth century. Varying over the years from eight to twenty four members, they have played at everything from local celebrations to presidential inaugurations and the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Beaver Camp Auction, Mennonite Traditions, Lowville

Each June since 1973, The Adirondack Mennonite Camping Association has presented the Beaver Camp Auction at the Lewis County fairgrounds, featuring traditional quilts made by local sewing circles. Handmade furniture and crafts, antiques, plants, and even firewood are auctioned all day. In addition, the event offers a vast array of traditional foods.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Ray Fadden, Mohawk Elder, Onchiota

In the 1940s, Ray Fadden [Tehanetorens] began to teach young Mohawks about their own culture. With a group of young men from the reservation, he traveled to collect information about Mohawk history and trained them in woodsmanship and other traditional arts. Fadden later founded the Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota, where an impressive collection of historical Iroquois artifacts are exhibited.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Altar / Rosary Society of St. Anthony's Church, Watertown

Generations of women have been responsible for the perpetuation of religious and ethnic customs among Watertown's Italian Americans. Ida Jane Alteri recalls the procession for the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel through the old Italian section of Watertown.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: The Redford Carousel

In a corrugated metal shed 60 yards from the Church of the Assumption in Redford, New York sits one of the few early merry-go-rounds or carousels made by the Armitage-Hershell company that is still in operation. No one can say precisely how or when it ended up in Redford. It only operates two days out of the year but it is a part of the life of this community and brings the generations together. Lamar Bliss reports.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: The Redford Picnic

Redford, New York is a tiny blip on the map today but, like many Adirondack towns, it has been through periods of boom and bust. During a boom time, in the mid 1800s the Roman Catholics came together and built a church which was consecrated on August 15, 1855. Ever since then parishioners take a day in August to get together for the Redford Picnic. The event has become a fundraiser for the church and parochial school, but for the families that have been attending for generation after generation it is much more. Lamar Bliss attended last year's picnic.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Tupper Lake Synagogue

The Jewish Synagogue in Tupper Lake had been closed up for decades when a summer resident asked to take a look inside. What she found was a national treasure and she did the work to get it recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Long-time residents whose fathers had built the structure came together with others to restore it for their community. It's the story of one building and four women. Lamar Bliss reports.  Go to full article
Earl Sprague, with a replica of Champ.
Earl Sprague, with a replica of Champ.

Meet the Masters: Earl Sprague and Champ, the Lake Champlain Monster

How does a town go about claiming a sea monster as a resident? It helps if you have a woodworker with a workshop, especially if the woodworker has seen Champ, the Lake Champlain Monster. Earl Sprague helped the Port Henry Chamber of Commerce give a shape to the seldom-seen monster and he tells us all about seeing Champ and about some of the adventures his plywood Champs have had. Lamar Bliss reports.  Go to full article

Meet The Masters: The Hammond Fair

Meet the Masters takes you to a small-town agricultural fair held in Hammond each September. There are chickens, sheep, cows, horses, geese, rabbits, kids and young farmers; an egg toss, a pie-eating contest, the chicken barbeque--all a part of celebrating the town's farming heritage. Lamar Bliss reports.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Fran Betters, Fly-Tyer

Anyone with an eye for beauty can appreciate the sight of a well-tied fishing fly. A little piece of feather here, a bit of fur there all to lure in the hungry trout. Where did these designs come from? Do they work? Fran Betters of Wilmington has spent years studying the insects he's imitating when he constructs an Ausable Wulff fly, one of the many successful flys he's designed. Lamar Bliss reports.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Fran Betters, Guide and Teacher

If you want to have a successful fly-fishing trip to the Ausable River, you might want to stop in at the Adirondack Sport shop just outside of Wilmington. Francis Betters will be there and he'll know what insects are hatching, and near which rocks the biggest fish are waiting. He's been fishing this river since he was a boy, and he knows each rapid and pool. He's also learned that there's more to fishing than fishing. Lamar Bliss has this Meet the Masters profile.  Go to full article
Don Perkins was a recent visitor to the NCPR studio.
Don Perkins was a recent visitor to the NCPR studio.

Meet the Masters: The Perkins Family Band

Meet the Perkins Family from Plattsburgh. Lois Perkins is now in her 90s and has passed the love of music and dancing she gained from her father and her husband on to her children and grandchildren. The family band plays the fiddle music Lois loved as a child and lots of bluegrass tunes for festivals and other gatherings. Lamar Bliss introduces us to this musical family.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Harmonica Man Fred V. Higby

Fred V. Higby plays the harmonica. He figured out how to play when he was 10, played it all over Europe during World War II, and he still plays as often as he has the opportunity. It isn't simply playing the harmonica that he loves, it's performing. It's getting people excited about the music he plays, about making them feel happy. Music will do that. Just ask Fred. Lamar Bliss has this story.  Go to full article
Martha Cooper photo
Martha Cooper photo

Meet the Masters: Storyteller Catherine Charron

Long before Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg, before videos and TVs, storytelling happened the old fashioned way; one person sat down with another and talked. Catherine Charron grew up near Lake Champlain in a household full of storytellers. Lamar Bliss reports for Traditional Arts in Upstate New York about Charron's family and where Catherine is telling stories now.  Go to full article
Barb Klemens
Barb Klemens

Meet the Masters: Barbara Klemens and The Yarn Shop

For more than 50 years, Canton has been home to Barb Klemens and the Yarn Shop on Church Street. If you want to work with interesting yarns and need anything from needles to row markers or help with a button hole Barb's shop is the place to go. Lamar Bliss knows this from experience. 30 years ago she stopped in the shop for yarn in what was the first of many visits.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Earl Sprague and Ice Fishing

The village limits of Port Henry expand towards Vermont in the depths of winter to include scores of little fishing shelters that dot the thick ice surface of Bulwagga Bay. On weekends, local motels and restaurants are filled by winter fishermen. Sportsmen give a boost to the local economy, but 50 years ago, commercial fishing in the winter was common. Earl Sprague remembers when ice fishing provided pocket money for him, and a living for others. Varick Chittenden has this story.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Quilter Genevieve Sutter

Quilting was long considered a salvage craft, with homemakers using scraps of fabric from old clothes and leftover material to create warm blankets and bedcovers. The quilts were colorful and well made and most quilters used traditional patterns learned from family and friends. Well, it's not your grandmothers' quilts anymore! Many of today's quilt makers use old patterns for inspiration, but don't let them get in the way of creative expression. Lamar Bliss visited the biennial Raquette River Quilters' show and also spoke with one of its founding spirits.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Rustic Furniture Maker Tom Phillips

More than a hundred years ago when great camps were being built for families like the Rockefellers and the Durants, many of the furnishings were designed to bring the woods indoors. Chairs, tables, dressers and beds featured tree branches and limbs in their construction and twigs and bark were applied decoratively to the outside surfaces. The style was known as rustic or Adirondack. Today, prized antique pieces are displayed at museums and in lodges, where visitors are inspired to furnish their camps to evoke life in the woods. As Lamar Bliss reports, craftsmen like Tom Phillips of Tupper Lake now make a good living and practice an ancient art at the same time.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Cecelia Mitchell, Medicine Woman

Her kids tell her they think she's a mountain goat. She just laughs and says she's built close to the ground. Being able to climb hills and scramble through brush allows Cecelia Mitchell to find the wild plants she uses for medicine. Lamar Bliss introduces us to this Mohawk elder from Akwesasne who is widely known as a healer and teacher.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: A Medicine Walk in the Woods

Recent surveys show that more people use complementary and alternative medicine than ever before. Talk about acupuncture, massage therapy, aromatherapy and herbal preparations fills popular magazines and television talk shows. For generations, the only medicines used by Mohawk healers came from their knowledge of the plants and animals they lived with. Varick Chittenden and Lamar Bliss spent a late afternoon exploring a woods near Akwesasne in Franklin county with one such healer.  Go to full article

Meet the Masters: Inlay Artist Dave Nichols

Tune into the Nashville Network, the country music version of MTV, and check out some of the guitars played by the superstars. If there's a close-up, look at the inlay work on the fingerboard or on the pick guard. All of the customized work you see was done in a shop in Whippleville, a few miles south of Malone. Besides the custom work for Martin and Gibson Guitar companies Dave Nichols builds guitars and mandolins and happily teaches others to do so. Lamar Bliss has the story for Meet the Masters.  Go to full article

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The Project

This ongoing project is the work of Traditional Arts in Upstate New York [TAUNY], an organization devoted to recording and presenting the rich living heritage of customs and folk arts in the fourteen counties of New York's North Country. North Country Public Radio has partnered with TAUNY to produce a companion radio series, audio excerpts of which can be found on each "Master's" page. NCPR Online adds to this a rich mix of TAUNY archive photos, audios, videos and text.

Funding for the second Meet the Masters series is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, the New York Council for the Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and TAUNY.

NEA logoThe first Meet the Masters series and related public programs have been made possible with a grant from the Folk & Traditional Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support for research from The Sweetgrass Foundation, the Niagara Mohawk Foundation, and contributions by TAUNY members.