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Voices Fall-Winter, 2002:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read an excerpt of “Salute to North Country Legends: Ten Years of TAUNY’s Heritage Awards” by Jill Breit here.
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Volume 28

Salute to North Country Legends: Ten Years of TAUNY's Heritage Awards

On September 22, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) celebrated the tenth anniversary of the North Country Heritage Awards at its Annual Salute to North Country Legends in Canton. Recipients were a knitter, a rustic furniture maker, a harmonica player, and a Champlain Valley dance band, bringing the total number of North Country Heritage Awards presented over the decade to forty. The salute was a program of music and stories, followed by a public reception for the honorees and audience. We’ve come to expect a certain vibrancy in the event, and this year was no exception. The North Country Heritage Awards program has far exceeded the expectations we had for it at the outset, evolving in ways we hadn’t anticipated...
Photo of Roy Fadden
Ray [Tehanetorens] Fadden, Onchiota, Franklin County, Mohawk elder, teacher, and storyteller. 1993 award winner.
Looking at the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowships and inspired by CityLore’s People’s Hall of Fame, Varick [TAUNY executive director] suggested we bestow awards to recognize those members of our region who had "mastered and conserved a variety of family and community traditions over several generations in the North Country and who actively practice them today"; we would present North Country Heritage Awards each September at an event we would call the Salute to North Country Legends...
Photo of Cecila (Kaienes) Mitchell
Cecilia (Kaienes) Mitchell, Akwesasne, traditional herbalist and medicine woman. 2000 award winner.
On the third Sunday in September we invite family, friends, and the general public to an awards program that includes a mix of entertainment. The choices are carefully made to honor the recipients but always include music; initially, we were reluctant to ask the musicians being honored to "play for their supper," but we’ve come to realize that’s exactly what they want to do. Sometimes there are stories, sometimes readings, sometimes dance, and occasionally a bit of video...
Photo of Donald Woodcock
Donald Woodcock, Kendrew Corners, St. Lawrence County, St. Lawrence river valley dance fiddler. 1997 award winner.
A favorite part of the program for the recipients is the slide show with which I introduce each of them to the audience. From the moment we decided to create the North Country Wall of Fame, we decided that high-quality photography would be a priority for the program. Each year, photographer Martha Cooper has traveled to the North Country to photograph recipients at their homes or studios, in their churches or community halls. We also ask recipients to permit us to copy photos from their family albums, especially those that establish the context of their ongoing involvement in a tradition. In the past few years, Marty has done copy work right on site after she has finished her own shoot so that we do not have to borrow photographs. The slide show is created from her original work and those copied images...
Photo of Carl B. Hathaway
Carl B. Hathaway, Saranac Lake, Franklin County, Adirondack guideboat builder. 1994 award winner.
We consider the entertainment at the salute one more opportunity to showcase traditional talent from our region. One year we recognized the Mohawk basketmakers at Akwesasne and asked the Mohawk Choir of St. Regis Mission Church to offer a sweetgrass smudging ceremony. The women set the sweetgrass afire, creating enough smoke that Varick and I suffered anxious moments expecting the sprinkler system in the auditorium to activate and shower us all. The Brier Hill Fire Department was also being honored that year, for a bullhead supper they put on each spring. They could have jumped into action, but instead they joined the rest of the audience in inhaling the smoke as part of the smudging ceremony—surely unaccustomed behavior for firefighters...
Photo of Brier Hill Volunteer Fire Department
Brier Hill Volunteer Fire Department Bullhead Feed, St. Lawrence County, annual fish fry and public supper. 1994 award winner.
One of the 1998 North Country Heritage Award recipients was Kermit Saxton, an ox driver and storyteller. Varick invited him to tell stories at the Salute, and since I’d only known him to tell stories in small private settings, I worried. Varick laughed. "Just watch," he said. Kermit stood at the lectern and recited poetry in a booming orator’s voice, at the conclusion of which he thanked the audience for "listening to an old ox-driver from Moira." He was rewarded with a standing ovation...
Photo of Kermit E. Saxton
Kermit E. Saxton, Brushton, Franklin County, ox driver and storyteller. 1998 award winner.
Another year, Earl Sprague, builder of ice fishing shanties, was honored. He’s a shy man and warned us that he wouldn’t be able to speak a word when he came forward to accept his award. Not deterred, Varick asked him at the salute whether he had ever seen Champ, Lake Champlain’s very own monster. Before you knew it, Earl was recounting sightings of the monster. When Varick asked him why he thought Champ had not been seen in a while, he responded, "Dunno. Musta drowned."
Photo of James Earl Sprague and Champ
James Earl Sprague, Jr., Port Henry, Essex County, builder of Champ and ice fishing shanties. 2000 award winner.
Following the announcement of selections, Varick extensively documents the honorees. He writes a program booklet, which is distributed to everyone who attends the salute. Over the years, this annual effort has amounted to a virtual survey of traditional activity in northern New York. In addition to the North Country Wall of Fame, which serves well as an introduction to TAUNY for visitors to our gallery, Varick has used North Country Heritage Award material to create a traveling exhibit, a series of radio programs, a permanent interactive exhibit at our gallery, a recording, and a publication...
Photo of Erwin K. Quigley
Erwin K. Quigley, Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, stone wall builder. 2001 award winner.
"Celebrating the customs and creativity of everyday life in northern New York" is one of TAUNY’s slogans. Our primary motivation in presenting North Country Heritage Awards has been to draw attention to those activities of ordinary people who by their efforts contribute to the region’s distinct identity. In this we have been successful.


Jill Breit is assistant director for operations at Traditional Arts of Upstate New York, 53 West Main St., Canton. Currently, she is researching knitting in northern New York, for an exhibit that will open at the TAUNY Gallery on February 8, 2003.

The criterion for selection, created by a committee of folklorists and applied to individuals and groups was “evidence of traditionality, mastery, and creative commitment to their art form over time and a commitment to their community and the teaching of others.”

The full article, that is excerpted here, appeared in Voices Vol. 28, Fall-Winter 2002. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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