Dress to Express: National Heritage Fellows’ Portraits

These portraits portray artists who have mastered their art forms through years of study with elders and family members and have received the NEA National Heritage Fellows award. They are also active teachers of their traditions. Click on an image to learn more about these master artists through life-sized photographs by folklorist and photographer Alan Govenar. Use these portraits and our Local Learning portrait worksheet in the classroom. Choose images to show students and save them without the bios so students can “read” them as text and address cultural assumptions.

Although cultural groups different from our own may appear exotic or hard to understand, all cultural groups share common ways of life that call for ritual, celebration, custom, music, crafts, dance, food, stories and special language–in other words, folklore.

After examining Heritage Fellows’ portraits, assign students to identify and photograph a local master of traditional culture. Ask students to think about traditions in your community and who practices them, for example, a relative who is a great cook; a traditional musician, dancer, or crafts person who teaches others; or a young person who is expert at skateboarding, hand clapping games, or a hobby. After they identify masters, invite them to pose for a photograph. Ask them to wear clothing and bring objects that relate to their tradition. Help students plan an appropriate background (a black, gray, or white wall works well) with good lighting. Use the Local Learning Release Form so that you may publish the portrait on a in a classroom exhibit or school website. Be sure to send a copy to the master artist. Have students write an exhibit label describing the artists, the art form, and the dress and adornment they chose to wear.

Visit Master of Traditional Arts to see audio, video, artist bios, and a full Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide co-authored by Local Learning Director Paddy Bowman.

Alan Govenar is director of Documentary Arts in Dallas and New York City

The Local Learning National Heritage Fellows Curricula are supported in part with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts

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