Programs & Activities: Talkers & Tellers

Talkers and Tellers Programs

Sharing stories is a part of nearly everyone’s daily life. Through the listening to and telling and retelling of events, real or unreal, we build and reinforce communities and traditional knowledge. In every group, individuals are recognized for their special skills in telling stories and jokes, such as language, timing, and body language. Their artistry often distinguishes them as “talkers and tellers.”

At the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Talkers and Tellers programs are scheduled primarily on the Legacy Stage, click here for a schedule. The traditions of Michigan’s cultures and regions are reinforced through The Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. With support from this program, master artists teach their traditions to apprentices, thereby reinforcing the tradition and assuring a legacy for future generations. At the Great Lakes Folk Festival, master artists and their apprentices talk about their traditions and their role in their communities. They also demonstrate the traditions.

The “Talkers and Tellers” programs are supported, in part, by the Michigan Humanities Council.

Karin Arneson
Swedish nyckelharpa
Karin Arneson was an apprentice of Bruce Sagan, the respected fiddler and nyckelharpa musician of Swedish traditional music. The nyckelharpa (key fiddle) arrived in this country with immigrants from Sweden in the late 1880s and it is closely associated with Swedish and Swedish American folk music.

Karin Arneson is proud of her Swedish heritage and she has traveled extensively to Sweden. In the Midwest, she is actively involved with several Scandinavian groups and frequently plays the nyckelharpa in music groups at various Swedish societal events and Scandinavian festivals. Karin acquired her own nyckelharpa and began to learn to play it in 1993 at a week-long music camp where she worked with Bruce Sagan. Supported by the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, they again worked together in 1999. Karin expanded her repertoire of Swedish music and sharped her performance skills. Since then Karin has continued to play the nyckelharpa at events all over the United States and to hone her skills.

Anna Crampton
Black ash basketmaker
Born in 1927 and raised in Rosebush, Anna Crampton (Saginaw Chippewa/Grand River Ottawa) is a highly respected and enrolled member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. She is a regular participant in pow wows and other Native American cultural and social events.

Anna learned basketmaking primarily from her parents, Michael and Eliza Jane Peters Neyome. In turn, Eliza learned from her mother and grandmother, who also were basketmakers. All of Anna’s brothers and sisters knew how to weave baskets, and the women her brothers married also learned from Anna’s mother. Anna spends much of her time demonstrating the art of black ash basketweaving. In her teaching, she practices the same techniques and styles used by both her mother and grandmother. Three of Anna’s children also learned to make baskets from her. For years, Anna’s husband, John, has assisted by pounding the ash and accompanying Anna to basketmaking events. Anna’s basketweaving is highly praised throughout Michigan. She was awarded a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship in 1991, and she continues to share her expertise with others. She remains involved in the artistic traditions of her Native heritage, attempting to maintain and perpetuate them by teaching young people, and demonstrates her basket making skills at the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival. Anna received the Michigan Heritage Award in 1998.

Richard Keller
Harbor Springs
Quill work artist
Richard Keller (b. 1959), a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa, is a traditional quill worker. He learned the art of making porcupine-quill-decorated birch bark boxes from his parents, Walter and Marcella Keller. Although he helped them, he does not remember making a box by himself until he was 15. Some of his fondest memories are watching his parents, older brothers, and grandmother puling quills, collecting bark, and gathering sweet grass.

When Keller was 34 and a tree trimmer by trade, he began to make boxes in earnest, gathering all the supplies in the woods and marshes. Most of his designs are based on pictures or natural objects, but some designs simply spring from his imagination. Now quite prolific, he makes as many as 60 quill boxes a year. He sells to individual collectors, gift shops, museum stores, and to American Spoon Foods, an international company based in Petoskey. In addition to making quill boxes, Keller enjoys hunting, trapping, carving antler bone, making drums, and tanning hides. As a recipient of a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship award in 1997, 1998, and 1999, he has passed on his quill box making knowledge to other tribal members, and he has demonstrated his traditional skills at a number of events, including the Festival of Michigan Folklife.

Wilho Kilpela
Finnish-style accordion player
The western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the region surrounding western Lake Superior, has the largest concentration of people of Finnish descent in the United States, and Finnish American music has been and continues to be a prominent component of the region’s cultural life.

Wilho Kilpela (b. 1935) was raised on a small farm in a Finnish community near Aura, Michigan. As a nine-year-old he was already singing popular tunes to crowds at the Aura Hall. When his sister gave up on her accordion, Wil, who had a good ear, took it up, practicing on it relentlessly. Although his father played a few tunes on the accordion, Wil actually picked up styling and tunes by hanging around and playing with local musicians and listening closely to musicians who traveled through, such as Viola Turpeinen, the famous Finnish-American accordionist, who provided him great inspiration. He also credits other musical greats, such as the polka virtuoso Frank Yankovic, as having influence on his playing. He has been playing steadily since age 15 and especially since his retirement as a civil engineer. He favors Finnish tunes and is a very skilled player, able to perform rapid-fire polkas and mournful minor key waltzes with precision and feeling. Wil sometimes plays by himself but more often in a small combo or with a full band.

In 2002 and 2003 Wilho has received a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship to mentor the Finnish-American vocalist Tanya Stanaway. Their apprenticeship has had a positive affect on the Finnish American scene in the Upper Peninsula. Wil demonstrates the Finnish-style accordion and Finnish-American music at the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival.

D.J. Krogol
Great Highland bagpiper
D.J. (b. 1949) grew up in an environment where the pipes were always played at family get-togethers. He began to play the Great Highland bagpipes at age seven when he joined the St. Andrews Junior Pipe Band, sponsored by the St. Andrews Society in Detroit. He continued his study during his youth with noted piper Walter Rose. From this beginning, he has become a master piper and committed to the preservation of the traditional music of the Scottish pipes.

D.J. has shared bagpipes, which he regards an essential element of Scottish culture, through many venues, playing at weddings, funerals, christenings, and anniversaries throughout the Scottish-American local communities. He has been his clan’s piper since the age of ten, playing for clan reunions and other gatherings.

A committed performer with a firm and consistent command of the instrument’s technique, D.J.’s virtuosity and skill are revealed in his mastery of more than 80 difficult grace note combinations. Few pipers have reached D.J.’s level of proficiency. In addition, he is a dedicated teacher. Instruction on bagpipes remains primarily an oral tradition, passed on from master to pupil. Beginning at age 20, D.J. actively engaged students and reached out to community groups across Michigan. In 1995 and 2002 he was awarded Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants to further this tradition in Michigan. In 1995, D.J. was honored with a Michigan Heritage Award for his skill as a Great Highland bagpiper and his dedication to the preservation of this musical form through performances and other teaching opportunities. D.J and apprentice, Derek Spencer, demonstrate bagpipes at the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival.

Fr. Czeslaw Krysa
Orchard Lake
Pisanki (Polish egg writer)
Fr. Czeslaw Krysa (b. 1954) is a skilled practitioner of pisanki, the wax-resist technique of “writing” Polish Easter eggs, and he is recognized and respected as an exceptional artist.

Fr. Krysa learned the batik method of egg ornamentation from his father. Each year his father would decorate eggs on the Friday and Saturday before Easter and tell and retell stories of his Aunt Stanislawa Paul in Poland, who annually made more than 60 pisanki to give to friends and neighbors. As a young man Fr. Krysa traveled with his father to Poland and was inspired to learn as much as he could about the traditions and designs related to pisanki. Since that memorable trip, he has dedicated himself to teaching and sharing his knowledge and skills with members of the Polish-American community.

In 1993 Fr. Krysa received a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship to teach pisanki to Catherine Gyzywaca. Currently, with another award from the apprenticeship program, he is working with apprentice Susan Tipton to broaden her skills and knowledge regarding pisanki. Fr. Krysa’s efforts have reinforced and revitalized Polish American traditions and inspired pride in Polish heritage. In 1994 Fr. Krysa was honored with a Michigan Heritage Award as an outstanding bearer of Polish-American traditions, a promoter of traditional Polish art, and a cultural leader in the Polish-American community.

Both Fr. Krysa and Susan demonstrate their work and talk about their apprenticeship at the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival.

Edward Lauluma
Finnish-style fiddle
Ed Lauluma (b. 1921) was raised on a 460-acre farm in Chassell and has had his own electrical appliance repair business since 1967. Because of the large, dense Finnish American population, this area of the Upper Peninsula is called the “sauna belt.” Finnish American culture is prominent even today, but while Ed was growing up, it was even more so. He grew up in a strong music-oriented family. His father made fiddles during the winter months as a “hobby,” and an uncle, who was a professional violinist, taught Ed to play the violin. Although his skills include American square dance and ballroom dance music, Ed is known throughout the western Upper Peninsula as a Finnish American fiddle player. He has performed at numerous community dances and festivals in the Midwest and Finland, including FinnFest, the American Festival of Folklife, and the Festival of Michigan Folklife. Ed is a featured player on the recording “Children of the Finnish Immigrant,” which received recognition in 1991 from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center as a folk recording of special merit. He has also recorded under the name “RFD North” with Ray and Vi Wiitala.

In 2003 Ed was awarded a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant to teach some of his extensive Finnish and Finnish American traditional repertoire and Finnish-style of fiddle to Kelly Sevanto.

Lorri Oikarinen
Rug braider
Lorri Oikarinen (b. 1955, nee Baron) has a life-long interest in traditional home arts and textiles. She is an energetic, talented textile artist with specializations in quilt making, rag rug and other weaving, braided 5- and 7-strand carpets, and spinning. She has a degree from Michigan State University in clothing and textiles and has taught quilting through a variety of local programs. Lorri is active in local historical preservation efforts, which includes learning and passing on local traditions to insure their viability for future generations.

In 1990 and 1993, Lorri apprenticed with one of the foremost Finnish-American tradition bearers, Anna Lassila, whose braided rugs are legendary. Anna taught Lorri to braid 5- and 7-strand carpets, using fabric from old woolen coats. In the intended spirit of the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Lorri has since mentored several local women in the art of braided carpets, passing on the knowledge and skills she acquired from Anna. In 2000 and 2001, she taught her apprentices Carol Saari, Vivian Huotari, and Cynthia Miller. Both Vivian and Cynthia are relatives of Anna, who passed away before they were able to learn enough about making rugs from her. Lorri, fortunately, is committed to sharing Anna’s legacy.
Lorri and Anna demonstrated rug braiding at the 1993 Festival of Michigan Folklife and rag rug braiding and weaving at the 1996 FinnFest, the annual international gathering of Finnish Americans. Lorri with her apprentices, Carol Saari and Vivian Huotari along with Anna, demonstrated at the Midwest Rural Arts and Culture forum in 2000. At the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival, Lorri will participate again with Carol Saari and Vivian Huotari.

Ronald J. Paquin
Sault Ste. Marie
Birch bark canoe maker
Ronald J. Paquin (b. 1942) is a proud member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians. Although only in his 50s, he is known as a traditionalist and preserver of traditional skills. He believes he has a responsibility to teach others of his tribe about their heritage and he has devoted himself to teaching family and community members a variety of Ojibwa traditions. Besides being a gifted storyteller and noteworthy fisherman, Ron makes birch bark containers, antler and bone carvings, knives, cedar and deer hide drums, porcupine quill boxes, beadwork, black ash baskets, fishing nets, and birch bark canoes.

Canoes are important to Ojibwa history and Ron is committed to their perpetuation in Ojibwa culture. Years ago, when Ron first realized he wanted to make canoes, his uncle deemed it impractical for him to make canoes because “tourists weren’t interested in buying them.” However, as he watched the masters of this craft die, Ron knew if he didn’t learn, there wouldn’t be anyone left to teach subsequent generations. He worked with family and tribal members to learn carpentry skills and the gathering and processing of materials, and he talked with elders to “learn bits and pieces.” He also studied older canoes and occasionally he turned to books. By 2003 he has made some 12 canoes, about one a year. Ron often involves community youth and adults in his canoe-making projects; males do the actual building and women do the sewing. He has also made canoes in schools with students. In 2003 Ron was awarded a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship with his apprentice, Cecil Pavlat, Sr., also a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, to make a birch bark canoe.

John Perona
Bones and spoon player
John Perona (b. 1920) has been a farmer, laborer, custodian, and always a musician. He is regarded a virtuoso on the concertina, accordion, violin, mandolin and guitar, instruments on which he has played old-time dance music for Italians, Finns, Slovenians, and Croatians at local house parties and community dances for more than 60 years. Locals refer to him as “a one-man Yooper multiethnic festival.” It is his mastery, repertoire, and performance style with bones and spoons, however, that is most widely appreciated. Randy Seppala, Johhny’s apprentice on bones and spoons (2001 and 2003) said of Johnny, “He just may be the greatest bones and spoons player in the country. He is certainly a great master, playing with an intensity and technical precision unequaled by anyone I am aware of.”

Johnny’s introduction to the bones and spoons began in 1948. He was playing his concertina in a local tavern that a bones and spoons player often frequented, playing to the music of the jukebox and to Johnny’s concertina for drinks. He showed Johnny how to hold the spoons, but fearing competition, he did not encourage Johnny to continue. Johnny, however, has mastered these instruments. Besides his apprenticeship awards to teach bones and spoons, Johnny was honored with a Michigan Heritage Award in 2002 for his bones playing. He demonstrates his skills on bones and spoons at the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival.

Ashoka Rao
Swartz Creek
Kathak (North Indian dance) artist
Ashoka Rao is a master of kathak, a traditional form of North Indian dance. She was born in Bombay, India, in 1948. At the age of four, she began instruction in dance and has worked with some of the great dance masters of India, including Guru Mahalingam Pillai in the Bharata Natyam classical dance form and Guru Lacchu Maharaj and Guru Birju Maharaj in Kathak dance. She has performed dance-dramas and recitals throughout India where she was recognized for her artistry with numerous awards. She came to Michigan in 1975 and continues to teach classical and folk dance of India to children.

While dancing kathak, the dancer recites a short composition of rhythmic syllables known as tukdas. Misconception about kathak, coupled with lack of teachers, has resulted in its near extinction in Michigan. Ashoka Rao strives to generate greater audience awareness and respect for this art form. She has regular dance students from the community who receive training to participate in her dance productions. Since 1995 Ashoka has received 5 Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship awards, during which time she and her students have successfully raised audience respect for kathak. In 2003 she and her apprentice, Neeta Erinjeri, will participate in the Great Lakes Folk Festival, demonstrating the intricacies of this lovely art form and talking about its history.

James Rice
Saddle maker and leather worker
James Rice (b. 1928) grew up in a small town where he helped to repair saddles for his horse-trading uncle. “I could fix what some of the outlaw horses tore up,” he boasted. By the age of 16 he had made his first saddle. Decades later, he is still putting his “Jas. Rice” stamp on saddles prized across America for their beauty and durability.

Jim learned the saddle-making trade from Billy Ecker, a craftsman for the Henry Kellogg buggy and harness shop in Hudson many decades ago. Along the way, he was a rodeo broncobuster, shop class instructor for 30 years, barber, and farmer on 76 acres. He now has a little shop in Hudson, filling orders from around the country for saddles. Jim makes saddles in a traditional way, cutting and stitching together rawhide leather in a series of steps that takes weeks to complete. The saddles, completely of his own design, are heavily decorated with hand-stamped designs.

Danielle Cole, Jim Rice’s apprentice, has been working part time with Jim for several years, and Jim is enthusiastic about her work. With the recent boom in pleasure horses, there is steady business for saddle makers, and Jim is preparing Danielle to take over the business. Both Jim and Danielle talk about and demonstrate their work at the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival.

Bruce Sagan
Ann Arbor
Swedish nyckelharpa
Bruce Sagan has an extensive background in music. His mother was a music teacher and Bruce studied classical violin from an early age. While in college, he was attracted by the lush sounds of the Swedish fiddle and the wide range of possible expression on it. This was a turning point in his musical endeavors. He has since learned Swedish and often travels to Sweden where he studies fiddle and nyckelharpa (Swedish key fiddle) with old masters.

Sagan has gained great respect in Swedish and Scandinavian communities in the United States, where he is often asked to play for special ethnic events. In 1999 he received a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship award to teach nyckelharpa to apprentice Karin Arneson.

Patricia Shackleton
Birch bark cutout artist
Patricia Shackleton (b. 1951) is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She is a highly motivated and committed educator about Ojibwa and Native culture and history. She has held a variety of positions in local and state government to achieve her aim and has been an advocate for Native rights. Patricia’s interest in birch bark cutouts is in keeping with her intent to preserve Native traditions.

The tradition of birch bark cutouts was almost lost in regional Native cultures until relatively recently. The designs and family patterns, handed down from generation to generation, were both ornamental and teaching tools. Today birch bark cutouts are once again a highly valued viable art form. Each image has multiple meanings and the cutouts are used in various ways, for example, as a pattern for quill and bead work or a design on festive regalia clothing.

Patricia first learned the basics of birch bark cutouts as an apprentice in 1997 to Anna Hubbard of Sault Ste. Marie. Since this period she has greatly developed her skills and exhibited her cutouts at the Ojibwe Museum of Culture, St. Ignace, and has taught many, including apprentices as a recipient of the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship award.

Anshu Varma
Meh’ndi (Henna painting) artist
Anshu Varma has been described as a consummate artist who uses the body as her canvas. She was born in 1962 in north India and grew up in Calcutta and New Delhi. She has a degree in economics and works for the State of Michigan. As a child she was fascinated by the tradition of meh’ndi. She was greatly inspired by her mother’s artistic creations and began to learn the tradition at home. Today she is a master of her technique.

The tradition of meh’ndi, a paste of henna used to embellish the palms, soles, and fingernails, plays an important role in maintaining cultural identity in Indian as well as other communities. Meh’ndi is appropriate at all festive events. It is the first thing a woman puts on herself to get ready for a special occasion. Being dressed in meh’ndi sets the celebratory mood of the community. The tradition is associated especially with wedding ceremonies where in certain communities putting mehndi on the bride’s palms and feet represents “dressing” the bride. Anshu is sought by many in the Indian community to do meh’ndi for them, and many a bride has been adorned by her skillful hands.

She also has demonstrated her artistry at past folklife festivals and other public events. Anshu is gratified by the enjoyment both young and old experience of having their hands adorned and she is dedicated to share the knowledge about this ancient art. She was a recipient of the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program in 2002 and 2003, and she participates at the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival with her current apprentice, Moushumi Mokherjee.

Jim Wicks
duck decoy carver
Born 1932 near Elk Rapids, Forrest "Jim" Wicks grew up along the Grand Traverse Bay, where he was first introduced to duck hunting. He started carving working decoys when he and his hunting friends became tired of the look of the standard decoy, typically rendered with the bird's head pointing straight ahead. According to Jim, "My first decoys were rough, but good enough to be added to the decoys that my father and I used on Grand Traverse Bay back in the 1940s.” Since then Jim has carved thousands of decoys. His love of carving is obvious when he says, "I hope to die with the chips in my pocket and the knife in my hand."
For many decades, Jim has participated in state and national decoy carving shows both as award-winning entrant and as award-granting judge. He, also, has demonstrated his carving at museums and sportsmen’s and boating shows, taught carving classes for adult education programs, and mentored an apprentice as a master artist in the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. Decoy carvers and collectors credit Jim’s willingness to share his time and expertise and for spurring their interest in the decoy carving.

After years of winning awards for his working decoys, he ceased competing and switched to creating half-life-size birds for ornamental purposes that please the public and sell well. Jim’s skills, however, are not limited to duck decoys; he is an avid ice fisherman and carves winning fish decoys. In 1987 he demonstrated ice fishing at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival.