Michigan Traditional Arts Awardees

Around the world, programs honor individuals who have made signature contributions to the cultural heritage of their countries. Each year the festival presents artists who have been honored with a Michigan Heritage Award, a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Award, or a NEA National Heritage Fellow Award.

The Michigan Heritage Awards, established in 1985, recognizes Michigan's exceptional tradition bearers and supporters of traditional culture who have made significant contributions to our state's heritage. To nominate someone and to learn about past awardees, click here!

The Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program assists master artists who in passing their skills and knowledge to others through one-on-one apprenticeships. To learn about past recipients and to apply, go to: http://museum.msu.edu/s-program/mtap/mtaap/mtaap.html

Both programs are coordinated by the MSU Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program (a partnership with the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs) and supported by grants from MCACA and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) established the National Heritage Fellowship Program in 1982 to recognize individuals "for their artistic excellence and their efforts to conserve America's many cultures for future generations." Every year the Great Lakes Folk Festival presents one or more recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellow Award.

Yvonne Walker-Keshick
A Michigan Family of Porcupine Quillwork Artists
Masters and perpetuators of an important cultural art

Using only porcupine quills, birch bark, and sweetgrass, a dwindling number of Native Americans make art that reflects important knowledge of natural resources and cultural traditions. Yvonne Walker Keshick of Levering, Michigan, and a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa was recognized in 1992 as a Michigan Heritage Awardee for the excellence of her artistic work and for her commitment to passing on knowledge of this art form to others. In 2014 she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. This is one of America’s most prestigious artist awards and every year only 10-12 artists are given this honor.

Keshick is the descendent of a long line of excellent quillworkers. Yvonne began making porcupine quill boxes in 1968 with her aunt, Irene Walker, and teacher Susan Kiogima Shagonaby. Yvonne has, in turn, passed her knowledge on to her sons Arnold and Jacob and her daughter Kim Worthington.  They, along with son-in-law Russell Worthington (whose family is also well-known for their quillwork), join Yvonne at the 2015 festival.

The presentation of the Keshick family
at the Great Lakes Folk Festival is supported by the MSU American Indian Studies Program and the MSU Native American Institute.


Stephen Stier
2015 Michigan Heritage Award Awardee

Stephen “Steve” Stier (b. 1946) is a native of Illinois who moved to Michigan in his youth and has since spent the majority of his life devoted to the building arts in the state. He holds a degree in industrial arts education from Western Michigan University and masters degree in historic preservation from Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Steve is a licensed builder who focuses on historic preservation skills and practices. He is experienced in wooden boat rehabilitation and is a barn wright. He has worked in and with museums in Maine and Michigan, including Michigan State University Museum where he is appointed as a research associate for traditional building craft.

Steve understands the need to honor and perpetuate traditional building skills to achieve both excellence and authenticity in his construction and preservation work. Steve's contributions to the community of barn workers, preservationists, educators, and historians are unparalleled. It is for his work as a preservation advocate and educator that he is being honored with the Michigan Heritage Award.

Ron Ahrens
2015 Michigan Heritage Award Awardee

Ronald Ahrens (b. 1941) was born in Wisconsin and moved to Michigan later in life. Ronald first began to learn lacemaking from his grandmother at age five. Several members of his family practiced other fiber art techniques and Ronald was able to learn from them as well. He became proficient in knitting, crocheting, bobbin lacemaking, tatting, broderet, and filet netting. Ronald has shared his skills and knowledge with his own family, friends, and community members and can often be found teaching fiber art techniques and doing demonstrations at community functions. Ronald has cultivated among many individuals a deep appreciation for the handmade, rather than machine made, mass-produced object. He has also stimulated interest among those he has taught to pass on the skills they have learned to others.

For his exceptional skill in the art of lacemaking, his willingness to freely share his skills and knowledge with others, and his example as an excellent, committed teacher of needlework arts, Ronald Ahrens is awarded the 2015 Michigan Heritage Award.


Matt Kazmierski & Alex Smith
2015 Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Awardee

Matt Kazmierski was born in Manistee, Michigan, and from an early age was surrounded by and encouraged to play music.  His father played trumpet and his mother insisted on Matt taking piano lessons. His father also taught shop at Manistee High School, and made sure to pass that knowledge on to his son. When Matt was in high school, he began building his own mallets, sticks, and drums, and repairing percussion instruments on the side. During college he began playing marimba and after graduation he began making his first marimba, which he modeled after the one he played in college. He reached out to marimba builders Matt Coe, Doug DeMorrow, and Ron Samuels to improve his technique, and they freely shared their skills and trade secrets. Matt has continued this practice of sharing knowledge, and has taught three others the art of marimba making.

He will further spread this art form through teaching his apprentice, Alex Smith, a graduate student in musicology/ethnomusicology at Michigan State University. This partnership was funded by an Apprenticeship Award in 2014, and continues to grow in 2015. After being introduced to marimba or marimba-like instruments in Brazil and Ghana, Alex was inspired to expand his research interests in the profession of marimba craftsmanship. Through this apprenticeship he also seeks to strengthen his connections with the makers, players, and natural resources of musical instruments.