From the director.
On September 17, 2014, Henry Arquette received the highest award that this nation offers to folk and traditional artists. A maker of utilitarian baskets held in high regard by his Haudenosaunee Mohawk community, Henry Arquette was one of nine award honorees for 2014, and the only artist from New York State to receive the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award for 2014. In a gala ceremony and banquet, Mr. Arquette received his award surrounded by three generations of his family members. This is the first time in the history of the award that a representative of the Mohawk Nation has been honored in this way. (See photo of Henry on p. 45)
Begun by the founding director of the Folk and Traditional Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bess Lomax Hawes, the National Heritage Awards have a 32-year history of awarding excellence within folk and traditional arts. During this time, New York artists have been well represented (see www. nyfolklore. org/tradarts/neafellow-ny. html), and Henry joins this group as the 33rd recipient from New York, out of the 386 so honored since 1982.
My colleague, Steve Zeitlin has mused that our actions as folklorists often create ripples, which reveal themselves long after the project or program has faded in people's memories (personal conversation, n.d.). Like traditional arts themselves, the ramifications and outcomes of traditional arts learning and exposure sometimes take years, if not generations, to germinate and become apparent.
Henry's nomination was supported by several folklorists and folklore organizations, and it was promoted by members of his Mohawk community, in recognition of his importance not only as a traditional artist but also for his prominence in teaching others to carry on the tradition. One can't say with certainty what the effect of this award will have for the future. The youngest members in attendance, great grandchildren of Henry Arquette, made the nine-hour journey from Akwesasne to Washington, DC, to witness the ceremony. Their wide-eyed look at the ceremony and its trappings of splendor will without doubt remain in their memories for years to come. Will it inspire them to follow in their great grandfather's footsteps?
In her remarks, NEA Chair, Jane Chu said, "These individuals are just a few examples of exemplary artists in this nation worthy of distinction; the makers of incredible music, dance, and crafts, who are passing the arts forward, to make sure that the next generations will have the same opportunities to experience these traditions, and find meaning in their practice." (National Heritage Awards Program, 2014). I would hope that Henry Arquette's honor would have a beneficial effect towards the continuation of traditional Mohawk basketry, utilitarian and fancy baskets alike.
Ellen McHale, PhD, Executive Director
New York Folklore Society