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Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of Traditional Arts

Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of Traditional Arts 

September 3 - December 20
Main Gallery

About the exhibition: Extraordinary Ordinary People is a journey across America through the lives of individuals whose creativity is rooted in their cultural identity and community. The exhibition features a sampling of the recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts. These individuals are ordinary to the extent they remind us of people we know in our families or among our neighbors and friends, but they are extraordinary in their passion and commitment to artistic excellence. They are innovators and teachers, eager to share their skills and knowledge, and dedicated to time-honored traditions.

This multimedia exhibition demonstrates the diversity of their contributions to America’s cultural fabric, and challenges viewers to reflect on those who are contributing to the cultural legacies in their own lives and communities. Front and center in Extraordinary Ordinary People are dramatic, human-size photographic portraits by Alan Govenar of Documentary Arts, Dallas, Texas, the exhibit's co-curator. For this exhibition, he created a series of portraits with the subjects lit as if on stage against a black backdrop. In so doing, he enables the viewer to interact with the subjects face-to-face. The images highlight the intensely human qualities shared by the artists as well as the spontaneity of interaction between the photographer and the artists.

Also included in the exhibition are rich examples from the makers themselves: Byzantine (Greek) icon woodcarving, Peruvian retablos (ornamented shelving and altar for revered objects), Native American basketry, lacemaking, quiltmaking, and multimedia presentations of music and dance. Additionally, QR codes provide visitors with opportunities to dig deeper into each artists experience – by listening to clips of their music and stories, reading longer biographies, and watching them make and perform their art.

A special section of the exhibition highlights National Heritage Award fellows from Michigan, as well as the Michigan Heritage Awards program run by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (a statewide arts partnership of the MSU Museum and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs).

This exhibition was made possible by the financial and in-kind support of the National Endowment for the Arts, Documentary Arts, Inc. and the Michigan State University Museum/Traditional Arts Exhibition Endowment, MSU Museum Great Lakes Tradition Endowment and a grant from the MSU Federal Credit Union. After the exhibition is shown at the MSU Museum it will be available for travel to other venues across America through the MSU Museum's Traveling Exhibition Service.

Throughout the fall the MSU Museum will host demonstrations and performances by outstanding traditional artists from Michigan, including some who have received Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Awards:

Glen Van Antwerp, cedar fan carver - Sunday, Oct. 27 from 2:00 – 4:00 in the Main Gallery

Capital City Quilt Guild - Sunday, Nov. 3 from 2:00 - 4:00 in the Main Gallery

Sheila Graziano and Meredith Brown, two traditional clogging demos - Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2:00 and 3:00 pm in the Main Gallery

Capitol Area Lace Makers, Sunday, Nov. 17, from 2:00 – 4:00 in the Main Gallery

Amy Stillman and Molly Eguchi, Hawaiian Hula Dancing - Sunday, Nov. 24 from 2:00 – 4:00 in the Main Gallery

For more information about the National Heritage Awards program

For educational resources pertaining to the National Heritage Awardees

For more information about the Michigan Heritage Awards program


Masters of Trad ArtsMasters of Trad Arts detail
Konstantinos Pilarinos
Greek American
Artisan Wood Carver
Photographs: Alan Govenar