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Alta Awards Honor Pillars Of Maryland Heritage

Alta Awards Honor Pillars Of Maryland Heritage

Alta Awards Honor Pillars Of Maryland Heritage

November 25, 2013Press Release

Maryland Traditions, the Folklife Program of the Maryland State Arts Council, today announced the ALTA (Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts) Award recipients for 2013. The awards recognize outstanding stewards of living traditions in the State of Maryland and will be presented to three recipients at a January 18 awards ceremony and concert at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center on the Montgomery College Takoma Park – Silver Spring campus.  The event is offered free to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance.

ALTA awards are presented annually to an individual or group, a place and a tradition that embody outstanding stewardship of living traditions and help to preserve Maryland’s cultural heritage.  The 2013 ALTA Award recipients are: blacksmith Wally Yater (People), Piscataway Homelands: People, Culture and Traditions (Place), and The Oyster Fritters of the Sharptown Firemen’s Carnival (Tradition).

“We believe that living traditions play an important role in strengthening communities, even in the face of great odds,” says MSAC Executive Director, Theresa Colvin. “We are particularly honored to share the news of the Piscataway Homelands as an ALTA Awardee during Native American Heritage Month.”

In addition to the ceremony, this year’s ALTA Awards includes sacred music and dance from Chesapeakwe (pronounced “Chesapeake Way”) and the Piscataway-Conoy Drum and Dance Troupe, as well as a headlining concert by the Sweet Heaven Kings, a United House of Prayer brass band and favorites of past Maryland Traditions Folklife Festivals. There will also be a memorial tribute to Anna Holmes. Holmes (1926-2013), was an African-American community historian, a gifted quilter, and an active member of the North Brentwood Historical Society (Prince George’s County). Anna Holmes was in the inaugural class of ALTA Award recipients in 2007, receiving the award in the category of People.

For tickets to the ALTA Awards Ceremony, call the box office at (240) 567-5775. Click here to reserve free tickets

2013 ALTA Award Recipients

PEOPLE: Wallace M. Yater is a master blacksmith living in Boonsboro, Maryland (Washington County). Always interested in being able to make things from hand, whether that is furniture, pipe organs or iron gates, Wally found his passion for working with hot metals as an engineering major at George Washington University. After moving to Boonsboro in the early 1970s, Wally began to develop his skills in both practical and artistic blacksmithing, inspired by the popular revival of arts and crafts at the time. He often passed the Middletown shop of master bladesmith, Bill Moran, and sought out becoming a member of Moran’s crew, as well as learning about the larger community of hot metal-workers in the state. Wally is a longtime active member of the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA) and has published several articles on blacksmithing techniques in its publication, Anvils Ring. Wally’s signature contribution to blacksmithing is his popular swage block – a square-shaped, anvil-like block that weighs roughly 120 pounds and is used for shaping hot metal into various, pre-made depressions. Wally is the founder of the Blacksmith Guild of Western Maryland, to which he has donated his 27 acre plot of land for the creation of a campground and place where blacksmiths can convene and share their knowledge and skills.

PLACE: Piscataway Homelands: People, Culture and Traditions: The ALTA Award in the category of Place is honoring the Piscataway homelands within Maryland (Prince George’s County, Charles County, St. Mary’s County) and its people, culture and traditions,to promote a greater understanding of the deep relationships contemporary Piscataway have to their cultural landscapes and waterways – and the historical and spiritual places thereof. In January, 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley acknowledged the Piscataway Indian Nation (PIN) and the Piscataway-Conoy Tribe, which includes the Cedarville Band of Piscataway and the Choptico Band of Piscataway, as indigenous to the state. For many thousands of years, Piscataway homelands have been integral to the expression and transmission of Piscataway living cultural heritage – relationships that continue through to today. While these lands and waterways extend beyond Maryland in all directions, the award focuses on the areas of Prince George’s, St. Mary’s and Charles Counties that the Piscataway consider their core. Today, it is also in these three counties where the majority of Piscataway live, have their tribal offices, churches, burial grounds, and gather for tribal and family ceremonies, commemorations, business activities, as well as where they engage and educate the public through festivals, environmental and cultural education programs, and other cultural practices. Accepting the award on behalf of Piscataway Homelands: People, Culture and Traditions are Dr. Gabrielle Tayac (Piscataway Indian Nation), Mervin Savoy (Piscataway-Conoy Tribe), Natalie Proctor (Cedarville Band of Piscataway), and Rico Newman (Choptico Band of Piscataway). Read more about the Piscataway Homelands.

TRADITION: The Oyster Fritters of the Sharptown Firemen’s Carnival (Wicomico County) are an enduring community tradition that brings families, friends, and neighbors together over summer picnic tables while honoring the foodways of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the fruits of the Chesapeake Bay. Since 1949, the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Sharptown Fire Department has coordinated an extended group of ladies who pitch in to help mix, fry, and serve tens of thousands of plate-sized oyster fritters. These mouth-watering sandwiches are the calling card of the 80-year-old carnival, enticing hungry visitors to make an annual pilgrimage to the festival from several states around. The cooks include current Ladies Auxiliary President Chrys Gosnell, the last remaining charter member Ivalee Wheatley, and Sylvia “Marva” Goslee, who has mixed oysters with the group for nearly 40 years. These ladies accept the award on behalf of all of the bearers of this beloved tradition.

About the ALTA Award

The ALTA Award was created in 2007 to honor the legacy of folklorist Dr. Alta Schrock (1911-2001). Dr. Schrock, a native of Garrett County, taught biology at Frostburg State University and was the driving force behind the creation of Spruce Forest Artisan Village, Penn Alps, The Journal of the Alleghenies and the Springs Festival, to name a few of her achievements in cultural conservation.

Awards are presented annually to an individual or group, a place and a tradition that embody outstanding stewardship of living traditions and help to sustain Maryland’s cultural heritage. People are selected based on their demonstration of the highest standards of excellence in such areas as research, documentation, presentation, entrepreneurship, artistry, stewardship and community impact; the Places honored serve to keep traditions alive and are meaningful gathering places or sites of enduring memories or endangered traditions; and Traditions recognized are those that connect communities to cultural heritage in ways that exemplify the distinctive spirit of Maryland and may include events, occupations, knowledge, cultural scenes, and organizations.

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About the Maryland State Arts Council
The Maryland State Arts Council, an agency of the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development, Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, is dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. The mission of the council is to encourage and invest in the advancement of the arts for the people of Maryland. In Fiscal Year 2011, Maryland State Arts Council grantees’ activities supported more than 11,000 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $1 billion in local economic activity and $37.8 million in state and local tax revenue.  For more information, visit or call (410) 767-6555 or TTY 1-800-735-2258.