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Maryland Traditions Announces 2011 ALTA Award Recipients

Maryland Traditions Announces 2011 ALTA Award Recipients

November 06, 2011Press Release

Maryland Traditions, the folklife program of the Maryland State Arts Council, today announced the winners of its annual ALTA (Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts) Awards, recognizing living traditions in the State of Maryland. Names for folklorist and community leader Dr. Alta Schrock, the award is presented to three recipients for their ongoing efforts to preserve and maintain the state's living heritage.

This year's awardees are Rich Smoker, a master decoy carver who lives in Somerset County; the Patterson Bowling Center Duckpin Bowling Lanes, "Patterson Lanes", the oldest duckpin bowling alley in the world located near Patterson Park in East Baltimore; and The Singing & Praying Bands of Maryland from the Eastern and Western Shore which developed as a Christian tradition in the Delmarva

Each year, awards honor the people, places and traditions that exemplify Maryland’s diverse 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; places honored are those that serve to keep traditions alive and are meaningful and effective gathering places or sites for carrying on living or endangered traditions; and traditions recognized are those that connect communities to cultural heritage in ways that exemplify the distinctive spirit of our state and may include events, occupations, knowledge, cultural scenes, and organizations

The 2011 winners will receive their awards in a ceremony at 7:00pm on December 3, 2011 at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring.  The event is free of charge, but tickets must be reserved. For tickets to the ALTA Awards Ceremony, call the Montgomery College’s Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring box office at (240) 567-5775.


For more information about the ALTA Awards and Presentation, contact Maryland Traditions Director Clifford Murphy at 410-767-6450 (



Editor’s Note: Details on awardees and ALTA background below. Photographs available on request.



PERSON: Rich SmokerRich Smoker is a master decoy carver who lives in Marion, Maryland (Dorchester County) and grew up on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. He developed an interest in waterfowl at an early age and began carving hunting decoys with his father, R.B. Smoker. Rich worked in a taxidermy shop as a boy and opened his own taxidermy business in 1979. The skills he acquired as a taxidermist helped to improve his carving. “In taxidermy,” says Smoker, “you work from the inside out, and in carving you work from the outside in.” In 1982 he and his family moved to Crisfield, Maryland, where he befriended Lem and Steve Ward, the Eastern Shore’s foremost carvers of waterfowl. In Crisfield, Smoker shifted his attention from taxidermy to waterfowl art. He has carved over 3,000 birds since his arrival in Somerset County. Besides creating magnificent carvings, Smoker is also known for his teaching of the art form to more than 1,400 people in over 140 classes. Rich is also a decorated competitor, who has won over 60 best in shows and more than 450 ribbons. Rich won the prestigious World Champion Title at the 2008 Ward World Wildfowl Carving Competition in the Shootin’ Rig Division. Smoker is also an active member of the Ward Foundation Board of Directors, and the founder of the museum’s Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo.


PLACE: Patterson Bowling Center Duckpin Bowling Lanes – or “Patterson Lanes”– is located close to Patterson Park in East Baltimore. Founded by Martin Ruzin in 1927, it is the oldest duckpin bowling alley in the world. The Ruzin family sold it to Charles and Theresa McElhose, the current owners, in 1995. Once a significant aspect of working-class culture in Baltimore, Duckpin bowling has been diminishing over the past several decades. However, at Patterson Lanes, the sociability of sport continues to thrive. A two-story bowling alley, it is the city’s sole remaining duckpin-only bowling alley. Although historians place duckpins’ origins in late 19th century Lowell, Massachusetts, , the sport’s identity is firmly tied to Baltimore thanks to Baltimore Orioles (and baseball hall of famers) John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, who popularized the sport at their bowling alley on Howard Street in the 1890s. Robinson and McGraw are said to have shaved down their standard-sized bowling pins into squat novelty pins that were harder to knock down. When struck, the pins were so unpredictably explosive that they supposedly reminded McGraw and Robinson of gunning ducks on the Eastern Shore. Duckpins’ connection to  early baseball stars is on display at Patterson Lanes, where there is a life-sized photograph of Baltimore native Babe Ruth, bowling duckpins. Ruth’s niece bowls in the Tuesday morning Senior league at Patterson Lanes.


TRADITION: The Singing & Praying Bands of Maryland (Eastern and Western Shore) are an African-American devotional/musical tradition that is unique to the Delmarva region. With origins in West African religion, Christianity, and African-American ring shout traditions, Singing & Praying Bands developed as a Christian tradition in the Delmarva during slavery. It is likely the oldest living African-American musical tradition in Maryland. Similar to the ring shout, the ministry of the Singing & Praying Bands takes place in host churches, often at a camp meeting after an evening preaching service is over. Members will line out a hymn, pray a prayer and end with a spiritual in which the groups form a circle, marching counterclockwise out onto the church grounds. In the past, almost half of the African American Methodist churches of the counties bordering on the Chesapeake had their own Singing and Praying Band. Since the 1950s, the bands have diminished in number, and the singers have consolidated into one large band comprised of 50-100 active tradition bearers from 20-30 different churches. They come together most Sundays in the spring, summer and fall at a different church each week and hold service there, keeping this tradition alive.



The ALTA Award was created in 2007 to honor the work of Dr. Schrock, who passed away in 2001. Dr. Schrock, a native of Garrett County, taught biology at Frostburg State University, and also founded publications, events and lasting institutions designed to share and preserve her region’s traditional art forms. She was the force behind The 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.