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Passing On Tradition One Apprenticeship at a Time

Maggie Holtzberg, Program Manager

The end of June 2022 marked the completion of 12 two-year Traditional Arts Apprenticeships funded by Mass Cultural Council. Filmmaker Daniel Jacobs and I collaborated on documenting three of these apprenticeships with the goal of capturing what can happen when a dedicated and gifted mentor finds the right student upon which to impart embodied skills, techniques, and artistry.

Keeping traditions alive takes commitment, passion, and time. Funding helps. When things go well, apprenticeships like the ones featured in these shorts help ensure the continuity of tradition — ways of knowing-by-doing that might otherwise be lost.

Handmade Side-Seamed Western Bootmaking

Sarah Madeleine Tierney Guerin and Diana Wagner 
Although once ubiquitous, the art of making footwear by hand is a craft that’s practiced by very few people in Massachusetts today. Its survival relies on knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques being passed on directly through apprenticeships. This film captures how Sarah Madeleine Tierney Guerin persevered in becoming a handmade bootmaker and is passing on the tradition by mentoring Diana Wagner, who is writing an illustrated manual from the perspective of one learning the craft.

Bird Taxidermy

Victor Cole and Nicole Baldelli
What do nature centers, natural history museums, and hunters have in common? They all require someone skilled in bird taxidermy. This film shows how, with the help of a two-year Mass Cultural Council apprenticeship, Victor Cole has passed on the art, craft, and science of bird taxidermy to Nicole Baldelli. He is now confident in her ability to “capture the essence of the live bird,” and fulfill the needs of his clients when he retires.

North Indian Tabla

Sandeep Das and Veerane Pratap
Tabla player Sandeep Das reflected on something his own mentor had told him back in India, “My job as a guru is to fill your garage with the tools you might need. The screws, bolts, cement, mortar, brick, screwdriver, plier, drills – I will give you all that. What you build is yours, my son, because if I teach you today how to build a hut, that’s all you will build for the rest of your life. But what happens if you suddenly need to build a bridge?”

This film captures the special relationship between world renown tabla player Sandeep Das and his young apprentice to whom he is passing on this ancient music tradition. Using methods and lessons taught to him by his mentor in Benares, India, Sandeep makes them relevant to a gifted South Asian boy growing up in Massachusetts, who is remarkably well-suited to receive Sandeep’s mentoring.

Both Daniel Jacobs and I wish to thank the mentors and apprentices who welcomed us into their homes and lives, shared generously of their time, and entrusted us with their stories.

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