30 May 2012

Exit, Phase Two: Refocus

RIP Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson
(3 March 1923 – 29 My 2012)


Doc Watson was a tradition bearer and a national treasure. Within his sightless body was stored the histories, stories, cultural values, attitudes, and belief systems of numerous generations of Americans who made their way in and out of the area around Deep Gap, North Carolina. He was the seed tree in a productive orchard whose roots grew the deepest and whose branches bore the sweetest fruit. He learned from the best (Clarence Ashley, Gaither Carlton, Uncle Dave Macon, Mississippi John Hurt) and transferred his knowledge to teach some of the best (Clarence White, Ricky Skaggs).

In 1997 Doc Watson won the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government, and was presented to him by President Bill Clinton. Other recipients of this lofty award have included Al Pacino, Andrew Wyeth, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aaron Copland. In 1988 Doc Watson received a more humble but no less important National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Alongside Doc Watson were other not so well-known tradition bearers as Kepka Belton, a Czech-American egg painter; Amber Densmore, a New England quilter/needleworker; Willa Mae Ford Smith, a gospel singer from St. Louis; and Michael Flatley an Irish-American stepdancer.

Like Doc Watson these people represent masters of their craft, interpreters and innovators of their chosen art form. Equally, the tradition bearer serves to connect links between the craft and the communities from which they emerge. These masters act to preserve certain traditions as custodians but through performance they also transmit and solidify the life of the expressive craft. They are key participants in the complex web of any culture's past, present, and history and with the passing of Doc Watson our country just lost something essential.


No comments: