Congratulations to the 2021 recipients of the annual Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA) Master-Apprentice Award! This year’s recipients include a Hopi potter, a Japanese taiko drummaker, a Polish papercutter, a Sonoran tortilla maker, a traditional Japanese metalsmith, an Old Time Appalachian fiddler, a curandera, a corrido composer and scholar, a Swedish fiddler, a flamenco dancer, and a Hopi basket weaver. The recipients were nominated by community members and selected by a panel of cultural leaders and peers.

The award provides $5,000 each to Arizona-based artist/tradition bearer and $500 to an emerging-artist mentee to support the transmission of traditional knowledge and work together for one year. The first award program of its kind in Arizona, it joins over 20 similar award programs across the nation and affirms the organization’s commitment to individual heritage-based artists, economic development, and the transmission of cultural knowledge. Since its inception in 2015, the program has provided awards to 58 master artists.

SFA Program Manager, Nelda Ruiz, says the program is especially important for safeguarding cultural knowledge from living artists. “Many of the artists we award are elders or late-career artists. This presents a heightened sense of urgency—we want to make sure we honor and support them in sharing their cultural knowledge to ensure these art forms continue.”

SFA provided assistance to nominees and applicants virtually during the application process, to ensure an equitable, and competitive process.

SFA Executive Director Leia Maahs says the awards acknowledge the devotion and dedication of traditional and folk artists in the state. “These awards demonstrate our commitment to supporting artists and culture bearers in our state who’s transfer of knowledge between them and their apprentices, nurture a new generation of artists. In a time of continued financial and health challenges in our region, we are honored to offer these awards to recognize work and ensure that it continues.”

2021 Master-Apprentice Award Recipients

Susana Arellano, a curandera from Tucson who makes ojos de venado (deer eyes), a protective amulet within Yaqui culture, will work with her daughter Anivella Gutierrez to learn the craft and understand the practices of curanderismo.

Karen Kahe Charley is a Hopi potter from Sitsomovi village on First Mesa in northeastern Arizona who was encouraged by her grandmother, Emma Adams, to play with clay and make small pottery. Karen continues this teaching and learning with her own granddaughter, Annalese Nasafotie.

Karen Falkenstrom, a taiko drum player and maker and founder of Odaiko Sonora, Tucson’s Japanese drumming ensemble, will teach drum making to Natalie Wilson.

Celestino Fernández, Tucson-based scholar and composer of the corrido, a Mexican oral folk tradition, will work with Guillermo Sáenz to study existing corridos and compose new ones.

Andrea Hoag, accomplished Swedish fiddler based in Tucson will work with Lara Sands, concentrating on the fiddle traditions from Dalarna, known as the “folklore province.”

Kyle Kootswatewa is a Hopi basket weaver from Lower Mungapi village on the Hopi Reservation, will work with Ashley George focusing on Hopi traditional ecological knowledge, tying the study of basketry work to seasonal changes and community ceremonies.

Dan Levenson, a Tucson-based southern Appalachian Old-Time fiddler, was recognized with this award in 2017 and has earned support for a second time to work with a new apprentice, Jeanette Roe, a member of the Tucson fiddling community.

Magdalena Nowacka-Jannotta creates wycinanki, or papercuttings, in the Polish tradition using sheepshears, demonstrating her artform for more than two decades at Tucson Meet Yourself. She will work with Amy Robertson-Schmit, a member of Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble, to share free-form papercutting and folding techniques from two different areas of Poland.

Momoko Okada, a Tucson-based metalsmith who studied with the last kashima-style Nunome master, Master Kashima, will work with Melanie Nelson, to learn traditional Japanese metalsmithing techniques.

Angelina Ramirez, a flamenco dancer and instructor from Tucson will work with Diana Olivares, an accomplished flamenco violinist and vocalist (and a 2019 SFA Master-Apprentice Artist Awardee), in a deep study of flamenco dance.

Matilde Vargas Santa Cruz began cooking with her mother in their outdoor kitchen in Imuris, Sonora when she was eight years old and is now known in Tucson for her large flour tortillas known as sobaqueras, showcased as food heritage at the annual Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival. Matilde will work with her daughter Matilde Laura Santa Cruz to pass on Sonoran cuisine.

This year’s awards were supported in part by The National Endowment for the Arts, The Arizona Commission on the Arts and matched by individual gifts from local donors. In addition to the awards, SFA will promote work by Master-Apprentice artist teams throughout the year.

SFA is an affiliate non-profit organization of the University of Arizona in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the official state-designated folk arts partner of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and the parent-producing agent of the annual Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival. The organization offers yearlong programs that celebrates and preserves the art, culture, heritage, foodways, and folklife of the borderlands region.

To learn more about the program, visit:

Banner photos (left to right): Magdalena Nowacka-Jannotta, Matilde Vargas Santa Cruz, Kyle Kootswatewa, and Karen Falkenstrom. All photos by Stephen Meckler, courtesy of Southwest Folklife Alliance.