Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase celebrates Virginian artisans

The Showcase serves to “capture history,” engage modern audiences


The temperature may have spiked Sunday, but the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase still saw visitors arrive in droves, eager to celebrate the work of master artisans and artists from across the state.

The Showcase, put on by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, was as an opportunity to appreciate the food, music, crafts and traditions unique to the commonwealth. The foundation pairs masters with individuals interested in learning traditional arts, or “apprentices.” Among the crafts represented were traditional chair making, fried apple pies, oyster shucking and blacksmithing.

Toward the entrance sat a craft display belonging to salt-maker Jim Bordwine of Saltville, located in Smyth County. With a 10-gallon kettle and a variety of furs and fossils on show, the craft master warmly invited guests to learn about the rich history of the salt industry in Virginia.

Bordwine traces his family’s involvement in this trade back to the 1770s, recalling their contributions to American history from the Revolution to the Civil War with pride.

“The Yankees tried to shut it down, but my great granddaddy [then 16-years-old] fought to defend it,” Bordwine said of the Saltville salt industry during the difficult years of the Civil War.

Having worked with salt full time for nearly a decade, Bordwine continues the work of his ancestors while training his son, Baron Bordwine, to do the same.

Beneath the shade of a tent, musicians treated the audience to a variety of folk traditions. First to the stage was Linda and David Lay with Randy Cook, who set the bar with a bluegrass set. Their performance of “Swing Low,” in what Linda Lay called “the girly key of E,” had the audience singing along and swaying in their seats.

In fact, all performances were met with positive responses. Billy Baker on the fiddle was joined by apprentice Jack Hinshelwood on the guitar, the duo performing the bluegrass classics of Bill Monroe. Hinshelwood reflected positively on his learning experience.

“When the year is up, I hope my fiddling will be a little better — but even if it’s not, I will have had the chance to listen to the stories of what it’s like to play in a bluegrass band,” he said. “[And] to capture a little piece of that history [and] name Billy Baker as a friend of mine.”  

Providing more than just entertainment, the showcase also presented a number of inspiring and heart-warming moments. Flory Jagoda, affectionately introduced as “everybody’s nona,” performed traditional Bosnian folk ballads, blending Jewish and Slavic culture with accordion music. Jagoda gushed about how, after a 70-year separation, her accordion was returned to her that very day. She last played this particular instrument at 14 years of age, preparing to leave Bosnia with her family to escape the Holocaust.

Jagoda treated the instrument like an old friend.

“Something like this can only happen in America,” she said. “I love this country. It gave me life.”

The Showcase works to support artists all year long, preserving traditional arts which are at high risk of disappearing. Showcase facilitators record artist appearances and promote their works, and remain optimistic about a long future for Virginia Folklife.

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