Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies

Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies is a photography book and companion exhibit highlighting the state’s folk heritage.  As of November 1, 2010, the book is available for purchase online and the exhibit, slated to tour sites around the state for three years, has opened at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, September 26 – December 5, 2010.  The project profiles 25 Tennessee subjects who actively preserve folk traditions that are particular to their families, places, or ethnic groups.  Through their images and stories the project hopes to build greater appreciation and understanding of our folklife.  A teacher’s guide accompanies the exhibit to help Tennessee students learn about the topic. To see a video about the project, click here.


A collaboration between Robert Cogswell, TAC Folklife Program Director, and Nashville photographer Dean Dixon, Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies portrays its subjects through extensive color portraiture along with short essays summarizing their lives and art forms. Though most of the subjects are individuals, some are two or three people who partner in keeping their legacy alive.  Their traditions include musical arts, crafts, and related expressive practices and customs.  The project’s wide scope reflects grassroots diversity, creativity, and vitality found across the state.  Its people, though all unique, share common attachments to their cultural identities and lifelong dedication in what they do.

Mark Guenther

The subjects include Charlie Acuff (fiddler from Alcoa), Robert Belfour (African American bluesman from Memphis), Minnie Bell (Choctaw basketmaker, beadworker and cook from Henning), Bill & Janice Birchfield (old-time musicians from Roan Mountain), Mildred Carathers (quilter from Nashville), McDonald Craig (African American country singer from Linden), Clyde Davenport (old-time musician from Jamestown), Celia Garduño (Mexican needleworker from Chattanooga), Mark Guenther (sorghum maker from the Mennonite community in Muddy Pond), Roy Harper (old-time singer from Manchester), Delmer Holland (fiddler from Waverly), Jean Horner (instrument maker from Westel), Bob Kounlavong (Lao musician from Nashville), Jack Martin (broom maker from Selmer), Thomas Maupin (buckdancer from Murfreesboro), Willie McLerran (basketmaker from Celina), Newberry & Sons (chairmakers from Red Boiling Springs), Polly Page (woodcarver from Pleasant Hill), John Phillips (African American gospel singer from Nashville), Mary Jane Prater (basketmaker from Cannon County), Eda Rodríguez (Salvadoran cook from Chattanooga), Roger Smith (African American peach seed carver from Culleoka), Rick & Renée Stewart (cooper and woodcarver from Hancock County), Junior B. & Malcom Strong (marble makers and players from Moss), and Billy Tripp (metal sculptor from Brownsville).

Roan Mountain Hilltoppers
Mildred Carathers

Billy Tripp

The hardbound volume is large-format, containing 164 pages, with dust jacket and digital image DVD.  Copies are available for online purchase from the Web site of Tennesseans for the Arts.



The Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies touring exhibit includes 50 framed photo enlargements from the book, along with accompanying title stand, introductory panel, and gallery texts.  The Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga has partnered in this component of the project, fabricating and crating for the tour and hosting the premier showing of the exhibit from September 26 through December 5, 2010.
The exhibit will tour for three years to local galleries and museums throughout Tennessee, many of them at institutions with previous experience in traditional arts programming.  Depending on available space, some venues may not be capable of hanging the complete show.  Many of the host sites will also offer the book for sale during their staging of the exhibit.


The Tennessee Arts Commission’s
Note:  Dates represent the opening and closing days of the exhibit display to the public.

December 13, 2012 – February 24, 2013
Renaissance Center Cultural Arts Office
200 East Center
Kingsport, TN  37660
Contact:  Bonnie MacDonald, Director

March 18 – April 27, 2013
McMinn County Living Heritage Museum
522 W. Madison Ave.
Athens, TN  37303
Contact:  Lisa Chastain, Curator

May 20 – June 29, 2013
Customs House Museum
200 South 2nd Street
Clarksville, TN  37040-3400
Contact:  Terri Jordan, Curator of Exhibits
                931-648-5780 x38

September 2 – October 26, 2013
Pryor Gallery
Columbia State Community College
1665 Hampshire Pike
Columbia, TN  38401
Contact:  Rusty Summerville, Curator
                 931-540-2883, 615-390-3489 cell

November 8, 2013 – December 21, 2013
Carroll Reece Museum
East Tennessee State University
807 University Parkway
Johnson City, TN  37614
Contact:  Theresa Burchett-Anderson, Director


Teacher’s Guide

A teacher’s guide of the same title, prepared by Folklife Program Assistant Dana Everts-Boehm, accompanies the exhibition.  Designed in two sections for grades 3-6 and 7-12, the guide prepares students to visit the Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies exhibition through learning about a selection of six artists featured in the book and exhibit.  Links to informative websites, youtube examples, and other internet sources assist the teacher in illustrating content.  The lessons, accompanied by appropriate Tennessee state curriculum standards, are brought home to the students through a follow-up family heritage project.  Dean Dixon’s photographs are included in a DVD featuring images of all twenty-five artist and groups in the book and exhibition, arranged alphabetically and identified by name to facilitate classroom use.  There are a limited number of hard copies available (call 615-532-0169 to request a copy), and Tennessee teachers considering a class visit to the exhibit will have priority in the distribution of these.  An online text of the teacher’s guide can also be downloaded here.

Traditions - Teachers Guide