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News & Calendar  

October 2021
Apprenticeships: Working Through the Pandemic

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Apprenticeship grants fund a master traditional artist to teach a qualified apprentice in one-to-one sessions over a period of six to ten months. These grants help communities preserve their cultural heritage through the learning and passing on of traditional arts and folklife – including crafts, music, dance, and foodways - so that future generations can continue to benefit from them. With the onset of the COVID-19 public health crisis and with its continued prevalence, some Apprenticeship teams were able to work through the pandemic as they originally intended while others had to modify or adapt their teaching/learning methods and materials. Regardless of how they were impacted, Apprenticeship teams showed their dedication, commitment, and the resiliency needed to pass on and learn their cultural traditions throughout this ongoing period of uncertainty.

The following is a selection from some of our FY21 Apprenticeship Teams on how they were able to work through the pandemic:

Swathi Jaisankar, Apprentice to Master Artist Aishwarya Balasubramanian, Bharatanatyam Dance:

“Before the Pandemic, both Aishwarya Akka and I were already used to having some in person classes and some online virtual classes, so it was not a huge struggle for us to switch to full time virtual classes. In person classes are always nicer for both the teacher and student because we get that face to face interaction and more time to bond. Also, it's a lot easier to be corrected on steps in person, where there aren't Wi-Fi issues or music lags or cameras cutting out our hands and legs! However, because Aishwarya Akka and I understand each other and have worked together virtually in the past, this came very naturally for the both of us and has not caused any challenges in the learning process.

I definitely am a bit more aware of making sure I have a good internet connection before I join class, having a clean space to dance in since it will be on video, and being prepared with my music and what I will be recording the class with.”

Fred Dolan, Master Artist to Apprentice Chris Garcia, Decoy Carving:

“Dealing with Covid made the meetings between Chris and me a definite challenge.  We were finally able to manage it fairly well - actually better than I anticipated.  We began our work totally masked, gloved and distanced.  Not an easy task within the small space of my studio and needing to use tools, band saw, etc. but for a while it seemed OK.  We did finally have to pause our project for a while as the Covid threat intensified.  We maintained regular contact via phone, texts and e-mails and concentrated during that time on research into the history of decoy carving, regional styles, noted carvers both contemporary and the early masters, a lot of questions and answers on technical skills, etc.  After we were both fully vaccinated we were able to resume our regular routine with common sense precautions. What a relief! These events impacted the art process at times and were somewhat anxiety producing.  It also required more time on both of our parts than we had planned on.  But in the end we resumed our rhythm and the actual work of carving and painting the decoy.  Our project was back on track and has been, despite all this, quite successful. Chris is an emerging carver and consequently many skills, especially painting, were new to him.  We both were able to keep a positive attitude and that was important. He is proud of his accomplishments resulting in a lovely decoy.  Maybe a few finishing touches and it will be complete! We both managed to stay healthy and to enjoy our work together.”

Scott Biron, Master Artist to Apprentice Chuck Fritz, Fly Tying:

“The pandemic posed a challenge, we had some trouble getting materials. Many of the sources used in the past had no supply to sell. Most of the traditional streamer hooks are manufactured in England and with the pandemic, getting them was difficult and the prices were much higher than we expected.  Specialty feather companies we ordered from often were out of what we needed.  We got around these challenges by changing many of the patterns that we had chosen to tie.  We accomplished the same traditional techniques but used materials we had in my personal inventory.  With no contact other than through Zoom, I would mail my apprentice the materials he needed a week or two ahead of when we needed to use them.  

Having been a teacher for over 20 years I always operated under the "adjust we must” philosophy.  What I found was that each class was more about what we could accomplish and not what challenges the pandemic created.  One thing that was very clear was to maintain a routine of how each class would roll out.  That helped my apprentice know what to expect and how to be prepared.”

Laura Price, Apprentice to Master Artist Dr. Misty Batchelder, Rug Braiding:

“Misty and I think alike on the coronavirus issue and weren't troubled with meeting in person as originally planned. The only thing that affected us was the change in start time from November to January. It was a wonderful experience and in a couple weeks we are doing our community demonstration! I'm looking forward to it!

In our case it was especially needed to meet in person as our art form isn't one that can be learned virtually. Hands-on learning time and the ability for mistakes or issues to be seen in person to be corrected was vital.”

To learn more information about the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants program, please visit:

Photos (top to bottom):

  1. Swathi Jaisankar at The Geeva Arts Festival, KY in July 2021. Photo provided by Swathi Jaisankar.
  2. Red Breasted Merganser Hen by Fred Dolan. Photo provided by Fred Dolan.
  3. Blue Ghost by Scott Biron. Photo provided by Scott Biron.
  4. Sylvan Meadow Glow by Laura Price. Photo provided by Laura Price.


Last updated: October 5, 2021


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