BANGOR – Maine is a state rich in the traditional arts, and on Friday, the Maine Arts Commission introduced a program to celebrate those traditions.
During an awards ceremony at the Bangor Opera House, Passamaquoddy birch-bark canoemaker David Moses Bridges of Pleasant Point received the agency’s first traditional arts fellowship award of $13,000. Bridges learned the love of the craft from his great-grandfather, Sylvester Gabriel.
“He knew all the old stories and legends, and he mentioned just in passing one time that he used to make birch-bark canoes, and at the time I was reading “Stuart Little,” and he has a little birch-bark canoe in the story,” Bridges recalled. “I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and we just decided right then and there that we would make a canoe some day.”
Bridges’ great-grandfather died before they had the chance to make that canoe, but his legacy lived on. Gabriel left his great-grandson all of his old tools, and Bridges learned much of his craft from canoemaker Steve Cayard, a self-taught birch-bark canoe maker.
Bridges intends to use the award to expand the range of styles in which he works. He plans to visit museums to study some of the older styles and techniques for making birch-bark canoes and baskets.
Also on Friday, the agency announced its selection of four traditional arts masters, who will pass on their knowledge as part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program. Awardees are Old Grey Goose fiddler Doug Protsik of Woolwich and his apprentice, 10-year-old Milo Stanley; step dancer Cindy Larock of Lewiston and her apprentice Donna Casavant; and root club carver Stan Neptune of Passadumkeag and his apprentice Dennis Tomah.
The Maine Arts Commssion also awarded fellowships to three contemporary artists. Receiving awards were Peter Dembski of Surry, a professional musician who teaches gifted high school students in Hancock County; Christine Parrish, whose hometown was unavailable at press time, a writer who balances her interests in natural resource conservation and narrative journalism; and John Knight of Portland, a painter lauded for his fresh investigation of the landscape and compositional acuity.
For more information on the Maine Arts Commission and its programs, visit www.mainearts.com.