Ohio Honors Folk Arts LeadershipGAMBIER, Ohio (February 20, 2008) Lifelong collaborators, Howard and Judy Sacks now share a 2008 Ohio Heritage Fellowship for Community Leadership, announced recently by the Ohio Arts Council Board.
The fellowship award of $1,500 celebrates their contributions to the traditional arts in Ohio and will be presented during the July Cityfolk Festival in Dayton, Ohio.
Howard Sacks is a professor of sociology, director of the Kenyon Rural Life Center, and senior advisor to College President S. Georgia Nugent. Judy Sacks is an affiliated scholar in American Studies and a freelance editor of art museum publications and scholarly books.
"It's very rewarding that all of the efforts we put into making folk art and folk artists visible in the state mean something to a lot of people," Judy said. "The traditional arts are ways in which we keep our community vigorous. We need to remember the kind of arts that have been handed down within families and across generations."
Tim Lloyd, executive director of the American Folklore Society headquartered at Ohio State University, nominated Howard and Judy, citing the "remarkable range and variety and excellent quality and impact of their work."
"It's very important that the state of Ohio … give some official recognition of the art forms, which are the folk arts, that are so widely practiced in the state," Lloyd said. "What this recognizes is a lifetime of excellence in achievement to support those art forms." Folk arts practiced in Ohio range from the blues to polka and from Easter egg decorating to quilting.
"Both Howard and Judy are very involved in using Knox County as a laboratory for the students at Kenyon," he said. "They've really supported local culture and art."
The award carries great meaning for Howard Sacks, who said he and Judy have spent most of their lives involved with folk arts. "This work is absolutely central to who we are, both personally and professionally," he said.
"The U.S. State Department sponsors international tours of American artists, and I've had the opportunity to advise them on who they might present," Howard said. "They've learned that touring traditional and ethnic artists says something important about America -- that people need not abandon their cultural heritage as a criterion for admission to this country, and that the richness of this nation rests to a great extent on the vitality and diversity of its people."
The Sackses played a role in the Gambier Folk Festival after they arrived at Kenyon in 1975 and began directing the event in 1980, continuing until 1996, when the festival ended its twenty-five year run. Lloyd called the festival "one of the finest public presentations of folk arts in the country."
They have documented Ohio fiddle traditions, coordinated fiddle competitions and recorded performances. Their work in preserving fiddle music led to the 1985 record Seems Like Romance to Me: Traditional Fiddle Tunes from Ohio. A review in the Journal of American Folklore described the music as lovely and the record as "an excellent survey of Ohio fiddle music."
Lloyd also praised the Sackses' work in developing summer workshops on folklore and folk-arts research, in collecting oral histories, and in developing interest in sustainable agriculture. In addition, they co-authored Way Up North in Dixie: A BlackFamily'sClaim to the Confederate Anthem.
And they are accomplished public performers -- Howard on guitar and Judy on mandolin -- with a focus on "root traditional music," Howard said. "We play old-time string band and early country music, these days mostly in our kitchen."
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds arts experiences to strengthen the culture, economy, and education in local communities.