10 Az artists get grants to mentor folklife apprentices

Ten master artists in Arizona were granted $5,000 through the Southwest Folklife Alliance Master-Apprentice award. 

The award is offered with the goal of the artists passing on their skills in “art, culture and heritage” to their chosen apprentices.

SFA program manager Denise Uyehara said the group has one of the highest grants awards in the nation, with each artist receiving $5,000 while their apprentices receive $500 to support the year-long education project. 

The awardees are Ancliff “Ansel” Joseph, a steel pan maker and performer; Fitzgerald DeFreitas, a Caribbean carnival costume maker; Ken Koshio, a taiko player; capoerista Rhonda Coleman; Andrea Gallegos, one of the first female mariachi directors in the Southwest; Tohono O’odham potter Kathleen Vance; mariachi composer J. Javier Enriquez; Mexican potter Porfirio Mora; Mestizon guitarist Maximiliano Larrea; and guzheng player Jung Xia. 

The funding for the awards came from local support, the Arizona Commission of the Arts and the National Endowments for the Arts.

“Most of the master artists are pretty shy and they won’t really come out and announce they’re master artists,” Uyehara said. “So we ask community members to nominate who they think is a master artist. For example, Kathleen Vance was nominated by the Tohono O’odham arts and culture center and I’m so happy she got it.”

The application process for the grant is fully online and Uyehara said they offered support for the applicants by helping those who weren’t comfortable with technology. 

During the application, the master artists were able to name their apprentices.

“The apprentice is someone who the master artist believes will be able to carry on with their knowledge — knowledge you might not be able to find in a book or in a normal art class,” Uyehara said. “And we wanted to make sure they had commitment and the promise to continue that art form.”

Porfirio “Pilo” Mora is one of the awardees. As an artist, he has been working on his craft for over 40 years. He is a potter in the tradition that was born in Mata Ortiz, a small village in Chihuahua, Mexico. His apprentices include three daughters and a grandchild.

“I’m happy to have received the award,” Mora said in Spanish during the interview. “And it makes me more committed to keep going with all this. And I’m grateful they acknowledged my work and I feel the support they’re giving me.”

Mora said he learned how to make pottery when he was growing up in Mata Ortiz.

“I learned because there wasn’t much else to do,” Mora said. “Mata Ortiz pottery is very famous because of the way it’s made.”

Mata Ortiz pottery isn’t made on a potter’s wheel. Instead it is crafted by creating a “tortilla” with the clay and then pressing that clay into a bowl. 

From there, the body of the pot is made with rolled clay pieces getting pinched on to the “tortilla” until the desired size is achieved. The pot is them smoothed and left to dry for three days. The artist can then finish their design by painting and firing the pot.

Mora said that being able to share his knowledge with his family is a gift.

“It’s a gift because what you teach your family can transcend to other families and other people,” Mora said. “It’s something so beautiful – and it’s important to not let the traditions get lost. They can save 500 years of traditions and history from this activity. And to me, it’s so satisfactory to know somebody else is learning the practice and the culture.”