Teachers Institute


Artist Biographies

Besides the Main Stage, the Midwest Folklife Festival also featured a Narrative Stage in the Plum Grove Church. A series of instrument, dance and jump rope workshops, as well as food demonstrations took place in Farwell Hall. Throughout the beautiful grounds of Folklore Village, tents housed ethnic artist demonstrations. Below are brief descriptions of the demonstrators and workshop leaders. For images of some of these artists, please visit our picture gallery.

Dennis Boyer | Jose Chavez | Venerable Ngawang Chojor | Millie Forseth | Dororthy Hodgson | Eldon Keeney Stephanie Lemke-Vuljanic | George McCormick | Vera & Mara Mednis | Bill Metz | Kim Cornelius Nishimoto
Joy Parker | Ron Poast | Pam Rucinski | Elda Schiesser | Bob Thomas | Sidonka Wadina

Dennis Boyer is a writer of regional stories, with seven books to his credit. He collects
and compiles stories from those active in historical preservation, historical reenactments,
and ethnic culture celebration.

Jose Chavez devotes much of his personal time to supporting and maintaining Mexican culture in Wisconsin. Born in Michoacan, Mexico, Jose taught himself English after moving to Wisconsin. Jose creates intricate Day of the Dead dioramas, paints santos (decorative images of saints), carves pasta de cana (carvings from dried cornstalks pasted together with natural paste), makes papier mache masks and skulls, plaster casts, paper cuts, seed and bone carvings, silver work, and memory and visionary paintings.

Venerable Ngawang Chojor has been a Buddhist monk since the age of thirteen. He was trained as a specialist in ritual arts at Namgyal Monastery, the private monastery of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet and has become expert in creating colored sand mandalas. Ngawang is expert in many traditional Tibetan tailoring forms, including lay and clerical clothing, special temple and monastic decorative designs, dolls, masks, hats, and appliqué.

Millie Forseth, of Norwegian heritage, was born in Brigham township near Dodgeville, and learned lefse making from her two elderly aunts, who made it on an old wood stove. Millie has been Chairwoman of the lefse group of the Barneveld Lutheran Church for the past twenty years.

Pasties are an important traditional food throughout the Upper Midwest, and especially in Southwest Wisconsin. In Schullsburg, Dorothy Hodgson learned how to make pasties from her mother, who made them for Dorothy's dad to take when he went to work in the local mine.

Eldon Keeney was born in 1922 in Miflin Township, Wisconsin. His mother was English and his father Irish. Eldon's father's family had been farmers for generations and Eldon followed that tradition, learning the ins and outs of farming at his father's side. Eldon retired from farming in 1989 and has been caretaker at Folklore Village since 1992.

Stephanie Lemke-Vuljanic is the fifth generation of her family to decorate eggs by wrapping them with patterns of colored thread. Stephanie learned this skill as a child from her mother as they decorated eggs for Easter in her native Croatia. Since moving to Mazomanie, Stephanie extended the practice beyond its religious and seasonal roots, finding a steady regional market for her pisanica.

George McCormick was born in Mississippi but has been a resident of Milwaukee since 1950. About 1994 McCormick began carving basswood figurines and developed his own award-winning style. In 1995 at the Holiday of Black Doll Festival in Columbus, Ohio, he won first place in the dollmaking competition for a carving of Mary McCloud Bethune. He continues to create carved wood pieces, polymer clay pieces, and dolls with soft sculpture bodies.

Mother and daughter Vera & Mara Mednis are both skilled Latvian weavers who place a strong emphasis on maintaining tradition. For their Latvian belt weaving, they are careful to use only patterns and colors that came from 12th century Latvia. These patterns and colors were used in Latvia when Vera's family arrived in the United States during the 1950s. Vera and Mara currently live in Warrens, and sell their works in the closely knit but widely dispersed Latvian communities throughout the country.

Bill Metz is a life-long resident of the Middle Amana community, who began doing metal work after school while in high school. He took up tinsmithing more than 15 years ago, when he worked with the Amana Arts Guild to revive the nearly lost art.

Kim Cornelius Nishimoto is a member of the Oneida Nation and a talented cornhusk doll maker. For Kim, it s also a family tradition, as she s part of a five-generation line of cornhusk doll makers.

Joy Parker was introduced to Finnish double-woven basket making over 20 years ago by a Finnish gentleman in his seventies. This old craft is not limited to baskets but includes vases, waterproof jugs, bowls, knife holders, Finnish sauna shoes, boots and other items which were common in the daily life of Finnish people. Being of Scandinavian heritage, Joy had a great interest in this art, and has been refining her skill and knowledge of basketmaking, especially Finnish basketry, over the last 20 years.

Of Norwegian heritage, Ron Poast remembers hearing his relatives talk about the hardanger fiddle, a highly decorated fiddle with a double set of strings, the national folk instrument of Norway. Ron, a wood and metal worker, was already building guitars and banjos when he first saw a hardanger fiddle. He began studying the making of them and is now renowned for his skill at making them.

Pam Rucinski, an educator from Seymour is an award-winning practitioner of
the Norwegian folk art form rosemaling. Pam is of Polish heritage and her
family observes many Polish customs. Nonetheless, through her involvement
in rosemaling, she quips that they have become "adopted Norwegians."

A self taught paper cutter, Elda Schiesser is an accomplished designer and artisan. She designs both traditional and contemporary pieces. She lives in New Glarus, a community that strives to keep its Swiss heritage alive.

Bob Thomas was born in 1928 in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. His is the decedent of Cornish lead miners and Norwegian farmers who worked the mines and fields in Iowa County, Wiscosin. (His great grandfather at one time mined lead at the Wakefield Mine near the current site of Folklore Village's Plum Grove Church.) Bob has been a farmer all his life. His two sons and his daughter are also Iowa County farmers.

Sidonka Wadina learned traditional Slovakian arts from her two Slovak grandmothers, such as how to decorate eggs, prepare Slovak dumplings, and paint woodenware. She visited Czechoslovakia with her Grandmother Biksadsky, and learned there, as a teenager, the art of wheat weaving. Her Grandmother Biksadsky, who had practiced the art in her childhood, also helped her to learn. Today, Sidonka is well known as a master of the art form.

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