The good folks at Maryland Traditions have announced that this year's Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts awards go to a Highlandtown bowling alley (Patterson Lanes), an Eastern Shore decoy carver (Somerset County's Rich Smoker), and sacred music groups on both sides of the Chesapeake (Singing & Praying Bands of Maryland). The awards underscore the group's mission to honor the people, places, and traditions that comprise the state's diverse cultural heritage. A ceremony will be held December 3rd at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring.
Here's more info on the winners...
PERSON: Rich Smoker Rich Smoker is a master decoy carver who lives in Marion, Maryland (Somerset County) and grew up on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. He developed an interest in waterfowl at an early age and began carving hunting decoys with his father, R.B. Smoker. Rich worked in a taxidermy shop as a boy and opened his own taxidermy business in 1979. The skills he acquired as a taxidermist helped to improve his carving. “In taxidermy,” says Smoker, “you work from the inside out, and in carving you work from the outside in.” In 1982 he and his family moved to Crisfield, Maryland, where he befriended Lem and Steve Ward, the Eastern Shore’s foremost carvers of waterfowl. In Crisfield, Smoker shifted his attention from taxidermy to waterfowl art. He has carved over 3,000 birds since his arrival in Somerset County. Besides creating magnificent carvings, Smoker is also known for his teaching of the art form to more than 1,400 people in over 140 classes. Rich is also a decorated competitor, who has won over 60 best in shows and more than 450 ribbons. Rich won the prestigious World Champion Title at the 2008 Ward World Wildfowl Carving Competition in the Shootin’ Rig Division. Smoker is also an active member of the Ward Foundation Board of Directors, and the founder of the museum’s Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo.
PLACE: Patterson Bowling Center Duckpin Bowling Lanes – or “Patterson Lanes”– is located close to Patterson Park in East Baltimore. Founded by Martin Ruzin in 1927, it is the oldest duckpin bowling alley in the world. The Ruzin family sold it to Charles and Theresa McElhose, the current owners, in 1995. Once a significant aspect of working-class culture in Baltimore, Duckpin bowling has been diminishing over the past several decades. However, at Patterson Lanes, the sociability of sport continues to thrive. A two-story bowling alley, it is the city’s sole remaining duckpin-only bowling alley. Although historians place duckpins’ origins in late 19th century Lowell, Massachusetts, , the sport’s identity is firmly tied to Baltimore thanks to Baltimore Orioles (and baseball hall of famers) John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, who popularized the sport at their bowling alley on Howard Street in the 1890s. Robinson and McGraw are said to have shaved down their standard-sized bowling pins into squat novelty pins that were harder to knock down. When struck, the pins were so unpredictably explosive that they supposedly reminded McGraw and Robinson of gunning ducks on the Eastern Shore. Duckpins’ connection to early baseball stars is on display at Patterson Lanes, where there is a life-sized photograph of Baltimore native Babe Ruth, bowling duckpins. Ruth’s niece bowls in the Tuesday morning Senior league at Patterson Lanes.
TRADITION: The Singing & Praying Bands of Maryland (Eastern and Western Shore) are an African-American devotional/musical tradition that is unique to the Delmarva region. With origins in West African religion, Christianity, and African-American ring shout traditions, Singing & Praying Bands developed as a Christian tradition in the Delmarva during slavery. It is likely the oldest living African-American musical tradition in Maryland. Similar to the ring shout, the ministry of the Singing & Praying Bands takes place in host churches, often at a camp meeting after an evening preaching service is over. Members will line out a hymn, pray a prayer and end with a spiritual in which the groups form a circle, marching counterclockwise out onto the church grounds. In the past, almost half of the African American Methodist churches of the counties bordering on the Chesapeake had their own Singing and Praying Band. Since the 1950s, the bands have diminished in number, and the singers have consolidated into one large band comprised of 50-100 active tradition bearers from 20-30 different churches. They come together most Sundays in the spring, summer and fall at a different church each week and hold service there, keeping this tradition alive.
[Photos: (top) Lora Botinelli, (middle, bottom) Edwin Remsberg]