An interview of Billie Ruth Sudduth conducted 2007 July 26-27, by Mija Riedel, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at the artist's home and studio, in Bakersville, North Carolina.
Sudduth speaks of her childhood in Alabama; her adoptive family; growing up in a creative and musical environment; an early exposure to women working with their hands; buying a Cherokee basket at age 12; childhood piano lessons and later exploring rhythm in her baskets; attending Huntingdon College; a strained relationship with her mother; meeting her biological family; attending the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa and earning a Master's degree in social work; working as a social worker and psychologist for over 20 years; balancing a career with family; taking a basket-making class in an effort to relax and do something for herself; making baskets in spare time and teaching herself new techniques; her family's move to Las Vegas, Nevada; teaching basket-making classes to adults; developing Math in a Basket curriculum; an interest in Fibonacci and the inclusion of its ratio in her baskets; an interest in color and natural dyes; returning to North Carolina and focusing full time on basket making; receiving a North Carolina Arts Council Emerging Artists grant to photo-document her body of work; becoming interested in chaos theory and its application to her basketry; the popularity and success of Math in a Basket; teaching experiences at Penland School of Crafts, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and John Campbell Folk School; receiving a North Carolina Arts Council Visual Artist grant to study Cherokee, Choctaw, and other Native American tribes' basketry; her extensive basket collection; the honor of being named a North Carolina Living Treasure; participating in juried shows, including exhibiting at the Smithsonian Craft Show for 12 years and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show for seven years; the evolution of her workspace and studio; making the Carolina snowflake, which was exhibited at the White House; her exhibition history; an increasing respect for and recognition of baskets as art objects; the advantages university-trained artists have over self-taught artists; learning the business side of art making through trial and error; living and working in an incredible community of artists and collectors in North Carolina; a growing interest and participation in donating her baskets for fundraisers; and looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren. Sudduth also recalls Cynthia Bringle, Carol Sedestrom Ross, Kenneth Trapp, Howard Risatti, Katie Gingrass, and others.
Biographical / Historical:
Billie Ruth Sudduth is a basketmaker from Bakersville, North Carolina. Mija Riedel (1958- ) is a curator and writer from San Francisco, California.
Originally recorded on 3 sound discs. Reformatted in 2010 as 15 digital wav files. Duration is 4 hr., 42 min.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.
Smithsonian Institution. Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Search this
The Festival program, Forest Service, Culture, and Community, presented occupational traditions from the USDA Forest Service, an organization celebrating its centennial in 2005, as well as other forest-dependent traditions from the cultural communities it serves. Approximately a hundred participants on the National Mall shared their skills, experiences, and traditions with members of the public; they included tree pathologists, wildlife biologists, landscape architects, historic horticulturalists, botanists, bird banders, archaeologists, environmental engineers, firefighters, smokejumpers, recreation specialists, backcountry rangers, woodcarvers, basket makers, quilters, instrument makers, musicians, poets, storytellers, and camp cooks.
As the Forest Service began its second century, it already had a long tradition of caring for the land, serving the public, and meeting the challenges of conservation. For instance, the Forest Service has an ongoing mission to educate teachers and children, connecting people to the land through conservation education. Such education increases public awareness and understanding of the interrelationships in natural systems. Natural resource professionals teach in classrooms or lead field trips. Similarly, Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl have become national symbols in fire-prevention and conservation campaigns.
As the Festival program vividly demonstrated, the men and women who work in our forests and rangelands have very special connections to the land and its natural resources. They understand the science, the history, the technology, the art, and the traditions of forest service, culture, and community. They also recognize the values inherent in the work they do. Following the example set by Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot a hundred years before, these men and women are still seeking to provide "the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run."
James Deutsch was Program Curator; Dorey Butter was Program Coordinator, and Tasha Coleman was Research Coordinator. At the USDA Forest Service, the Coordination Team included Linda Feldman, New Century of Service Program Manager; Christine Murray, Festival Program Manager; and Karen Fiore, Research and Oral Histories, Festival Co-Coordinator.
The program was made possible through a partnership with the USDA Forest Service and was produced in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts. Major support came from the National Forest Foundation, Honda, and Whole Foods Market, with additional contributions from IBM and The American Chestnut Foundation.
Fieldworkers and interviewers:
Arlena Aragon-Husband, Patricia Asteinza, Christina Barr, Sarah Barsness, Bob Beckley, Cheryl Burgess, Kevin Davis, Bonnie Dearing, Sherri Richardson Dodge, Jill Evans, Maryo Ewell, Kathleen Figgen, Karen Fiore, Sandi Forney, Don Gedney (1918-2005), Andrew Grace, Andrea Graham, Elizabeth Harvey, Teresa Haugh, David Hunt, Don Jensen, Elizabeth Harvey Johnson, Barbara Kenady-Fish, Carrie N. Kline, Connie R. Lee, Terry Livingston, Chris Losi, Jens Lund, Kari Lusk, Michelle Mcanally, Ken McCall, James L. McConnell, June McMillen, Darcy Minter, Sheila Poole, Ben Quick, Mike Ryan, John Schelhas, Cathie Schmidlin, Steve Segin, Ronna Lee Sharpe, George Sibley, Brooke Smith, Stephen Swimmer, Elaine Thatcher, Lee Webb, Janet Werren, Georgia Wier, Carol Winkler, Susan Wright, Pat York
Susan B. Adams, 1964-, Protecting Forests and Wildlife Habitats participant, Oxford, Mississippi
Kevin Mills, Water, Woods, and Mountains participant
Chuck Milner, 1960-, Sounds of the Forest participant, Cheyenne, Oklahoma
Heather Murphy, 1953-, Protecting Forests and Wildlife Habitats participant, Leavenworth, Washington
Lezlie Murray, 1954-, Call of the Wild participant, Girdwood, Alaska
Hank Nelson, 1933-, Community Stage participant, Wasilla, Alaska
Lavinia B. Nelson, 1921-, Arts & Crafts participant, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
Mark Pearlstein, Water, Woods, and Mountains participant
Kelly Pearson, Call of the Wild participant, Jonesboro, Illinois
Leona Pooyouma, 1946-, Arts & Crafts participant, Flagstaff, Arizona
Marvin Pooyouma, 1948-, Arts & Crafts participant, Flagstaff, Arizona
Steve Reed, 1967-, Smokejumper Base participant, Victor, Montana
Rodney Richard, Sr., 1929-, Arts & Crafts participant, Rangeley, Maine
Riders in the Dirt, Sounds of the Forest -- Riders in the Dirt, Sounds of the ForestAnne Alford, 1967-, lead singer, bassistJo Booser, 1950-, fiddle, musical saws, flutesJudy Haigler, 1952-, rhythm guitarGayle Hunt, 1954-, guitar, banjo, mandolin
Michael Ritter, Sustainable Resource House participant, Madison, Wisconsin
William Rosanelli, 1949-, Forest Service History participant, Montague, New Jersey
Michelle Ryan, 1949-, Forest Service History participant, Dillon, Montana
Catherine "Cat" Sampson, 1949-, Law Enforcement participant, Camp Verde, Arizona
Nathan Schiff, 1958-, Tree Doctors participant, Stoneville, Mississippi
Herb Schroeder, 1951-, Forest Landscapes participant, Evanston, Illinois
Dave Shaw, 1955-, Canopy Crane participant, Carson, Washington
The Shawnee Forest New Century Children's Choir, Sounds of the Forest participants, Southern Illinois
Jane E. Smith, 1959-, Tree Doctors participant, Corvallis, Oregon
Stacey Smith, 1960-, Call of the Wild participant, McKenzie Bridge, Oregon
Bill Stafford, 1949-, Camp Foodways participant, Lake Montezuma, Arizona
Jean Szymanski, 1959-, Family Activities participant, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Sidne Teske, 1952-, Arts & Crafts participant, Tuscarora, Nevada
Donna Thatcher, 1939-, Camp Foodways participant, Farmington, New Mexico
Walt Thies, 1942-, Arts & Crafts participant, Corvallis, Oregon
Lee Thornhill, 1965-, Fire Camp participant, Lakeside, Arizona
Trails Unlimited, Interactive Forest participant, Monrovia, California
Teresa Trulock, 1965-, Forest Service History participant, Pinedale, Wyoming
Gail Tunberg, Water, Woods, and Mountains participant, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Francisco Valenzuela, 1957-, Water, Woods, and Mountains participant, Golden, Colorado
Dennis Vroman, 1943-, Protecting Forests and Wildlife Habitats participant, Grants Pass, Oregon
Linda Wadleigh, 1961-, Camp Foodways, Fire Camp, and Tree Doctors participant, Flagstaff, Arizona
Lee Webb, 1943-, Protecting Forests and Wildlife Habitats participant, Grants Pass, Oregon
Neil Weintraub, 1964-, Forest Landscapes participant, Williams, Arizona
Chuck Williams, 1934-, Forest Service History participant, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Don Wilson, Water, Woods, and Mountains participant
Marta Witt, 1955-, Forest Landscapes participant, Wilmington, Illinois
Keith Wolferman, Smokejumper Base participant, Missoula, Montana
Pat York, 1957-, Community Stage and Water, Woods, and Mountains participant, Jonesboro, Illinois
J.P. Zavalla, Smokejumper Base participant, Santa Ynez, California
Pete Zavalla, 1944-, Community Stage participant, Solvang, California
Tony Zavalla, 1970-, Fire Camp participant, Santa Barbara, Californiab
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Smithsonian Folklife Festival records: 2005 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.