Ferrum College Hosts National Endowment for the Arts Award Winner

Norman Kennedy demonstrates the art of spinning.
Norman Kennedy demonstrates the art of spinning.

On Friday Feb. 3, National Endowment for the Arts award winner Norman Kennedy treated more than 75 people to an evening of traditional Scottish ballad singing and storytelling on the Ferrum College campus. Performing from a tartan-draped armchair centered in the Blue Ridge Mountain Room in Franklin Hall, Kennedy entertained the crowd with old songs, tales and customs of his native Scotland.

Following the Friday evening event, Kennedy spent Saturday at the College’s Blue Ridge Institute and Museum instructing workshop participants from around southwest Virginia and North Carolina in traditional fiber processing and spinning techniques, interspersing the lessons with additional Scottish folklore and history.

Kennedy, who became interested in the old songs, tales, textile crafts, and customs of his native Scotland as a youth in the 1930s, moved to the United States in the 1960s and was the Master Weaver at Colonial Williamsburg for five years before founding his own weaving school in Vermont in the 1970s. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Kennedy its prestigious National Heritage Fellowship in 2003 for his work in preserving both Scottish ballads and handweaving traditions.

“Norman Kennedy is one of those rare cultural guides–a singer, storyteller, spinner, and weaver who went out as a young man in his native Scotland to learn from people who were living a lifestyle closer to the 1700s than today,” said Blue Ridge Institute Director Roddy Moore. “Watching him spin wool or hearing him tell a folktale, you realize how much the world has changed in a very short time, what we’ve lost as well as gained.”

“That’s what Ferrum’s Blue Ridge Institute & Museum is all about, making the connections between the past and the present and showcasing the people who carry on the traditional arts,” said Ferrum College President Jennifer Braaten, noting that the Institute has documented the folkways of the people living in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains for more than thirty years. “The Institute’s focus adds a unique element to Ferrum College’s modern academic programs.”

Through gallery exhibits, the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, the Blue Ridge Farm Museum, the Blue Ridge Heritage Archive, the BRI Recordings series and innovative outreach programming, the Institute promotes a special understanding of regional folklife for all ages and audiences. Its facilities are currently under expansion and more small-group programs will be held when building improvements are completed this spring.