NEA National Heritage Fellowship Tribute Video: Rich Smoker

NEA National Heritage Fellowship  Tribute Video: Rich Smoker


My name is Rich Smoker. I live here in Marion, Maryland, on the banks
of the Big Anamesik River. And, I am an NEA National Heritage Fellow. When I was in high school, I decided that
I wanted to hunt ducks on my native Susquehanna River. Had no decoys. Had no money for decoys. Had no boat. My dad was the industrial arts teacher at
the time. So, dad and I decided to make decoys. And, during that time period, I realized that’s
what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I’ve always been enamored with building things. Building things with my hands. A man who works with his hands is a laborer. A man who works with his hands and his mind
is a craftsman. A man who works with his hands, his mind,
and his heart is an artist. And that’s the way I view this. I love making birds; I love doing what I do. People ask me what my favorite bird is, and,
frankly, I tell them that it’s the next one. I want to do someting new all the time – to
try and move this art form forward. To me, winning this National Heritage Fellowship
means that I’m an ambassador for my art form. We’re laying in between two bodies of water. It’s a thin, narrow peninsula. Makes you wonder if someday it might’s gonna
be gone. Even if someday when this area might be underwater,
the tradition of decoy carving, I think that story needs to be told. It was a way of life for people. To perpetuate this art form, in this area,
preserving the past, you know that means everything to me. The use of decoys is one of North America’s
original art forms. We find references of people using decoys
back into the 1830s. And, consequently, I’d like to see it continue. I think one of my avenues in life was to teach. I think is special because he’s willing to
take the time and share his knowledge. There’s a lot of good carvers out here, but
I’ve not met anybody who takes it to that level and passion to continue this heritage
of carving birds. I like carving with my grandpa. It brings me a lot of joy. I got three ribbons, a county fair champion,
a division champion, and first place. I carved with my father, carverd with my broth. My mother carved. But it means so much more to me to have my
own granddaughter, you know, sitting across from me and working on something. I’m so thankful for my family, my friends,
for the outdoors. Very proud of the fact that I’ve been able
to do this work. You know, that’s really what life is. You gotta have a passion. And, you’ve gotta fulfilll that passion.

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