Two traditional crafts persons, a musician, and a folk dance group were inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center’s Hall of Master Folk Artists during an induction ceremony held at Northwestern State University on Saturday, July 23 as part of the 42nd Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. Inductees included fiddler Amanda Shaw, who also served as honorary Festival Chair, music instrument maker R.V. Couch, twisted wire toy maker Elvin Shields, and the Louisiana Czech Heritage Dancers.
Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center at NSU, led the induction ceremony, assisted by Dr. Sarah McFarland.
Honorary Festival Chair and inductee Amanda Shaw is best known as the dynamic Cajun fiddler and frontwoman of Amanda Shaw & The Cute Guys. Shaw and her band are a staple at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where she performs annually. She was a featured New Orleans performer on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in 2020 as well as on CNN’s New Year’s Eve with Don Lemon in 2018, 2019, and 2021. Shaw began studying classical violin at age four and began performing live Cajun music at age eight. She self-released her first album, Little Black Dog, at age eleven, and has since released four studio albums and two live recordings. She was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2020.
R.V. Couch started disassembling and rebuilding household objects during his childhood in Summerville, LA. Couch worked with his hands throughout his adult life, working as an automotive and mobile home mechanic until his retirement. He built his first violin around 2005. Since then, he has developed a reputation as a sought-out instrument builder who expertly crafts travel guitars (acoustic or electric), “pik-a-sticks,” violins, and teardrop violins. He sometimes cuts his own trees and saws the wood for the instrument in his circular sawmill. In recent years, Couch has become a fixture at the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, where his beautifully crafted instruments are always a hit with attendees.
Elvin Shields was born into a family of sharecroppers in 1949 on Melrose Plantation. He spent his childhood working in the fields with his family and the other sharecroppers of the plantation. There was no money for the family to buy toys, so Shields and the other boys learned to twist wire into toys. Shields stopped making wire toys when he was fifteen, but he took the craft back up during his retirement in order to teach about the traditions and history of Black plantation sharecroppers. He enjoys creating the toys and sharing this often-overlooked history with others. Shields is currently a volunteer at the Cane River National Historical Park, where he presents lectures about his time living on the plantation and the history of the Black sharecroppers who lived in southern Natchitoches Parish.
The Louisiana Czech Heritage Dancers debuted in 1987 as a project of the Louisiana Czech Heritage Association, Inc. of Libuse. At its peak, the Louisiana Czech Heritage Dancers boasted more than 20 dancers ranging in age from 10 to 90. For 35 years, they have regularly performed at the Czech Festival, nursing homes, local folk festivals all over Louisiana, the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, and at events in Texas. Although time has decreased their numbers, the group still performs annually at the Louisiana Czech Heritage Festival. Visiting Czechs have been astonished to find such a vibrant and authentic dance group in the middle of rural Louisiana, a tribute to the tenacity and resiliency of Czech folk traditions in the colonies of Libuse and Kolin.
There are now 121 members in the Hall of Master Folk Artists, which was started in 1981. This year’s festival theme was “Stronger Together: The Power of Traditional Folk Culture.” The festival is held annually in air-conditioned Prather Coliseum on the Northwestern State University campus. Next year’s festival, to be held on July 22, 2023, will recognize many artists young and old who are keeping tradition alive in Louisiana, and will include performers such as the Broussard Family Juré, James Linden Hogg, the Russell Welch Hot Quartet, Rusty Metoyer and the Zydeco Krush, Yvette Landry and the Jukes, and the annual Louisiana State Fiddle Championship. For more information, call the Louisiana Folklife Center at (318) 357-4332, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at http://louisianafolklife.nsula.edu/.
Pictured: Inductees into the Louisiana Folklife Center’s Hall of Master Folk Artists were recognized during the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. From left are Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center; music instrument maker R.V. Couch, fiddler Amanda Shaw, who also served as honorary Festival Chair; twisted wire toy maker Elvin Shields, and the Louisiana Czech Heritage Dancers.