TAUNY, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, has announced the three recipients for this year’s North Country Heritage Awards: Loretta Lepkowski of Tug Hill (Evergreen Award Recipient), Bill MacKentley of Potsdam (Inherited Traditions Award Recipient), and The Paddock Arcade in Watertown (Very Special Place Award Recipient).
These individuals and the site will be recognized and honored for their contributions to their communities and North Country traditions at this year’s Salute to North Country Heritage, TAUNY’s annual public reception, on October 22 from 2 to 4 pm at The TAUNY Center.
TAUNY’s North Country Heritage Awards recognize individuals, families, and community groups who demonstrate evidence of traditionality, mastery, and creative commitment to their art form over time, and a commitment to their community and the teaching of others. They also recognize sites in North Country that are special to the life of those communities, have served multiple generations over time, are community gathering places, meet a community’s social, spiritual, economic, or entertainment needs, and are a factor in community or regional identity. The program was established by TAUNY founder and folklorist Varick Chittenden in 1993 and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018 with a series of programs and special events centered around the Heritage Awards and its recipients.
What follows is the descriptions of award recipients from TAUNY:
This year’s Evergreen Award, which recognizes individuals, groups, and businesses for their continuing interest in and generous support of traditional cultures, arts and artists, goes to Loretta Lepkowski, local artist from Tug Hill. With deep roots in the rugged land of the Tug Hill, Loretta is passionate about the landscape and the people of her part of the North Country. Now an artist with a folkloristic approach, her basic curiosity and way of interacting means she’s always seeking out people with interesting stories and looking for ways to record and share these stories with others. Besides her interests in the agricultural and logging heritage of her neighbors, she is particularly knowledgeable about the Polish American culture of her own family and of others who settled there. Through her painting, she consistently works to document life on Tug Hill. Her series on family farms, for instance, documents not only individual farmers but a way of life and a sense of regional identity. Loretta knows her community, is deeply proud of the hardy lifestyle of her neighborhood, and is generous in sharing her knowledge of it. She has contributed endless hours of volunteer time to projects for TAUNY and other organizations that present local history and culture to the public.
This year’s Inherited Traditions Award, which is awarded to artists or practitioners who have mastered oral, musical, social, or material expressions that are traditional to their family or community, goes to Bill MacKentley, a dedicated and experienced horticulturist in Potsdam, NY. A native of Mt. Arab deep in the Adirondack woods, Bill MacKentley developed his skills after starting as an apprentice with legendary North Country farmer Fred Ashworth over 50 years ago. During that apprenticeship, Ashworth shared with Bill his vast knowledge about trees, especially edible fruit and nut trees that survive and thrive in sub-zero climates. After years of working with Ashworth, Bill and his wife Diana started St. Lawrence Nurseries where they continued until their recent retirement to find and graft scores of new and heirloom varieties. Besides hundreds of loyal local customers, with mail order sales over the last few decades, they have sent thousands of saplings and plants to customers across the country and well beyond. By collecting and planting seeds from Fred Ashworth’s original nut tree selections and propagating the many fruit cultivars tested and recommended by Fred, Bill has kept much of their shared knowledge alive and shared it with countless others.
This year’s Very Special Place Award, which recognizes sites in North Country communities that are special to the life of those communities, goes to The Paddock Arcade, in Watertown, NY. Built in 1850, the Paddock Arcade is the second oldest covered shopping mall in the United States and the oldest to continuously operate, since it has seen uninterrupted use since it first opened. Built by Watertown native Loveland Paddock and designed by architect Otis Wheelock, it was based on similar arcades built during that era in Europe. At number 1 Public Square, it remains the benchmark structure in Watertown’s historic downtown district. With an Italianate façade, it was built in the Gothic style, topped with a glass roof that allows daylight to filter through. Over the years, shops have generally occupied the bottom floor while the upper floors have been used for office space. The arcade still functions as a shopping and business center. After recent structural and aesthetic improvements, it is currently home to popular restaurants, a tavern, a bicycle shop, bakery, specialty grocery store, and boutique shops.
For more information about the TAUNY and the North Country Heritage Awards and the Salute to North Country Heritage Program visit their website.
Photos: TAUNY’s 2017 North Country Heritage Award Recipients: Loretta Lepkowski, Bill MacKentley, and The Paddock Arcade in Watertown (provided by TAUNY, courtesy The Watertown Daily Times).