The Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, will be presented to hammered dulcimer musician, mentor, teacher, promoter, and tune collector Patty Looman of Morgantown on Saturday, May 26, as part of the 31st annual Vandalia Gathering. The award will be given to Looman during a 6:30 p.m. ceremony and concert in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater in the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex, Charleston. Looman also will perform during the concert. The event is free and open to the public.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History presents the Vandalia Award annually to a West Virginian who has made outstanding contributions to the continuation of the state’s folk heritage. The award recognizes lifetime achievement in the performance, creation or perpetuation of West Virginia traditional arts. The Vandalia Gathering, an annual three-day festival of traditional arts and folk heritage, is celebrated Memorial Day weekend at the Cultural Center and the State Capitol grounds. More than 40,000 people attend the three-day festival each year.
A native of Mannington, Looman has become a living example of the spirit of music and its joy, and has influenced the lives of many students within and outside of West Virginia. She moved to Morgantown after her retirement in 1982, and has spent most of her time promoting and teaching the mountain and hammered dulcimer to students all over the East Coast, frequently for free.
Music has always played an important part in Looman’s life. She has said that her parents were quite insistent that she become a professional musician. When she was young she was excused from school every Wednesday, and rode the train to Wheeling to take organ lessons, while at home she took piano, cello and trumpet. She also was exposed to the hammered dulcimer by West Virginia master Russell Fluharty. Looman was later introduced to dulcimer player Worley Gardner.
Looman attended Fairmont State College and Central Michigan University where she discovered a love of speech and drama and ended up with a degree in education with an emphasis on music, speech and drama. She taught high school students in Michigan for 35 years and worked on many musical theater productions. In her summers, Looman would come home to West Virginia and study with Fluharty and Gardner.
Looman has become the most active hammered dulcimer performer in West Virginia. She also is the busiest dulcimer teacher in the state, currently seeing more than 40 private students. By emphasizing her music’s origin in Fluharty and Gardner, she is keeping alive the gifts passed down to her.
Looman teaches group classes at Garrett Community College in Maryland and at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins. She was the recipient of the 2004 B. B. Maurer West Virginia Folklife Scholar Award, which annually honors a person who has contributed to the preservation and perpetuation of Appalachian cultural heritage. Looman is the honoree and namesake for PattyFest held yearly at Camp Muffly, a 4-H camp nestled in the rolling hills located just south of Morgantown. She is also a master artist in the West Virginia Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program, chairs the Mountaineer Dulcimer Convention of West Virginia, and performs in bands such as Hammers and Strings.
Looman is the 27th recipient of the Vandalia Award. Last year, Ethel Caffie-Austin of Dunbar was honored. For more information about the Vandalia Award or the Vandalia Gathering, call (304) 558-0220.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Its administrative offices are located at the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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Media Note: Patty Looman can be reached at (304) 599-5343.