The 2008 Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow, Walter Murray Chiesa, has spent a lifetime documenting and championing the traditional crafts of Puerto Rico. Mr. Murray Chiesa grew up in Puerto Rico, but he left to study at University of California at Los Angeles. In 1962 he was invited by Puerto Rico’s pioneer of cultural heritage, Ricardo Alegria, to be the director of the Crafts Division of the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture. From that point forward, he dedicated himself to traveling the winding mountain roads and coastal plains of the island, identifying traditional craftsworkers, mapping crafts traditions, and mounting public programs to raise awareness of Puerto Rican crafts. Mr. Murray Chiesa taught at the Center for Advanced Studies of the Caribbean and founded the Office of Crafts Development at Fomento, now known as the Puerto Rican Industrial Development Corporation. While there, he initiated an annual Month of the Craftsman and coordinated a Year of Crafts for the island. Another major contribution was his establishment of a Crafts Tool Bank providing needy craftsworkers with tools for their trade. Of the six craftspeople from Puerto Rico who have previously received an NEA National Heritage Fellowship, it is safe to say that none would have achieved this honor without the attention and patronage of Walter Murray Chiesa. Celestino Aviles, a santo carver who received a Heritage Fellowship in 2001, referred to Mr. Murray Chiesa as "el papa de los artesanos" or "the craftsworkers' father."
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