Meet the Bettys: The Creative Genius

Ferne Caulker is an artist on top of her game.

JOIN US IN HONORING THE 2020 BETTY AWARD WINNERS IN A VIRTUAL EVENT DECEMBER 15TH. AWARD-WINNING JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR ANNA QUINDLEN WILL DELIVER THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS AND JOEL QUADRACCI OF QUAD WILL PRESENT REMARKS. 

Growing up in Sierra Leone, Ferne Caulker was surrounded by music. “We lived up on a mountain where the breeze carried sounds of traditional drums and people singing,” recalls Caulker, age 72. “My father also loved classical music.” 

Those early memories would continue to imbue Caulker’s creative life for decades. As a young woman, Caulker, who moved to Milwaukee in high school after her father’s death, studied under master modern dancer Katherine Dunham. But a 1969 trip to Ghana inspired Caulker to take her own, unique path. “I was standing at Elmina Castle, one of the stops on the Atlantic slave trade,” says Caulker, “and it hit me: I can be a connector.”  

When she returned to Milwaukee, Caulker developed her own dance form, one that pulled from both ballet and traditional African dance. She called it the “Caulker method” and built her 51-year-old pioneering dance company, Ko-Thi, around it. “It is about rethinking what stories we tell,” says Caulker, who served as the company’s artistic director until January. “What we did was create something new based in something very old.” 


Ferne Caulker is one of the 2020 recipients of a Betty Award. Each year, Milwaukee Magazine presents these awards as a tribute to the late Betty Quadracci, the magazine’s former publisher who founded Quad/Graphics with her husband Harry. Read more about this year’s honorees here


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s November issue.

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