News / USA

    Cherokee Art Flourishes in Hard Times

    Americans show renewed interest in value and beauty of handcrafted objects

    As far back as the 1700s, European explorers commented on the high quality of Cherokee baskets, but over the generations, the complex weaving technique was nearly lost.
    As far back as the 1700s, European explorers commented on the high quality of Cherokee baskets, but over the generations, the complex weaving technique was nearly lost.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Mike Osborne

    In hard economic times, like the Great Depression of the 1930s, cash-poor Americans did what they could to make a living. Craftspeople found that durable, practical and beautiful handmade items were always in demand.

    Something similar appears to be happening today, during what's being called the Great Recession. Americans are showing renewed appreciation for the value and beauty of handcrafted objects.

    A Native American art cooperative that was born out of the Craft Revival of the Great Depression is now benefiting from the Great Recession.

    Renewed appreciation

    Business is good at Qualla Arts and Crafts in Cherokee, North Carolina, although you wouldn't think so from the sparse crowd browsing the store's native handcrafts.



    Gone are the busloads of tourists dashing in to buy Indian beads and other cheap vacation souvenirs. In their place are serious collectors willing to pay premium prices for handmade native artwork.

    According to Anna Fariello - an authority on Appalachian Art at Western Carolina University - the same thing happened during the early 1900s, as a nation of farmers evolved into a nation of factory workers.

    "The nation then, you know, became a little nostalgic and began to look back at what they perceived of as a fading way of life," says Fariello.

    Economic impetus

    Largely untouched by the industrial revolution, the Appalachian region of the Southeastern United States became the focus of that nostalgia.

    Suddenly, authentic mountain-made baskets, brooms, and bowls were all the rage in places like New York and Chicago. Social reformers and the government saw supporting local handcrafts as a path toward economic development in one of the nation's poorest regions.

    "Part of the issue is that there were fewer jobs in the region and how could the government address that?" says Fariello. "And so, a lot of these small, private cottage industries sprang up and allowed young people to remain in the region and earn a bit of money."

    That was Davy Arch's experience. The 52-year-old Cherokee artist's creations emerged directly from the common handcrafts of his childhood.

    "We heated and cooked with wood, so wood lore and tool use was just a part of everyday life," he says. "And I started making utilitarian products like spoons and dough bowls and things like that when I was really young, probably six or eight years old, when I started just playing around with that kind of thing."

    Protecting their heritage

    Arch is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which formed Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in 1946 in response to the increased interest in native handcrafts.

    He says the Cherokee saw the Craft Revival as a way to make money while also protecting their heritage.

    "Indigenous people all over are facing some of the same problems we are here, with losing their cultural identity because of assimilation into mainstream. So, this has been the hub of keeping a lot of traditions alive."

    A good example is the Cherokee double-weave basket; an especially strong, basket-within-a-basket design. As far back as the 1700s, European explorers commented on the high quality of Cherokee baskets, but over the generations, the complex weaving technique was nearly lost.

    "It got down to just three or four people being able to do that, and we held a class here at the Co-op and now there's about 30 people that can make those baskets," says Arch. "And I'd say about eight or 10 that are producing them for the resale market. So we've really, through the co-op here, and this extended community, revived and saved that art form."

    Helping hand

    The cooperative also helps members find the natural materials they need to create authentic art.

    For example, they've begun noting the GPS coordinates of river banks where good potting clay can be found. The co-op had also started planting the increasingly scarce river-cane used in traditional basket weaving.

    "It grows easily," says Tonya Carroll, Qualla Arts Outreach Coordinator, "but with all the development it's scarce and it's been hard to find and we've worked with them in order to locate areas it has grown to actually try to grow it."

    Carroll says the Coop's efforts are paying off. A couple of Cherokee teens at the local High School have learned to make double-weave baskets.

    "We have adults that find it complicated to do. So seeing those 16 and 17 year olds have those baskets that was just beautiful...they were woven tightly and the designs were very complicated and I was just blown away."

    Fariello, who directs The Craft Revival Project at Western Carolina University, agrees that the cooperative is more than an art gallery.

    "The fact that an organization like Qualla Arts and Crafts has this lengthy history, speaks to their success in terms of creating a sustainable organization to, in fact, sustain these traditions."

    The market for handcrafts may ebb and flow, but Fariello says organizations like Qualla Arts ensure that traditional crafts - and the skills to create them - will be around whenever Americans start to grow nostalgic for them again.

    (Click below to hear Davy Arch discuss his art.)

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.