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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid