Making Cherokee Pottery

 

The Cherokee People are heir to a rich,vibrant culture deeply rooted in mythology, spirituality and a strong reverence of nature and it's many forms. There is a mystery that surrounds each piece as it tries to tell another part of the Cherokee story. A story still told by old men and women to the wide eyes of little children.

There are stories that recall the creation of the Earth from a watery emptiness, the creation of A-Ma-Ye-Tli , The Place Between the Waters, that would one day become known as the United States. Soft words and giant gestures tell how the wolf made the Milky Way and from the Giant Serpent, Oo-g-te-na , the healing crystal was taken from his forehead.

The old people say there is no word for art in the Cherokee language but yet there is an artistic tradition reaching into the past beyond anyone's memory. To the Cherokee people, like other tribal people, art was not a job or a goal...it was merely living life itself. Making traditional pottery is a time consuming art. Each piece is coiled by hand without using a potter's wheel. The same tools that were available to Southeastern tribal potters 5OO years ago are the same tools I use today. Stones, shells, bones and river cane knives pull and stretch the clay into form and then etch or incise the designs. The clays used to form and color these pieces are dug from the Earth and then ground between two stones to a fine powder. To this powder, water is added along with the same ingredients used by Cherokee potters for hundreds of years to give the raw clay strength.

Southeastern vessel shapes are numerous and intricate. A vessel can range from a simple sphere to such ornate shapes as reptiles, humans, birds and animals. Each piece tempered by wood fire and telling a little bit more of the Cherokee story.

This once treasured art form nearly became extinct. Today there are only a handful of Southeastern potters creating vessels the old way with the mystery of the old stories and the power of generations of history. Our works can be found in museums and private collections from Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C to Berlin and London. Our art has been featured in articles in publications such as The Smithsonian Runner and Oklahoma Today's Native American issue and numerous newspaper articles. I was proud to be selected to exhibit at Red Earth, a juried art show and America's largest Indian festival featuring 250 of the best Indian artists in the United States. Perhaps my greatest honor was when a vessel titled Uktena, was given as an example of Cherokee art and culture by our Chief Wilma Mankiller to Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit to the United States.

Southeastern pottery is a highly collectible art not only for its beauty but also for its rarity. It has the soul of the Old Ones and the spirit of the modern Cherokee Nation. I am proud of my heritage and have enjoyed sharing a small piece of it with you. To travel just a little further into the heart of Cherokee mythology, click here to go to the art gallery.

Thank you for stopping by.

 

My aunt, Anna Mitchell, who taught me the art of making Cherokee pottery.

Built into a hillside, the fire inside the pit burns for many hours. When the all that is left are gray ashes, they are pushed away to show the finished pieces.

The metal sheets are used to keep the high flames from spreading to the grass and woods.