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“Art is a gift that is created for others.
Without that spirit, it is reduced to craftsmanship.”

-Chief Charles “Jathohi” Rogers

Since the beginning, Cherokee art is inspired by nature and drawn primarily from Cherokee history and culture. Much is made today of the paintings, baskets, and pottery of the Cherokee but this awareness of nature was expressed in many other ways as well. Beadwork found on moccasins, belts, baldrics (sashes), and pouches plus clothing were a traditional part of Cherokee heritage.

White Chief Al Herrin (left) and Bud Breen, who has been renowned for his art for over 50 years. (Photo - Left)
White Chief Al Herrin (left) and Bud Breen, who has been renowned for his art for over 50 years. To see his genius as applied to historical
Cherokee themes,
click HERE and marvel.
He is a bonafide genius.
- Chief Charles Jahtlohi Rogers.

Sewing and clothes-making allowed women the opportunity to express their talents with intricate designs and details. The Cherokee Tear Dress remains the standard traditional fashion for Cherokee women. The Tear Dress is believed to be the style of dress from the Trail of Tears era, when most women did not own scissors due to removal and confiscation of most of her personal and household belongings. The Calico print material was thus torn from the bolt creating a “tear” in the fabric. The “tear” title may be pronounced both as “tear” as in the “Trail of Tears” or as “tear” as in the fabric being torn.

Regan “Ama Tawodi” Garrett (right) stands with his good friend and award winning Cherokee Storyteller, Gregg “He who tells our stories true” Howard by a fire in Zaragosa, Mexico. (Photo - Right)
Regan “Ama Tawodi” Garrett (right) stands with his good friend and award winning Cherokee Storyteller, Gregg “He who tells our stories true” Howard by a fire in Zaragosa, Mexico. To view some samples of the art of Waterhawk, Click HERE.

The Cherokee dress was fashioned with ¾ length sleeves to avoid hampering the women’s daily duties of dish washing, grinding corn and nuts, as well as her many other household duties, and the mid-calf skirt length to avoid collecting dirt or dew from the ground. The top buttoned down in the front for nursing small children, while the girl‘s dress fastened in the back. Modern day Tear Dresses have been modified to full-length sleeves and a floor length skirt.

For Cherokee men, the traditional Turban made of calico fabric continues to be worn in modern day. Also, Cherokee men wore the Ribbon Shirt made from calico fabric. However, the Ribbon Shirt has become intertribal wear, worn during pow-wows and gatherings. Its signature, the ribbon design, is interwoven on the front and back of the shirt, with sleeves similar to the Tear Dress.

Before the invention of plastics and affordable glass, baskets were the main source of storage and household tools for Cherokee households. Baskets were used as strainers and as carry packs for fishing and hunting supplies. Baskets were a necessity in the Cherokee homes.

The Cherokee women primarily crafted all baskets. She used no patterns, models or drawings. Her inspiration came from within, within her soul, in her memory, in her imagination. She utilized the mountains, streams and forests along with her tribe‘s traditions to form her patterns. The function of the basket was the first consideration for its shape.

Everything around us is a gift from above. Including the place we stand. Art is simply observations of these wonders He surrounds us with. On the Life Path it is wise to look on both sides of the trail less we miss the beauty present. Occasionally look back lest you missed something. - Clay Garrett (Photo - Left)
Everything around us is a gift from above. Including the place we stand. Art is simply observations of these wonders He surrounds us with. On the Life Path it is wise to look on both sides of the trail less we miss the beauty present. Occasionally look back lest you missed something.
- Clay “Adanvto Edohi (Spirit Walker)” Garrett
View samples of Clay's art HERE

The principal materials used included cane, white oak, hickory bark and honeysuckle. The bark was harvested with gathering time best in late fall and early spring. The vines were prepared sometimes with the natural oils in her hand making the vine shine, and sometimes by slow boiling the vines and adding stove ashes for bleaching. Black walnut for brown, bloodroot for yellow and assorted berries were used for dyes. The bloodroot was found along the bank of a stream, and was recognized by its single white flower that bloomed early spring. The shade was simmered in a pot of water until the ideal color was accomplished. The basket was then dipped into the solution with the darkness of the color dependant on the length of time the basket was immersed in the stain water.

Today, yellow onion skins, butternut for black, yellow root for yellow and broom sedge for orange have been incorporated into the color scheme for basket dye. Modern Cherokee women continue to create baskets, although the baskets have developed into ornate pieces of art.

For dyeing homespun cloth and sometimes, yarn, the colors of red, yellow and brown were used most often. Copper was mixed with soap to make a yellow dye. Yellow Prairie Weed bloom was mixed with Alum to make a brown dye.

Although differences existed between family and family, and clan-to-clan, the Cherokee history and culture has endured to present day. Modern-day Cherokee artists carry on their rich heritage through expression of their art form, made by hand, dwelling in their heart.



copyright © 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
     Must have permission to use or reprint by Chales Jahtlohi Rogers MD.

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