The Art Of Tradition

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Dating back more than 3,000 years, metalworking, particularly with copper, in the eastern part of the United States has mainly had a ceremonial and ritual significance.

With the new metalsmithing class at the Cherokee Arts Center in Canton, the ancient art form is making a comeback.

“To work copper from its raw form into the art objects produced prior to European contact makes it evident that there was a very good understanding of metallurgy and metal working techniques,” says class instructor Toneh Chuleewah.

“As a modern metal worker, I have a great appreciation for the skill involved in the production of their pieces, considering what I envision they had as tools to work with as compared to what I use today.”

The class, which has a waiting list for enrollment, is aimed at teaching metalworking techniques, while giving budding entrepreneurs the extra tools to create a sustainable business.

“We hope to educate the public on our tribal designs and materials and ultimately, we hope to assist the artists to grow their art businesses to the point that they open their own studio and gallery someday,” says Donna Tinnin, event organizer for the Cherokee Nation Community Tourism.

“We have some of the most talented Cherokee artists right here in our communities, and we want the world to see and enjoy their work.”

“My style is completely different from my father’s, even though he was the one who taught me.”

Housing affordable studio space, as well as shared services such as computer and internet access, and other business related infrastructure, the center aids artists in every aspect of developing their artwork.

“The Native Artists Professional Development curriculum will be provided throughout the year,” says Tinnin. “We also have an artist loan program that allows us to offer low interest loans to artists in order to enhance their current business, or just to purchase materials in order to create inventory.”

And with all of these tools offered for students, their main focus can stay with their craft – and making it their own.

“There are many similar characteristics in copper work with tribes throughout the Southeast, as copper was a shared art form, but each tribe has its own unique take on the images within its own cultural beliefs,” says Chuleewah. “Though I am a second generation jeweler, my style is completely different from my father’s, even though he was the one who taught me.”

But the consistent root of this art form is its historical and cultural significance, and that retains a great influence on modern metalworkers.

“One of the aspects that has fascinated me about metal work, is that the art I have made will far outlast my existence, for generations to come,” says Chuleewah.

And it is those generations who will learn from their ancestors and grow along the way, just as present Cherokee metalworkers are learning from their ancestors today.

The skill and craftsmanship of these artists is just as important as the products they are producing.

 “One of the main significant aspects of this art form is its durability,” says Chuleewah. “It will be a record of our culture that will last far into the future.”

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