The Cherokee’s love for wood carving was born out of necessity. The Cherokee like many cultures carved wood for a variety of reasons, from items used in our homes to the creation of masks for our traditional dances.
Our traditional masks prior to metal tools were constructed of gourd, tree bark or animal fur; you will find after the introduction of metal tools more elaborate masks being produced. During some of our dances, the masks were used as ways to keep the identity of the dancers from the spectators. In other dances the mask would have been reserved for use by the lead dancer in order to identify the dance. Woodcarving was not only specific to mask making, but was also used to create the utilitarian items needed for everyday life.
The Cherokee Woodcarver began to carve such things as bowls, utensils, create furniture and items necessary for the processing of food. One of the most important items to a Cherokee would have been the “Ka-no-na” or corn beater which was carved and used for the processing of corn into meal. With the opening of the park and the introduction of tourism, many of our crafts were to every change.
The opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park brought tourism to the Qualla Boundary like never before. A new market for the selling of Cherokee goods was now available. It was also because of this tourism that our Cherokee woodcarving began to transform. Many of our traditional carvers/carvings began to give way to young artists who had the traditional knowledge, but presented their works in a more stylized manner moving away from the utilitarian uses and more toward the decorative arts. That is not to say that the traditional carving styles and techniques were forgotten. On the contrary, the past is very much our present.
Qualla Arts and Crafts works tirelessly to insure that our arts and crafts traditions continue to be ever present. It is only because of our strong connections to our traditional techniques that we are able to explore our modern arts.