Blending regional Native American history with artisan trades, an exhibit currently on display at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum sheds lights on the time-honored traditions of the Cherokee.
The exhibit, “Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual: Tradition and Innovation” was developed by Western Carolina’s Mountain Heritage Center and is on loan to the BRAHM until March 6, 2021. The exhibit showcases a collection of both historic artifacts and contemporary Cherokee craft items ranging from woodwork to pottery, to woven objects and textiles.
“This was of a particular interest to us,” said Lee Carol Giduz, executive director of the BRAHM. “We haven’t done a lot with Native American art here and the Cherokee have been in western North Carolina for a very long time so that was something that we really wanted to showcase, so when this became available we jumped on it.”
Qualla Arts & Crafts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. is the nation’s oldest Native American artist cooperative. Since its founding in 1946, the Qualla has worked to preserve traditional Cherokee craftsmanship, while also encouraging promising artists to add their own personal touches to their work. “Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual: Tradition and Innovation” explores the history of this cooperative through a combination of text panels, a collection of 66 craft objects and a video about the Cherokee craft tradition, all of which can be viewed at the BRAHM.
“We’re always trying to balance that art and history aspect of our mission, but we do tend to do more with art. So it’s nice when you have an exhibit that encapsulates both,” said Giduz.
The current display also features online elements such as a Qualla Arts Talk, which originally streamed live in November and can still be viewed via the BRAHMS’ YouTube channel, https://youtu.be/xDf9KrZHOGI.
“Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual: Tradition and Innovation” comes to the BRAHM at a strange time for museums. Due to COVID-19 and an increase in virtual learning, the museum has seen a reduction in the amount of school children who have been able to see the exhibit, which had been scheduled to come to Blowing Rock for a year. Despite a decrease in school groups, however, the museum has seen a shift in visitation from families during the course of the pandemic.
“Obviously to have an exhibit like this we wish that school children could come,” said Guiduz. “With the pandemic we’re getting a lot more families during the week. You have children studying from home, you have people working from home, so they’re able to come up mid-week. When used to, they would show up on the weekend because that’s when the whole family would travel.”
The exhibit first opened in Blowing Rock on Nov. 14. According to the BRAHM, the public response to the exhibit has been overwhelmingly positive, with Giduz saying that she hopes that visitors to the exhibit are able to take away a greater appreciation and respect for the Cherokee culture.