Learning lessons from the clay; Gadugi Pottery Exhibit opens at Museum

by Apr 15, 2023A&E, COMMUNITY sgadugi0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


CHEROKEE, N.C. – The artistry and beauty of Cherokee pottery was on display at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian as the Gadugi Pottery Exhibit opened on the evening of Friday, April 14.  The exhibit featured the works of students from a Community Learning Workshop, hosted by the Museum, which was taught by Tara McCoy, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and noted potter.

Nancy Pheasant, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, stands beside her display of three pots she made during the recent Community Learning Workshop hosted by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. She is shown at the opening of the Gadugi Pottery Exhibit, featuring the works students made during the workshop, at the Museum on the evening of Friday, April 14. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

This was the second year the Museum has hosted Community Learning Workshop for pottery.

At the beginning of Friday’s event, McCoy commented, “I’m very thankful to be able to work and be here on the same land that our ancestors have been on. It’s just really truly a gift to be able to work with the same dirt, doing the same designs, just working with the clay. That’s truly a gift, and I really appreciate that.”

She added, “I can’t say it enough how we should be really appreciative and respectful to our Earth and surroundings, or the environment.”

Dakota Brown, Museum of the Cherokee Indian director of education, said to the crowd, “I’m honored to have each and every one of you here to celebrate these amazing students. Their work is absolutely wonderful.”

She then read a statement from Shana Bushyhead-Condill, Museum of the Cherokee Indian executive director, who couldn’t be in attendance. “I want to thank Tara for being willing and passionate about teaching this class. She is a leader in not only perpetuating the art of Cherokee pottery, but in supporting its evolution. I know it’s not easy to balance all the demands and Tara’s dedication is an inspiration.”

“I absolutely love seeing influences of work in our collections. Drawing a thread from the past to the present is integral to telling our story and makes this exhibition so powerful…This exhibition is both beautiful and vital. We are dedicated to this work and are grateful for this opportunity to host.”

The following artists took the class: Nancy Pheasant (EBCI), Toby McCoy (EBCI), Dreyton Long (EBCI), Madeline Welch (EBCI), Rocanne Teesateskie (EBCI), Bonnie Claxton (Chickasaw Nation), Trey Adcock (Cherokee Nation), and Caleb Hickman (Cherokee Nation).

Dreyton Long, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, created this pot entitled “World Wind”. The artist statement on the piece reads, “This piece is a contemporary play on a pot found in an archaeological dig”.

Pheasant, an EBCI artist known for her shell carvings, said she was impressed with the thoroughness of the class.  “With this class, it was so in-depth. She literally took us from being able to process clay, all the way to learning two different methods to fire it. So, we learned how to kiln-fire, and we also learned how to do our own pit fire…To me, this was awesome. I really learned a lot. She gave us a lot of history. She talked to us about the different designs and meanings and the iconology behind some of those, the different shapes of pots, and the different styles that are out there.”

She fell in love with pottery.  “I had to switch thinking because it’s an entirely different medium. But, for me, it was easy to rely on knowing designs already and being able to recognize and create my own designs into the pottery. But, it’s a whole different world… To me, that was the best part. To be able to take a lump of clay that looked like dirt and create something with it.”

Claxton, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is the program manager for the EBCI Legal Assistance Office, and she found pottery very relaxing.  “My son, who is 11, actually inspired me to start working with clay. He has taken it up and it reminds him, and he reminds me, to just slow down. It’s about the process, the feel of it, and having experiences. He reminds me constantly that whatever you get out of it is just a bonus. If there’s a product, that’s a bonus. I had some pieces after this class, before the show, that cracked when I was firing them and I was really upset. He was very sympathetic and said, ‘Do you remember how much you enjoyed making them? You’ll make some more.’”

She added, “It just grounds you and it makes me slow down. I love it so much.”

Hickman, a Cherokee Nation citizen, is the supervisory biologist for the EBCI Fisheries & Wildlife Management Program.  He started working with clay several years ago on his own making medallions to give away as presents during a trip to Brazil.  “I kept going.  I was making more and more of these medallions.  I was making stamps for them and all that.”

Shown are four pots by Trey Adcock, a Cherokee Nation citizen. The four are entitled, clockwise from top left, “Fire’s Edge”, “The Frog is Swallowing the Moon”, “Walking the Right Path”, and “The Turtle is Singing”.

He said McCoy invited him to participate in the class, and he jumped at the idea.  “I thought it was a great opportunity. It’s awesome…I went from making these medallions to trying to make other stuff.”

“The first couple days, she (Tara) said, ‘you just need to slow down.’ Because it’s true that you have to change the way you’re thinking, you need to slow down. I’m used to doing things kind of fast. So, it was cool because you could just connect and just chill out, relax. That whole tohi thing. Clay got you there rather than another thing. I would never have thought that. It gets you to calm down.”

Hickman was grateful for McCoy’s knowledge and patience.  “She’s phenomenal.  She’s very humble.  She can pick up your pot, and it’s totally failing, and she shows you what to do.”

Like the other students, Hickman said doing pottery is therapeutic.  “You had to have a different mindset while you’re doing it…slow your mind down.”