Meet the Makers at the Kananesgi Pottery Festival | Cherokee, NC

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Meet the Makers at the Kananesgi Pottery Festival

When Cherokee artist Tara McCoy was in seventh grade, she began taking pottery classes in school. Excelling at the art, she moved on to advanced classes by tenth grade. But Tara admits that pottery was personally her least favorite craft. “I also did beadwork, handweaving, and silversmithing,” says Tara. “I went to college and put it on the back burner. I didn’t get back into it until 1999.”

As an adult, Tara grew to love working with clay, and, in 2016, attended an arts festival in Greensboro, NC, that showcased pottery by native and non-indigenous people. Hoping to bring Cherokee potters together for a public event that celebrated traditional and contemporary styles, Tara approached Hope Huskey of the Sequoyah Fund and Authentically Cherokee with the idea. “There were different styles. I thought it would be neat to have it here to showcase different families,” Tara says about the commonalities among family members who learned similar techniques. “You can tell who did which pots.”

Growing out of this idea, the Didanisisgi Pottery Festival took place in April 2016. “Didanisisgi” is the Cherokee word for mud dauber, a wasp that builds its nest from mud. According to Cherokee legend, the mud dauber was responsible for bringing pottery making to the Cherokee people. This spring, the event will happen once again. The Kananesgi Pottery Festival is set for Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cherokee Fair Grounds. Attendees can look forward to storytelling, vendors selling pottery, and presentations on Cherokee Pottery.

Joining Tara and Hope as organizers of the Kananesgi Pottery Festival is EBCI member Tonya Carroll. This event is free and open to the public, funded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation.

A Long Tradition

(Barbara Duncan with ancient pottery)

Kananesgi is the Cherokee word for spider, a symbol with great significance to the Cherokee people. According to legend, the spider brought fire to the inhabitants of the earth in the basket on her back. Tara recalls the folklore that if you run a kid’s hands through spiderwebs, it will help put creativity in their hands.

The craft of pottery making has a long and rich tradition for the Eastern Band of Cherokee. In fact, it’s the longest continuing pottery tradition of any tribe in the country, dating more than 3,000 years.

Since the early 2000s, there has been a revival in the more traditional style of Cherokee Pottery. Today, artists use both traditional and contemporary techniques.

At the Didanisisgi Pottery Festival, Education Director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian Barbara Duncan will deliver a presentation on the origins of pottery. “I always like hearing about the functionality of Cherokee art and hearing about the part it played in people lives,” says Hope. She adds that a special children’s activity section will give young attendees the chance to play with modeling clay and stamps.

Today’s Artists

The Pottery Festival’s purpose is to be an educational resource for people interested in Cherokee pottery, a sales opportunity for the potters (and a chance for buyers to meet the potters behind the work), and a chance for potters to talk to each other. “We want to inspire more people to be thinking about pottery,” says Hope. “This will be a learning-and-sharing kind of experience for buyers as well as potters.”

Tara creates handbuilt pots that range in sizes with low firing. While hers are more decorative, many artists will have functional items for sale. EBCI’s Beloved Woman Amanda Swimmer, a lifelong potter and storyteller, will be present at the event. Joining Amanda and Tara will be Darrin Bark, mother-daughter duo Lucy Dean Reed and Dorine George, Harold Long, Betty Maney, and Marina Wahnetah, among others.

Lineup of Events

10 a.m. - Welcome & Storytelling

11 a.m. - Pit Firing & Barbara Duncan on the History of Pottery

Noon - Storytelling

1 p.m. - Panel Discussion - Pottery Piece Show & Tell

2 p.m. - Storytelling & Round Table Discussion

3 p.m. - Panel Discussion on “Who influenced you as a potter?”

3:30 p.m. - Storytelling

4 p.m. - Wrap up

NAIWA will prepare food for sale, including fried chicken, bean bread and fatback, cabbage, fried potatoes, beans and hominy, and dessert.

Want to go?

What: The Kananesgi Pottery Festival

When: Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Cherokee Fair Grounds, 545 Tsali Blvd in Cherokee.

Cost: Free and open to the public

For more information, call 828.359.5542 (Tara McCoy), 828.359.5005 (Hope Huskey), or 828.359.5545 (Tonya Carroll).

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