Saturday, August 11, 2012

Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Museum offers view of Cherokee history

Our visit to Cherokee, N.C., was prefaced by our drive through the very beautiful Cherokee National Forest. Much of the way, we were running alongside fast-flowing rapids filled with rocks and vacationers in rubber rafts. Later, on our way to Cherokee, we passed an area indicating 10 miles of slow rapids, and this was even more crowded with rafts. Many places along the way offer raft services. The great forest and mountains made me feel peaceful and relaxed, almost as if the surroundings were cuddling me.

Cherokee is a small town and makes a big deal of its casino, which we did not visit. We bought a combined ticket for the three main American Indian attractions in the area. Our first visit was to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a large museum that claims to be the most complete collection of Cherokee artifacts anywhere. We were surprised when we entered that we were met by an older Cherokee man who offered to sign our museum guide. It turns out he was the sculptor, Jerry Wolfe, who made the life-size statue of a Cherokee medicine man in the museum.

 Cherokee Medicine Man by Jerry Wolfe

 The museum is state-of-the-art, with a variety of methods of presenting its material. It opens with a five-minute film telling the Cherokee story of the creation of the earth. From the theater, we stepped into a series of artifact rooms, with some dating as far back as 13,000 years. Each of the periods is carefully explained.

In some of the rooms, we were given information about the different historical periods: the Paleo-Indians; Archaic Indians; Woodland Indians; Mississippian Indians; and Hopewell Indians, when the tribes around the continent had a high degree of product exchange.

The most innovative displays were two holograms. One was of a medicine man who explained the Cherokee story of how animals held a meeting and decided humans were getting too dangerous and each was to give humans an illness. The plants, however, liked men and gave them a plant to cure each illness if only they could find it.

In some rooms, large paintings cover the walls with life size manikins in front of them tell the story of their history.

A display with life sized manikins tells of some of the problems in the Trail of Tears

Another section tells of Sequoia's invention of an alphabet and gives examples of a printing press and books produced.

The Museum tells the story of Cherokee leaders visit to Europe

An unusual feature was detailed newspaper stories about American Indian visits to London and visits of white men, such as Henry Timberlake with the Cherokees. Among the exhibits was the rifle that executed Stale in 1838. We were to learn more about his death at the outdoor play "Unto These Hills."

There also other displays of costumed mannequins at critical points in history. As I have a small collection of masks from around the world, I enjoyed the collection of masks carved from buckeye and basswood that were used in dances and ceremonies to frighten away evil sprits. It amused me that masks have been invented throughout the world independently for similar reasons.

Cherokee ceremonial masks

Across the street from the museum is the Qualla Arts and Crafts cooperative, made up of 300 artisans. We found displays of modern stone and wood sculptures and a wide variety of baskets and pottery.