ONABEN’s Exciting Work with Cherokee Artists in North Carolina!

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Veronica Hix Photo

Wow, where to start! Yesterday was a flurry of activity for the ONABEN Team! We spent the day capturing video and images of the artists and partner organization that we work with in Cherokee, North Carolina. One word to describe the day? Hmmm, so hard, probably…INSPRING! I mentioned in our previous blog that time spent in Cherokee is comparable to time spent at home. What I didn’t mention is that the time spent working here in this community is almost impossible to describe. I find myself encouraged, uplifted in a way, motivated to the extreme and literally in complete awe of the talented artists that our work has led us to. This experience has been one of the most rewarding of my career. There’s just something about this place and this particular group of artists that just leaves me with a sense of accomplishment….and yet our work has really just started!

Betty12 (Cherokee Artist Betty Maney)

So, what exactly did yesterday’s work entail that left me feeling so warm and fuzzy? Well, the morning started with a trip to Betty Maney’s home and studio. As the road winded around the river, I could feel the excitement burning in my heart. Betty’s place is nestled in the woods, the sound of the nearby stream played constantly, lulling us to a mental place that can only be described as inner peace. It was beautiful, kind of magical in the most unassuming kind of way. And, Betty, what a treat! She is as sweet as she is talented. She taught us the intricate details that go into EVERY basket that she creates, from the process of harvesting the trees from the nearby woods, to processing them with her very own hands to create the most perfect, strips of wood for weaving the baskets. Talk about organic! Even the dyes that Betty uses for coloring her baskets are taken from roots and walnuts, and other natural resources found in the woods behind her home. I have had the pleasure of being around Native artists my whole life, and I don’t think I had any idea how much work was involved in one basket! I had an idea, but really didn’t consider the blood, sweat, tears and even manpower that went into this process. It was certainly an eye opening experience, and I must say that I was crazy impressed at the physical aspects that go into creating a basket! I mean this little lady literally hauls trees down from a rather large mountainside! WOW! The cool thing about Betty and the other artists that we work with here in North Carolina is the idea that tradition is never far from their heart….tying them to the past, yet their works embody the contemporary…embracing tomorrow.

As hard as it was to leave Betty, we had other artists to visit! So, it was off to see Lisa and Missy! Our time with Missy and Lisa was nothing short of wonderful…and, a little surreal. Here we are in Missy’s shop building, which is literally an incubator for artists to grow together and to support one another in their works. Lisa makes soaps and lotions, made from traditional ingredients that are referred to by local elders as medicinal. And, wow do they ever smell good! It’s hard not to want all of them…Nathan from the ONABEN team can attest to that! LOL.

Missy makes cornhusk dolls and shared a personal journey with us. I think what made this visit so special is the way that these two ladies made us feel a part of their lives, and shared their own, unique stories with our team. As it turns out, Missy and I shared similar journeys of physical healing and both agree that what some would consider to be the worst thing that could happen, we believe carried us to a better state of being…all together. It’s funny how in the face of adversity, ones’ spirit can really come to life.

IMG_1693 (Veronica and Missy)

Right before that conversation, I had admired Missy’s dolls, one in particular spoke to me. Pointing at it, I told Nathan, “I really like this. I think she is beautiful.” It’s amazing, how sharing personal stories of triumph and victory creates a bond between people. As Missy and I embraced and shared a celebratory high five, our eyes met. Mine were obviously wet with tears. The hardest times of my life are not hard to talk about, but are emotional to remember. She pulled away from me and walked toward the shelf of dolls displayed. Missy picked up the doll that I had admired….not knowing that I had picked it out earlier to buy at our event in Asheville, and said, “I want you to have this.” My mind said there was no way that I could accept it…after all, I intended to buy it, but, my heart knows that it is offensive not to accept a gift. So, with tears in my eyes and a chill up my spine, I took it from Missy and will hold it close to me for all the rest of my days. I will love it not just because it is beautiful, but because it is a piece of Missy, and it is symbolic of the journey that we shared, the work that brought us together and the bond that will tie us to one another from here forward. Wado, Missy, for just being you!

IMG_1682 (Cherokee Artist Lisa)

We visited the storefront that Lisa sells her soaps in and, all I can say is if I love seeing them in production mode, well I love watching them in action, selling their works even more! LOL.

We finished out the day visiting with Kristi Long. Kristi does some very cool work with wood, and she is always lots of fun to talk with. She utilized technology to share traditional designs in a very contemporary way…on earrings, notebooks, wallets, wine racks, syllabary blocks, and more!

As we captured video of these strong and talented and amazing artists and women, each of them included a little something personal about their feelings on ONABEN and me as a person….as a friend, as an extended member of their community.  I can only say that their feelings are more than reciprocated. I love these women and their art as much as I love this place. Many thanks to the Administration for Native Americans for funding this project and supporting Native peoples! Check in for an update on our event in Asheville!

“Talk” soon, V.

Michael Bridges

Michael Bridges

Michael is a proud U.S. Army Veteran and a member of the Cherokee Nation. With 10 years of service as an Infantryman, Michael implements the core values of integrity, honor, and selfless service into his leadership of the company. With over 20 years of experience, Michael began working with building websites and graphic design in 1998. A family-oriented man, Michael enjoys spending time with his wife Kristina and their three children. He is a proud and active member of Jenks Lodge #497 A.F. & A.M. and an advisor for the Order of DeMolay.