Renowned pot­ter ded­i­cated to sav­ing Chero­kee cul­ture

San Antonio Express-News - - BUSINESS - By Ana Fota

Amanda Se­quoyah Swim­mer was born in North Carolina at a time when Na­tive Amer­i­can chil­dren were forced to at­tend board­ing schools, as part of a na­tional ef­fort to as­sim­i­late them into main­stream cul­ture.

But as a child in fourth grade, she grew tired of be­ing pun­ished for speak­ing her na­tive Chero­kee and forced to use English, and one day she jumped her school’s court­yard fence and ran away. She never re­turned.

In­stead, she fash­ioned a life de­voted to the preser­va­tion of Chero­kee cul­ture, keep­ing its lan­guage and pot­tery tra­di­tions alive. She was revered in the moun­tain­ous tribal lands of western North Carolina — hon­ored there as a “Beloved Woman” — and renowned as one of her peo­ple’s most skilled potters.

Swim­mer’s work has been shown at the Smith­so­nian in Wash­ing­ton, the North Carolina State Mu­seum and at lo­cal mu­se­ums across North Carolina, Ge­or­gia and Ten­nessee.

In 2005, as an oc­to­ge­nar­ian, she was awarded an honorary doc­tor of hu­mane let­ters de­gree by the Univer­sity of North Carolina, Asheville, for her work in pre­serv­ing Chero­kee her­itage and her role in found­ing the Chero­kee Potters’ Guild.

“I know how to sub­tract, I know how to read,” grand­daugh­ter Mel­vena Swim­mer quoted her as say­ing. “Com­mon sense will get me the rest of the way.”

Swim­mer died Nov. 24 at her home in the Big Cove com­mu­nity in the fed­eral land trust known as the Qualla Bound­ary of the East­ern Band of the Chero­kee. She was 97 and was one of the last sur­viv­ing flu­ent speak­ers of Chero­kee.

Swim­mer took up pot­tery as a child after dis­cov­er­ing a clay de­posit close to her home. Her mother sug­gested that she try mak­ing some­thing with it.

Soon, mother and daugh­ter were sell­ing pots to tourists and park rangers who would pass by their home. After she mar­ried Luke Swim­mer, who taught her how to build a fire pit, her skills ex­panded.

One rea­son her pot­tery stands out was her tech­nique. After col­lect­ing the clay from the moun­tain­sides of the Great Smoky chain, she would mold it by hand, with­out a pot­ter’s wheel. She would fire the pots over dif­fer­ent types of wood, to achieve dif­fer­ent col­ors: A hard wood burned hot­ter, re­sult­ing in red; a soft wood would lend it­self to darker col­ors. And she would add tra­di­tional de­signs pressed upon the pot­tery us­ing a pad­dle board.

New York Times

Amanda Se­quoyah Swim­mer was one of the last sur­viv­ing flu­ent speak­ers of Chero­kee.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.