Building One Fire
Chadwick Corntassel Smith et al.
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Buy *Building One Fire: Art and World View in Cherokee Life* by Chadwick Corntassel Smith, Rennard Strickland and Benny Smith online

Building One Fire: Art and World View in Cherokee Life
Chadwick Corntassel Smith, Rennard Strickland and Benny Smith
Cherokee Nation
224 pages
September 2010
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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I did not realize until I received this beautiful book that it is a large art collection, laden with color photographs of Cherokee artwork of all kinds, including jewelry and household arts and crafts. It is pleasing to the eye, hefty in the hand, and beyond coffee-table status - this is a museum piece in itself.

Quilts, a handsome striped and fuzzily fringed hunting jacket, baskets including woven flat tapestries, and painted gourds are some of the variety of objects lovely to behold and, one suspects, to hold. Folk paintings come alive with vibrant colors and happy faces in "Planting the Seed Corn," and bare-chested women are depicted with men fiercely spearing a dragon in "Uktenah." A curious vignette is pictured as "The Great Spirit Stays the Hand of the Barbarian" - the barbarians appear to be two white men, one in a military uniform and the other in the garb of a frontier trapper, while those who pray are certainly Native Americans, kneeling in supplication to - the Christian deity, perhaps, symbolized by the black book that one of them holds in his prayerful hands?

There are black-and-white photographs from the "normal schools" where the Cherokee children were forced to forsake their tribal language and culture. Covered in Victorian flounces and large shading hats, the young Cherokee ladies trip along a railroad track and decorously devour watermelons.

The book is divided into geographical sections. In the Western segment, we learn that beadwork was a way of preserving culture in plain view, but hidden from the uninformed eyes of strangers who sought to erase that culture. As the comment states, "the designs [on bags and clothing] made the missionaries happy, but hidden in the flowers and other motifs the beliefs were kept alive."

In the South, ancient shards of pottery silently speak, remnants of a long-lived society. But "Trail of Tears," a painting by Charles Leo Vann, tells another story - of thousands herded from their traditional homeland to disease, death and - for the survivors - exile in an alien territory, all for the convenience of the conquerors. The acrylic work "Friendship Dance," by contrast, is almost pointillist in the bright patterned skirts and shirts of the cheerful dancers.

One startling modern contribution is the color photo, "Indi'n Car." The young men's face inside the battered jalopy are decorated as for war, with the thinnest of ironic smiles on their fierce faces. And who could not love "Gourd Mask" a bristly, snaggle-toothed pig-face creation made of buffalo hair, rawhide and bloodroot dye?

A short cultural history at the end wraps up this treasure of a book which you can gift to favored friends or keep on your shelves for children and grandchildren to enjoy many times over.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2010

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