Watershed group aids Cherokee basketmakers

As clay is to the potter and stone is to the sculptor, river cane is the vital raw material to the Cherokee basketmaker. But it’s in short supply.

The Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River has received a grant from a Cherokee artisans group for $9,500 to locate cane stands along the river to provide a local supply source for basketmakers.

Roger Clapp, WATR director, has issued a call for volunteers to help with the river cane hunt, which will run through September 2012.

With a revival of basketmaking in Cherokee, artisans are having to travel farther and farther from home to find cane suitable for their use, said David Cozzo, director of Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources, which provided the grant.

It wasn’t long ago, said Cozzo, that the art of basketmaking had gone into decline to the point that there were only two Cherokee artisans making double-weave baskets. Supply of cane wasn’t a problem.

Then the Cherokee Preservation Foundation stepped in and started basketweaving classes. A revival ensued. Now, the craft is even taught in the Cherokee High School.

“With the cultural revival, the need for river cane has increased,” said Cozzo. His group is planning a trip soon to Kentucky to harvest cane from a “really nice stand” there. And the group is working with Sumter National Forest in South Carolina to find cane there for harvesting.

Cozzo is convinced that there is river cane enough in Jackson and Swain counties to provide an adequate local source — it just needs to be located and the owners persuaded to allow the harvesting.

Volunteers or owners of rivercane stands should contact  the WATR office in Bryson City at 828.488.8418.


WATR meets Nov. 7

The fall meeting of Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, in the atrium of the new Jackson County Library. Refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m. Dan Perlmutter, a retired Western Carolina University professor, will discuss the proposed Watershed Activity and Discovery Science Center.

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