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Thursday, 03 October 2013 00:50

Silversmith bridges Cherokee history through his hands

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art frGeneral Grant knew from a young age he was an artist.

“I was gifted, it was a gift from The Creator,” he said. “He gave me multiple talents and I was not afraid to experiment with them. Through my experimentation, I’ve become very good at this and have able to make a living doing it.”

 

Grant is a skilled Cherokee silversmith and carver of wood, stone and bone. He opened his own gallery and studio in Cherokee this summer called Traditional Hands, filled with an array of jewelry and artistic pieces celebrating the Cherokee traditions.

“Each piece makes a statement about who I am, what I am, what I’m thinking, and how I live my life,” the 68-year-old said.

One of eight children, Grant grew up in  eastern Tennessee. His mother was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, while his father was a Lakota Sioux. Grant was given the name “General” in tribute to General Ulysses S. Grant. He moved to Cherokee as a teenager and immersed himself in the native culture and spirituality found on the reservation — something he’d missed out on growing up in the white, Christian world.

As an artist, Grant tried to reclaim and perpetuate part of what native people have lost.

“When the Europeans came, they threw a big blanket on our native culture and identity,” Grant said.  

While he loved art, he made a living when he was younger as a construction worker, until he fell on a job site and was severely injured. While recovering from his accident, he kept his hands busy carving and honing his artisan skills.

“To supplement my income, I began selling my art, which was equal to, and sometimes better than, the money I was making in construction,” Grant said.

By 1982, he made his passion a full-time career, traveling to powwows and tradeshows around the country to sell his pieces. He’s won several honors and awards on the native art show circuit over the years.

What Grant enjoys the most, however, is seeing the other work of other artists.

“At these shows, you can see the love and compassion that comes from each individual piece,” he said. “Sometimes it makes you want to cry because you see so much love exhibited in their work — our souls are absolutely in our work.”

When he’s creating, Grant lets his soul move his fingers. While working on one project, he may feel inspiration to do another design. This leads to him taking on numerous projects at one time, but it’s the way he’s always done it, the way his spirit directs him.

“When I start working on a particular piece, it starts developing. Then, I see something else in my mind, so I lay that first piece down and start another one,” he smiled. “Sometimes there will be 10 pieces laying side-by-side and it’ll take months maybe to get back to that first piece.”

At the center of Grant’s happiness is his wife, Uta. Originally from Germany, Uta, 46, has held a lifelong fascination with native culture and philosophies.

In 2004, shortly after Grant’s first wife passed away, he headed for a Sundance in South Dakota. While at the event, he crossed paths with Uta, who was also grieving the recent loss of her sister. Uta is white, but was exploring native spirituality — and so the two found a kinship.

“We came together and fell in love,” he said.

During the annual Sundance ceremony, participants do not eat or drink water for four days while dancing and celebrating in blistering heat. Ultimately, the exertion and exhaustion culminate in a spiritual vision that soothes the soul and society in general. 

“You govern yourself, you regulate yourself, you make your own commitment on how you’re going to treat yourself,” he said. “And when you treat yourself with the highest moral quality, your family and the community benefits.”

Grant is also a founding member of the Seven Clans Art Guild in Cherokee, where he continues to showcase his skills at guild shows and demonstrations. When someone comes into Traditional Hands, Grant notes how much of a connection patrons have with specific pieces in the shop.

“They’re not just ‘taking it home with them,’ they’re coming in to get what they were looking for,” he said. “These people are looking for something to feel real, they’re drawn to certain pieces and can’t put them down — it’s a connection with the spirit given to us by The Creator.”

He hopes to bring the success he had at trade shows into the establishment. But, ultimately, he wants to be able to have the business to give to Uta when he passes on.

“I’m not going to be here a long time with her, and the tribe won’t be able to take care of her because she isn’t a Cherokee,” he said. “So, I’m going to have this to take care of her. This is my gift to her for the love and devotion that she’s given me.”

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