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Bigmeat, Cherokee, North Carolina


4-3/8w x 7/8h






Yah-Ta-Hey - Yountville, CA





The Bigmeat Family
Eastern Cherokee Potters

The Bigmeat family is part of a continuing line of traditional Cherokee potters. Their reputation, therefore, reflects not only their individual accomplishments, but also reaffirms the quality and character of Cherokee art, which has retained its power despite recurring hardship and dislocation.

In the wake of the infamous "Trail of Tears" of the late 19th century, some small bands of Cherokees returned to the mountains of Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Georgia. One member of a particular group was named Iwi, a woman who provided functional pottery to the community. Old Cherokee pottery was anonymous, hence a piece made by Iwi, for instance, would be difficult to identify. More recent artists, including Cora Wahmetah, Jenny Arch, Maude Welch and Amanda Swimmer are recognizable thought signature and individual style.

The work of Charlotte Welch Bigmeat is of particular interest. Although pottery making skills of the Bigmeat family may be traced several generations, Charlotte instilled in her daughters Ethel, Elizabeth, Mabel, and Louise her love, understand, and artistic skill.

The Bigmeat potters continue to use traditional forms derived from functional purpose. Although the pieces are no longer functional, the original spirit remains. The vessel does not contain water or grain, the lamps are clean of bear fat, and the funeral urns are empty. Yet, the essence of the form remains. Each of the Bigmeat sisters has chosen particular traditional forms to work with. Louise creates urns, medicine bowls, and flair-mouthed vessels with incised designs. Mabel works with effigy bowls in the form of frogs or birds, and vessels showing bear paw tracks. Elizabeth creates corn vessels, clan peace pipes, and bowls with images of bear and deer.

The Bigmeat potters incise into their works lines, arcs, and darts in combination with traditional named motifs such and the "Friendship" pattern, the Road to Soco, and the Cherokee Alphabet. The Corn Pattern, for example, is rows of stylized corn kernels created now through incising, but originally made by impressing a corncob into soft clay. Other patterns were made with peach pits or with brushing of stiff grasses, or with invented tools that could simulate the textures of bark. Theses textures of the adorn background areas to highlight a clear area in which the silhouette of a bear or deer will be burnished. Effigy vessels or medicine bowls frequently take the shape of a bird or owl, a serpent, turtle, or swan.

The Bigmeat potters show a respect for the Cherokee heritage and traditions that they infuse with fresh beauty and significance, recreating and maintaining the spirituality of the ancient forms.

from Cherokee Black Pottery of the Bigmeat Family
Robert Wolf, Exhibition Coordinator