Girty aspires to teach his sculpting craft

BY MARK DREADFULWATER
Multimedia Editor – @cp_mdreadfulwat
06/02/2016 08:15 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee artist Matthew Girty demonstrates his sculpting technique on a piece carved in red pipestone. MARK DREADFULWATER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee artist Matthew Girty demonstrates his sculpting technique on a piece carved in red pipestone. MARK DREADFULWATER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee artist Matthew Girty demonstrates his sculpting technique on a piece carved in soapstone. MARK DREADFULWATER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee artist Matthew Girty has sculpted life forms and objects from stone for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s developed into an award-winning artist, most recently winning the Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale’s sculpture category in April.

“I’ve won second place in a couple of shows, but I’ve never took first,” he said. “I felt like I got pushed into it. I guess people thought my work was museum quality to go against those guys. I’ve been entering for the last five years and finally this past month, I took first. So that was a big accomplishment for me and my family.”

Girty said he believes all Cherokees have some artistic ability and it’s up to them to realize and develop it.

“The naturals (artists), they have to practice and practice,” he said. “You’ve also got to have people pushing you. What really helped me, too, is people buying my stuff. I’ve got carvings all over and I don’t know where they are. Everything that I make, it’s made for somebody.”

Girty said he started carving from red pipestone. However, he wanted to get away from the Southwestern art style and revive the Southeastern art style after speaking with other Native artists.

“I see Indian art doing nothing but getting better,” he said. “There for a while all you saw in the ‘70s and ‘80s was Plains Indian art. So now we’re Southeastern, and now we’re seeing people come out of the woodwork and seeing these beautiful objects that were hidden.”

He said he’s been carving full-time for five years. His main medium is soapstone because he wants to bring back the Cherokee way of carving. He said, in Oklahoma, there are carvers who use wood or deer antlers for their materials, but he rarely sees stone carvers. A medium, he said, that he wants to revive and teach others.

“When we were pre-Columbus, we had soapstone everywhere,” Girty said. “That is what Cherokees used primarily in ceremonial effigies, for their bowls, dinnerware and jewelry. They made all different kinds of sacred objects that we hold dear to us. They were carvers that made those things. I want to use the same style and the same technique they used a long time ago. The ones who created those pieces years ago are here today in the same bloodline. I wasn’t taught this. I had to practice at it. When we moved here we were limited on our stonework. It seems like now, today, like our language, it’s kind of going. We don’t have anybody out there teaching us. So that’s what I’m wanting to do. I’m wanting to bring this back…and teach the kids.”

He said he plans to teach classes so he’s able to pass on his knowledge to future generations.

“I know there are other people out there besides me who would enjoy doing this,” he said. “They just need a little teaching. That’s all it took for me. Somebody showed me these stones.”

He said it’s taken years of practice and encouragement to make a living as an artist. Although his career isn’t where he wants it, he said he’s “tickled to death” every time a person sees his work and wants to buy it.

“Every time I complete a project, I’m rewarded just by seeing it,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if people didn’t want it.”
About the Author
Mark Dreadfulwater has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2006. He began as a graphic designer, a position that exposed him to all factions of the organization. Upon completing his j ...
MARK-DREADFULWATER@cherokee.org • 918-453-5087
Mark Dreadfulwater has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2006. He began as a graphic designer, a position that exposed him to all factions of the organization. Upon completing his j ...

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