Cherokee cultural preservation moves into realm of 3-D printing

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
05/29/2019 08:15 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
One of Jamil Jaser’s larger 3-D printing projects is a replica of Hunter’s Home in Park Hill. The artist’s project is still “under construction.” Jaser on May 18 showed models of different Cherokee Nation-related buildings at the Cherokee Heritage Center. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee artist Jamil Jaser has created 3-D printing models of several Cherokee Nation historical buildings, including the Cherokee National Capitol building. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – With the march of technology seeming to quicken its pace as the years pass, the preservation of Cherokee history or culture may not always be storytelling or traditional art.

On May 18, artist Jamil Jaser unveiled an array of scale models at the Cherokee Heritage Center. The pieces are replicas of several buildings of historical importance to the Cherokee Nation, including the Cherokee National Capitol building and Leoser Cabin.

However, these models are not like the prefab plastic model cars people once stuck together with modeling glue. Jaser’s replicas are 3-D printed. The exhibit is open at the CHC through July, with pieces added as the show continues.

“I always wanted to incorporate 3-D art – difficult 3-D art – into what I was doing,” said Jaser, 33, and holder of a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University. “I took a couple of cracks at it. After I graduated, I figure that was the time to take another shot. I was looking for a meaningful way to do that, and one was to try to involve the local sites that I’ve seen.”

Because the CN has many historical sites, Jaser decided to make them his starting point, and the momentum grew.

“I wrote a grant to a few places and it got funded,” Jaser said. “So that was encouraging, and I kept going. I hope to find some support to continue doing this. I’d like to expand this project throughout the jurisdiction of the 14 counties, so we would have all of our historic sites catalogued.”

Until his project is fully oriented, Jaser has chosen to stick with modeling of structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

“But there are sites not on the NRHP that I would be interested in, to advocate for the registry or at least to record and acknowledged them as important assets,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to exclude those sites. I’ve always wanted to make a model of Rose Cottage (the former home of Principal Chief John Ross).”

Jaser’s interest began with painting and drawing, talents that came in handy with the 3-D printing project, especially when using just a few photos to recreate a site.

“One of the models I’ve made here is rather small scale, because I’ve extrapolated a lot of it from just three photographs,” Jaser said. “These models could download to 3-D print themselves. You disseminate the information quickly, and cultures that are able to utilize the new technologies to record their information are the ones that stand the test of time.”

The 3-D information has flexibility, and does not necessarily need to be used for three-dimensional printing.

“You can use this as an animator, or if you are rendering 3-D images of these historic sites for still images,” Jaser said. “There are all sorts of applications.”

Jaser said he is creating materials he hopes will be of interest to Cherokee audiences, or people with a deep interest in Cherokee culture.

“I can’t remember who said it, but I was inspired when I heard it said there is a lot of media being produced about Natives for a non-Native audience, but not a lot of content being produced for a Native audience,” he said.

Jaser said he is always learning something new, and noticed something about the architecture of Tahlequah. “I really like the contrast – and I didn’t really notice before the project – the contrast between Gothic revival and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) buildings of the 20th century. Somehow they work together. I like that – maybe it’s the stone. And I didn’t even know Leoser Cabin existed until I started this project. It’s like ‘Tuck Everlasting,’ hidden back there. It’s small and easy to hide with all those trees around it.”

An interview with Jaser, featured on the podcast “Look What I Did,” is available at lookwhatidid.net. Jaser’s website is thetsalageek.com. Once he secures appropriate licensing, he wants to use the site to release downloads of his 3-D printing programs, particularly for use by public organizations and education, or for personal projects. His plan is to allow such uses if his work is simply acknowledged.

“I also hope (thetsalageek.com) becomes a place to spotlight Tsa-La-Geeks and utilize emerging technologies to preserve our culture,” Jaser said.
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