Girty teaches others soapstone carving
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With the hope of teaching more Cherokees soapstone carving, United Keetoowah Band citizen Matt Girty is spreading his knowledge of the ancient art by offering classes in Tahlequah to people willing to learn.
His latest class was on Sept. 16 at the UKB Culture Center, where students gained insight and hands-on experience with soapstone carving.
“My goal was to get more carvers out here because I see a lot of opportunity. So what many people are going to have to do around here is look within their self, look (at) who they are, and most of us out here are Cherokees,” he said. “If I can do it, there’s more out here that can do it. Even if they don’t get seen...then they’ve got a piece of their culture. They can show whoever they want to…so that way it’ll stay alive here within us and not die like it almost has been.”
Girty said he starts his students with creating a turtle.
“This right here is basically to get them to figure out their shapes and to get their hands on soapstone,” he said. “Figure out how to work it, how it feels on your hands.”
As for tools, Girty uses X-Acto knives, files and hacksaws to shape his works.
“I wanted these guys to get the feel of the grass roots of it because that’s how our people did it, not with power tools,” he said. “I want them to get the slow process of it, to get the blocking out and taking off a lot of the object to get to your main goal of making your object piece. So I want them to get used to doing it by hand first before they jump on any power tools.”
By creating stone carved art, Girty said he feels he’s helping keep the art form alive.
“It’s better for me to pass this on because this is all I know how to do that could better our people,” he said. “In my opinion, we should all be able to create beauty and make people smile in everything we do…to keep us going as Cherokee people.”
UKB citizen Ernestine Berry said she is no stranger to the art world, so when she heard about Girty’s class she decided to take it.
“I’m always interested in anything having to do with art,” she said. “I haven’t done stone carving before. I’ve done a little bit of woodcarving. I also have a degree in art for the University in Tulsa. So, I’ve done a little bit of artwork.”
She said Girty is a “good” teacher and thinks what he does, by teaching and preserving the culture, is important.
“I think anything to do with our tradition and our heritage is important to our people,” she said. “It helps us to know who we are. It helps to know where we came from, and it helps us to understand the ancestors and what they went through and the kind of lives that they lived.”
Berry said she encourages anyone interested in preserving Cherokee culture to take Girty’s class.
“It’s an enjoyable thing as well as a learning experience,” she said. “I just encourage anybody who wants to come, to come, because we’re not exclusive here. We accept everybody, Keetoowahs, Cherokee Nation, non-Indians, other tribes, anybody that wants to come.”
So far Girty has taught two classes and hopes to continue teaching, while building upon each one to help students create more advanced pieces.
“I have an idea for you to carve bears. The next class I want you to bring whatever you want to carve and then we can do it,” he said. “Next thing, I have a vision of our old pipe effigies that we used to make. That will be an advanced class because that’s what I’m (personally) doing now is recreating these ceremonial objects.”
Girty hopes to have his next class in either late November or early December.
“I’m here for instruction. Everything I know, it’s no secret,” he said. “I want to show you everything I know, then in turn you go show who you know. Come back and show me what you did, and hopefully you become to be a lot better than I am.”
For more information, find him under Matt Girty on Facebook.