Vance passes on knowledge in cultural classes
United Keetoowah Band citizen Carrie Vance demonstrates the beginnings of a flat reed basket while working on Feb. 2 at the John Hair Cultural Center and Museum in Tahlequah. She will be offering basketry classes April 3 and April 5 at the museum for $30. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
United Keetoowah Band citizen Carrie Vance says a flat reed basket is made with an “over and under” weave. The reed material must be kept wet while weaving to avoid breakage. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
United Keetoowah Band citizen Carrie Vance was expected to hold pucker-toe moccasin classes Feb. 27, March 1 and March 6 at the John Hair Cultural Center and Museum in Tahlequah. She says the trick to making a good pair is to ensure the leather fits “tight” on the foot to allow it to conform to the wearer. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
United Keetoowah Band citizen Carrie Vance is also known for twining, or making items from plant fibers such as hemp and bark. She is known for making the first complete pair of modern twined moccasins. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – United Keetoowah Band citizen Carrie Vance is committed to passing on her basketry, twining and moccasin knowledge to future generations, so she’s conducting cultural classes at the John Hair Cultural Center and Museum on the UKB campus.
“Knowledge is power, and if I don’t teach it, they won’t know,” Vance said. “If I kept it to myself, then how can you share with others your enjoyment, your passion about doing your craft and your skill, if you don’t pass it on to somebody.”
Vance will teach pucker-toe moccasin classes on Feb. 27 and again March 1 and March 6 at the museum for $40 per student. Students are asked to bring leather, scissors and an awl while other materials are provided. Those interested in flat reed basketry can participate in classes on April 3 and April 5 for $30 per student with all supplies provided.
“This is something our ancestors did a long time ago. So if they weren’t taught and someone didn’t teach it on and on, it would get lost, and we don’t want nothing lost,” she said. “We always want to be able to express it and show our children and other people how to do their craft or skill.”
Vance is a 2017 Tradition Keeper, a title given to UKB craftspeople, artisans or elders committed to Cherokee cultural preservation and education. She began learning traditional crafts in elementary school from Cherokee cultural teacher Charlotte Robin-Grayson, whose son, Noel, she later married.
“During school she would teach us how to count in Cherokee, our numbers, how to sing ‘Amazing Grace,’ how to make baskets,” Vance said. “Just the little things that you wouldn’t get into in a public school…I just started learning from there and had good teachers along the way.”
Vance said while she’s interested in other crafts, she’s drawn to basket making and considers it her greatest passion. “Anywhere I go, like to a museum, that’s where I’m drawn to and I will go look, study, and try to figure out how they’re made. I worked at the Cherokee Heritage Center on and off for about 20 years and really picked up baskets more working out in the Ancient Village.”
Vance said she’s also passionate about twining, working with plant fibers to create items such as bags and shoes, after witnessing a demonstration at an Alabama museum more than 20 years ago.
“A lady named Heather Fuller was twining, and I thought, ‘well, that looks interesting.’ I walked over to her and started talking to her as she was making a bag,” she said.
Since then Vance has expanded on the craft. In 2015, she said she became the first Cherokee woman to make a modern pair of twined moccasins after seeing an incomplete pair in an archeological textbook.
“The shoe is biodegradable, so you’re not going to get to see a fully intact shoe (to study). What they do have, you don’t know where it begins or where it ends,” she said. “I studied this pair of shoes for about six years before I had confidence in myself to do it. In 2015, I sat down and just thought about if I was in that time period, how I would do it. It took me two and a half hours to make one shoe. I put it on a frame, looked at it and did it piece by piece. By the time I finished one, I thought, ‘that’s how they did it.’”
In addition to the twining, Vance has experience working with leathers and hides to create pucker-toe moccasins. She said the trick is accurately measuring the length and width of the feet before cutting.
“You want your moccasins to be tight like a sock, because leather will stretch. So if you kind of make it loose it will always be loose, but if you make it tight and squeeze your foot into it, it will conform to the shape of your foot,” she said.
Vance said her classes are usually 10 to 12 students and meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two to three hours each session until students have a finished product.
“Hopefully we’ll get more people coming in and wanting to take the classes,” she said. “Then you can go out and teach somebody else and that chain will keep going, just the skill and knowledge of how it’s done from beginning to end, and other people will enjoy it also.”
For more information, call 918-871-2866 or 918-871-2819.