Woodcarving and whittling were popular hobbies in the Southeastern United States during the early twentieth century. Woodcarving was not considered an art form among the Cherokee until the work of Amanda Crowe of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, and separately, Willard Stone of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. These two pioneering artists brought the traditions of their cultures into the art world while using similar media in very different ways. The influence of their styles continues to impact artists of their respective regions to this day.
Wooden Bears by Amanda CroweBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
Amanda Crowe (1928-2004)
Born in Murphy, North Carolina, and orphaned at an early age, Amanda Crowe went to Chicago to attend high school. She received a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago where she learned modern sculpture techniques which complemented the carving skills that she had developed from childhood. Continuing her studies at the Art Institute, Ms. Crowe received a Master of Fine Arts and then a fellowship to pursue sculptural studies at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico.
Wooden Weasel by Amanda CroweBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
In 1953, Ms. Crowe returned to her roots in Cherokee, North Carolina. With assistance from the Cherokee Historical Association, she developed a woodcarving and sculpture class at the Cherokee High School. Over the next forty years, Ms. Crowe taught thousands of students, leaving her artistic influence on many well-known Cherokee woodcarvers of the twentieth century and elevating woodcarving to an art. Ms. Crowe received many awards during her life, and her works have been exhibited in museums in the United States and around the world. Despite this recognition, she took great pride in being able to teach her students to continue the traditional woodcarving work of their ancestors.
Wooden Bear by Amanda CroweBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
Although Ms. Crowe learned to sculpt with different materials, wood remained her favorite.
“Working with [wood] creates in me a wonderful feeling of joy which is not present when I work in any other medium. The grain challenges me to create objects in three dimensions. A mistake or flaw in the wood will improve your design … To me, a knot can be the best part.”
Wooden Snail by Virgil LedfordBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
Virgil Ledford (b. 1940)
Virgil Ledford’s career is an example of Amanda Crowe’s contribution to turning Southeastern woodcarving from a hobby into an art form and a career for her students.
Born in Birdtown, North Carolina, Mr. Ledford had been carving since he was a child. He attended Amanda Crowe’s carving class in high school, three hours every weekday for three years. He credits her with making him a true artist: “It was Miss Crowe who taught me to think for myself in creating contemporary nature as they related to the history of native land and people.”
Mr. Ledford has been a full-time artist since the 1960s. He uses a variety of native woods, particularly buckeye, cherry, and black walnut.
Wooden Giraffe by Virgil LedfordBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
While many of the carvings of the Southeastern Native American woodcarvers depict animals native to the area, this carving highlights Amanda Crowe’s influence on her students. She usually depicted animals found in nature around her but also carved animals well beyond her geographic region, in particular giraffes.
A number of her students included giraffes in their repertoire, as with this carving by Virgil Ledford. Yet each artist’s carved version of the animal was different. Mr. Ledford emphasized, “You can’t carve like somebody else. You have got to have your own feeling of what the animal or bird looks like.”
Wooden Owl by Boyce AllisonBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
Boyce Allison (1914-1987)
From the same town as Virgil Ledford, Boyce Allison was born too early to participate in Amanda Crowe’s high school classes. However, his later career as a carver in the 1960s gained momentum due to Crowe’s transition of woodcarving into an art form. Along with his older brother, Albert, Boyce Allison became a master carver.
Wooden Goose by Boyce AllisonBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
Mr. Allison drew inspiration from nature in the Southeast. He put his own perspective on these figures, creating works with similar styles but slightly different characteristics from other Southeastern carvers.
Wooden Ducks by William CroweBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
William Crowe (1921-1988)
William Crowe, like his relative Amanda, was taught by uncles and other family members to whittle and carve wood. Though not as well known nor a teacher of woodcarving, William Crowe carved and sold his work in some of the same places as Amanda Crowe.
Titled "The Big Squeeze" (1963) by Willard StoneBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
Willard Stone (1916-1985)
In contrast with the other artists in this woodcarving exhibit, Willard Stone was born in the post-Trail of Tears Cherokee lands of Oklahoma. His influences were very different from those of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian artists.
Mr. Stone attended Bacone College, studying art under well-known Native artists Acee Blue Eagle and Woody Crumbo. He received a three-year grant to work as an artist in residence at the Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. These two institutions are notable in Native American art history for producing some of the most acclaimed artists of the period and encouraging experimentation in art forms.
Willard Stone, detailBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program
With this unique educational background, Mr. Stone’s works have a different style and subject matter from those artists who were influenced by Amanda Crowe. This carving of a bear, not a typical subject for most of his work, shows the distinction between his style and those of the other woodworking artists. This bear is personified through the emotion in its facial expression and the way that it stands on its hind legs, and unlike the very smooth finish of the Amanda Crowe-type objects, this carving is rougher with greater detail. Although influenced by the same woodcarving traditions, Amanda Crowe and Willard Stone developed two wholly different interpretations of the media. Ms. Crowe inspired an entire region of artists, while Mr. Stone became part of a broader artistic movement which engaged in experimentation within Native American forms of art.
Highlights from the BIA Museum Collection was developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program, September 2016.
Shannon Stiles, Staff Curator
Annie Pardo, Museum Program Manager
(with assistance from the summer intern)
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Fariello, Anna. “People: Amanda Crowe (1928-2004).” Cherokee Traditions: From the Hands of Our Elders. Hunter Library Digital Initiatives, Western Carolina University. Accessed September 20, 2016. www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CherokeeTraditions/People/Carvers_AmandaCrowe.html
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“Wolf Figure, Boyce Allison.” National Museum of the American Indian Collections Search. Accessed September 30, 2016. www.nmai.si.edu/searchcollections/item.aspx?irn=275917&partyid-329%src=1-2