Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, located on the Cherokee Indian reservation in North Carolina, was founded in 1946. Its goal is to preserve Cherokee arts and crafts, and provide Cherokee people with a means to sell their crafts year-round. Today, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is the oldest Native American cooperative in the United States. All of the items for sale are authentic, hand made Native American crafts, the majority of which are made by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Qualla Arts and Crafts sells only crafts made by its members. All of them must be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe. Becoming a member is a lengthy process that ensures buyers that they’re choosing from the best crafts made by the best Native American artisans.
Essay by Tonya Caroll
Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual Inc. was founded in 1946. Its goal is to preserve Cherokee arts and crafts and provide Cherokee people a means to sell their crafts year-round. Before Qualla Arts and Crafts was founded, Cherokee artists were only able to sell their artwork during the summer season and for many, this was their only means of making money. After Qualla Arts and Crafts was created, artists were able to sell their crafts to the store receiving top dollar year round.
Today Qualla Arts and Crafts is the leading and oldest Native American cooperative in the United States, and over sixty years after their opening they still have the same goal– to preserve Cherokee arts and crafts. All of their items are authentic, hand-made Native American Crafts with the majority of their inventory coming from Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian members. Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual Inc. has about 250 active members. To become a member, one must be sixteen years of age or older and be an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of
Cherokee Indians. If these requirements are met, then the person wanting to become a member must fill out an application and demonstrate that they can make three separate items of their craft in front of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Board of eleven members. If the board agrees that the person scores above a certain grading percentage, then that applicant becomes a member of Qualla Arts and Crafts. However, if they score below a certain percentage then they are asked to reapply. If the board does not give the applicant a clear pass or fail, then the Standards Committee reevaluates the applicant to determine membership.
Qualla Arts and Crafts also has a beautiful gallery that displays the permanent collection they have built since 1946. The gallery consists of traditional Cherokee crafts made by skilled artists who are no longer living, or are no longer able to make their crafts. Qualla Arts and Crafts’ permanent collection features woodcarving patterns and tools, large rivercane baskets with traditional Cherokee designs, handmade pottery, and much more.
Furthermore, Qualla Arts and Crafts offers classes for those enrolled members of the Eastern Band that are interested in learning how to make a Cherokee craft. The classes are funded with grant money from The Preservation Foundation of Cherokee. Although a few classes have called for a small fee for attendance, the majority of the classes are free of charge. Some of the classes that have been offered at Qualla Arts and Crafts are: beginning rivercane, white oak and honeysuckle basket making, material preparation classes for basket splint dyeing, pottery making, beginner drawing and painting, and mask and other woodcarving classes. Also, Qualla Arts and Crafts is planning to have a rivercane mat rimming class using hickory, a basket handle making class, another white oak basket class, a painting class, and a willow furniture making class in the near future. In the past these classes were taught by Qualla Cooperative members, this year Qualla will introduce classes taught by visiting Artists from other tribes.
Also, through a grant funded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Qualla Arts and Crafts has developed the Cherokee Friends. The Cherokee Friends are enrolled members who dress in traditional Cherokee clothing of the 1700s and walk around the cultural area of Cherokee welcoming visitors and giving information about Cherokee. They have recently teamed up with Cherokee Public Transit to offer a guided tour through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on weekends.
For further information please visit:
- (828) 497-3103
For information on the guided tour through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
- Please call (828) 497-5296
This essay was previously published on the Craft Revival website http://craftrevival.wcu.edu and has been edited to include recent changes to activities sponsored by Qualla Arta and Crafts Mutual Inc.
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