Craft Today:
Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
Qualla Arts and Crafts cooperative
sells crafts made by its members

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. was founded in 1946, with the goal of preserving Cherokee arts and crafts and to provide its members with a means to sell their crafts year round.  Before Qualla Arts and Crafts was founded, Cherokee artists sold their artwork during the summer season only because this was the time of year that tourists came to Cherokee to purchase crafts.  For many artisans, this was their only means of making money.  After Qualla Arts and Crafts was established, artists were able to sell their crafts directly to the store, receiving top dollar year round.

Qualla Arts and Crafts has large gallery with an open floor plan.  Its permanent collection, amassed since 1946, is displayed in glass-enclosed cases lining the walls.  This gallery displays traditional Cherokee crafts made by skilled artists, many of whom are no longer living or who are no longer able to make their crafts.  The permanent collection features woodcarving patterns and tools, large rivercane baskets with traditional Cherokee designs, and handmade pottery, among other exquisite crafts.  Qualla Arts and Crafts is an artisan cooperative that supports a retail store selling member crafts directly to the public.  A pan-Indian section sells authentic arts and crafts from Native Americans of other tribes.  Along with the arts and crafts available for purchase, the store has a small selection of books for sale containing information on Cherokee history, arts and crafts, and culture.  

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
Qualla Arts has been collecting
Cherokee crafts since 1946

Known locally as the “co-op,” Qualla Arts and Crafts is the leading and oldest Native American cooperative in the United States.  Over 50 years after its opening, the co-op still has the same goal: to preserve Cherokee arts and crafts.  All of the items carried in the store are authentic, handmade Native American crafts with the majority of their inventory coming from Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians members.  The cooperative currently has about 250 active members.  To become a member of Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., one must be at least 16 years of age and be an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  Once these basic requirements are met, the applicant must demonstrate in person that they can make three separate craft items to the Qualla Arts and Crafts board of 11 members.  If the board agrees that the applicant scores above a certain grading percentage, then that person is accepted as a member of Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.  However, if the applicant scores below the set percentage, they are asked to improve their skills and reapply.  If the board does not give the applicant a clear pass or fail, then the Standards Committee reevaluates the person to determine membership eligibility.  Qualla Arts and Crafts only accepts the most skilled artisans of the tribe.

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
Classes ensure that skills are passed along to younger generations

 To ensure that Cherokee craft traditions endure, Qualla Arts and Crafts offers classes for those enrolled members of the Eastern Band interested in learning how to make a Cherokee craft.  The classes are funded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, which, among other things, helps to preserve Cherokee culture through various grants.  Although a few classes have called for a small fee, the majority of the classes are free of charge.  Some of these classes are basketmaking using rivercane, white oak, and honeysuckle.  Classes are also taught in material preparation, including splint dyeing.  Pottery making, drawing, painting, mask making, and other woodcarving classes are also offered.  New classes are constantly being added to its roster.  These include a rivercane mat-rimming class using hickory, a basket handle-making class, white oak basket class, and a willow furniture making class.  In the past these classes were taught only by Qualla cooperative members; Qualla now offers classes taught by visiting artists from other tribes in addition to the classes taught by Qualla members.

Other projects include annual craft markets and fairs where vendors sell their artwork and where co-op members demonstrate their craft making skills.  Recently, Qualla Arts and Crafts created the Cherokee Friends program in concurrence with the Cherokee Historical Association, Cherokee Travel and Promotions, and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation.  Cherokee Friends are enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who dress in 1700s Cherokee-style clothing.  Their duties include welcoming visitors, educating them about Cherokee history, giving directions to tourists, and providing other information.

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
Allen Long: Medicine Man Mask / Adam Welch: Bear Mask

By examining all that Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. does to help preserve Cherokee arts and crafts, it is clear that the institute is living up to its goal set over 50 years ago.  Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual goes above and beyond its duties to ensure that Cherokee culture lives on through its crafts and artwork.

For further information about Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., visit www.cherokee-nc.com

- Tonya Carroll, 2008