Tahlequah Daily Press


April 30, 2012

Class teaches cultural tradition

TAHLEQUAH — As any good fashionista knows, a leather purse is a wardrobe staple. But leather purses were first crafter for functionality, rather than fashion.

Area residents on Saturday learned the traditional techniques of creating a purse out of elk leather at the Cherokee Art Center.

Sandra Pallie, instructor for the course and member of the Cherokee Basket Weavers’ Association, said the group is expanding their classes to include other traditional arts, including leather crafts.

“Elk is traditional; we make clothing and bags [from it],” said Pallie. “We want to be as traditional as possible. Now we’ll have a bag to match our moccasins. We’ll all wear our costumes at the [Cherokee National Holiday] Homecoming Show, and may even make a 1700s-era wrap around skirt our of leather in the future.”

Students each received a leather cutout bag along with a package of beads. Working in pairs with long strips of the elk leather, students helped each other tie off segments so they could begin braiding the straps.

Pallie demonstrates as she instructs.

“Keep the suede side out, drop it, roll it and you come back to the suede, then a diamond design will appear. See it?” she asks the group. “It’s sometimes easier to weave when it’s tied to the back of a chair because it doesn’t move.”

Jennifer Hall drove from Collinsville with her cousin, Sally Briggs, from Locust Grove, for the class.

“I’m here to learn the old, traditional ways to pass along to keep the tradition going,” Hall said. “We started last year with moccasins at a class at the Heritage Center.”

She likes making baskets best, but appreciates the opportunity to learn another old tradition, she said. Hall and Briggs make the drive once a month to attend a meeting and class.

Briggs said she likes learning all the different cultural arts.

“We get so much out of all the classes and learning all the techniques that help keep Cherokee heritage [alive],” said Briggs. “I enjoy working with the leather, and will be learning to bead leather. I wanted to [make] something I’d use more than the moccasins.

She plans to take the concept she learned Saturday and apply it to making medicine bags.

Anna Nicholson, of Muskogee, appreciates the relaxing effect of hand work.

“It’s so calming,” Nicholson said. “This purse is going to be beautiful.”

Tonia Stamper, of Broken Arrow, has been learning the traditional crafts such as finger-weaving, beadwork and using a weaving loom.

“Leather is the way the Indians used to make a living; they lived off the land,” Stamper said. “It’s part of my culture and I like learning it all.”

Rodslen Brown attended the class so she could teach the children at her nonprofit organization in Fort Gibson.

“It’s good to know and go back to the basics,” Brown said. “This is inspiring, not only learning something, but it helps you tune in to life’s spirituality; it’s like meditation. It helps you have more patience, and it is a tension release for me. And it’s very challenging.”

It also helps her learn about herself.

“I’m going to carry my purse and be very proud of it,” said Brown. “And I have to say that Sandra is a good teacher.

Pallie plans to enter her purse in the Homecoming Show.

“It’ll have a lot of beadwork on it,” said Pallie.

While some of the students plan to use their purses, Pam Proctor said she’ll be framing hers. She came from Tulsa to take the class because of her interest in traditional baskets and leather work.

“I can’t braid with three pieces, let alone four, so I have to learn braiding first,” Proctor said. “I love the leather. Elk skin is very soft.”

Elizabeth Wood also plans to share what she learns.

“I already teach knitting, tatting and weaving at the Cherokee Heritage Center, and quilting if they need it,” Wood said. “This adds to my repertoire of what I can teach.”

And it keeps her brain active, she said.

“Learning a new craft is exercise for my brain.”

She plans to carry her purse and show it off to her crafty friends.

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