Traditional Hands: Cherokee history bridged through his hands
General Grant knew from a young age he was an artist.
“I was gifted, it was a gift from The Creator,” he said. “He gave me multiple talents and I was not afraid to experiment with them. Through my experimentation, I’ve become very good at this and have able to make a living doing it.”
Owner/operator of Traditional Hands, an art gallery in Cherokee, Grant is a skilled silversmith who also specializes in wood, stone and bone carving. Opening this past June, the shop is filled with an array of jewelry, accessories and artistic items celebrating the Cherokee traditions.
“Each piece makes a statement about who I am, what I am, what I’m thinking, and how I live my life,” the 68-year-old said.
One of eight children, Grant grew up eastern Tennessee. His mother was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, while his father was a Lakota Sioux. Grant was given the name “General” in tribute to General Ulysses S. Grant (who went on to become president of the United States following the Civil War). When he was a teenager, he relocated to Cherokee and became part of the tribe.
“I grew up in a Christian world, “ he said. “When the Europeans came, they threw a big blanket our native culture and identity. And what The Creator gave us as individual people here in Cherokee was a philosophy and a way of life — I fell in love with that.”
Grant eventually found himself working as a construction worker. That all changed in 1980, when he fell on a job site and was severely injured. While recovering from his accident, he kept his hands busy carving and honing his artisan skills.
“To supplement my income, I began selling my art,” he said.
By 1982, he made his passion a full-time career, traveling to numerous powwows and tradeshows around the country. He has received numerous awards for his pieces, including recognition from the Hunter Mountain Art Show, Mohegan Powwow, Pequot Powwow at Foxwoods Casino and White Wolf Presents. Besides the acclaim, what Grant enjoys the most is seeing all of the artwork being presented, where when he picks up a piece from another artist he’s looking at a reflection of their soul.
“At these shows, you can see the love and compassion that come from each individual piece,” he said. “Sometimes it makes you want to cry because you see so much love exhibited in their work — our souls are absolutely in our work.”
When he’s creating, Grant lets his soul move his fingers. While working on one project, he may feel inspiration to do another design. This leads to him taking on numerous projects at one time, but it’s the way he’s always done it, the way his spirit directs him.
“When I start working on a particular piece, it starts developing. Then, I see something else in my mind, so I lay that first piece down and start another one,” he smiled. “Sometimes there will be ten piece laying side-by-side and it’ll take months maybe to get back to that first piece.”
General is also a founding member of the Seven Clans Art Guild in Cherokee, where he continues to showcase his skills at guild shows and demonstrations. When someone comes in Traditional Hands, Grant notes how much of a connection patrons have with specific pieces in the shop.
“They’re not just ‘taking it home with them,’ they’re coming in to get what they were looking for,” he said. “These people are looking for something to feel real, they’re drawn to certain pieces and can’t put them down — it’s a connection with the spirit given to us by The Creator.”
Want to know more?
For more information on General Grant and his art, visit his website at www.traditionalhands.com.
• For information about other Cherokee artists or things to do while visiting Cherokee, click on
www.visitcherokeenc.com or call 800.438.1601