Renewing the fire through education: A conversation with Lori Reed
We can learn about cultures, history, social and economic structures, and more importantly ourselves — especially where we have come from and where we are going as a society. Every person has a story to tell, every community a culture and history. And teachers play a primary part in guiding the younger generations in how to convey those stories through artistic means.
Walking along Main Street in Waynesville this month, you can see a sign outside the Haywood County Arts Council gallery that reads “ᏓᎾᏕᏲᎲᏍᎩ ᎭᎸᏂᎪᎲᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᏥᎳ Renewing the Fire through Education," which is an art show curated by Cherokee High School teacher Lori Reed of the Wolftown Community on the Qualla Boundary. The exhibit runs through May 29.
Reed collaborated with her students along with other faculty at the school to put together a beautiful exhibit that showcases the work the students have done ranging from pottery, weaving, finger weaving, beadwork, woodcarving, woodworking, and 2-D art pieces representing the students themselves, their culture and their communities within the Qualla Boundary.
I was able to correspond with Reed this week to discuss the show, herself and her students, teaching and the mural that she and her students designed.
Breanna Delannoy: To start off, would you care to tell me a little bit about yourself and your students?
Lori Reed: I am Cherokee, as well as most of my students. I have been teaching at the high school for seven years now. I teach arts/crafts and basketry. We work with traditional materials when possible. We have an awesome art department. We offer classes in cultural arts such as basketry, finger weaving, pottery and beadwork, along with woodcarving, woodworking and 2-D arts. The other teachers besides myself are Reba Elders, art teacher, Josh Adams, wood carving teacher and Matt Maney, woodworking teacher. The students are interested in carrying on family traditions. Most, if not all students come from families that do basket making, wood carving, beadwork, or other types of art. Most of them pick up the techniques pretty quickly and have a great interest in learning more.
BD: And what is the grade/age range of the students who participated in the exhibit?
LR: Grades 9-12, so ages 15-18.
BD: So, along with teaching your students how to create the various art forms, how much focus do you place on teaching them the history of these methods, why they were used and how they’ve evolved or changed?
LR: I make it a point to teach the history of all the art forms that I teach. I want them to know where the materials came from that we would have used hundreds of years ago and how we have evolved to the methods and materials we use now. I tell them it is important to know this information so they know why we do what we do and how it helps to continue our culture as Cherokee people.
BD: Art has always been a positive form of expression. How do you feel that your students have taken their communities' history and culture and used it to tell not only their own stories but the stories of their communities?
LR: The students are proud of their families and culture and enjoy being able to continue to do what their ancestors were doing years ago. It also helps them to continue the connection and sense of belonging to their Cherokee ancestors.
BD: As an educator and mentor, what do you see as the most important part of teaching art to younger generations, especially when it comes to teaching about the importance of connecting to the traditions and history of their communities?
LR: I believe it is extremely important to give the students information about their culture and history so that they have a stronger sense of pride and understand that they can continue to keep our culture alive and strong through their own knowledge and skills.
BD: The mural that is going up on Wall Street is beautiful. Everything from the colors, characters from stories, syllabary, the door acknowledging the MMIW and basket design are such special and important facets of the EBCI. How did you and your students decide which stories to convey and what message you hoped the viewers would take with them?
LR: When designing the wall, I was asked to represent the Cherokee culture and our connection to sustainability of natural resources. Our culture relies on this knowledge and ability to continue to have access to these resources. It is an important part of keeping our culture alive. That is why the basket making materials are represented in the mural. I referenced stories of where we learned to make pottery and how to weave by including the mud dauber and the spider. The water design was found on our old pottery and represents our connection to water, not only because of its life-giving elements, but also because it is a big part of our spirituality. It offers a way for cleansing us of bad medicine, ill feelings and a way to pray. The fire is an important element as well because it was at one time a very important aspect of our lives. We kept a fire going in the home always, which was used for cooking, for heat, for light, and many other things. Once a year, that fire was doused and the hearth was cleaned out, also symbolic of the past year. We would go to the council house where the central fire was kept and never let die out and got us an ember from this fire. We would take it back to our homes and begin our new fire for the new year to come, letting go of things from the past.
BD: And what does "Renewing the Fire" mean to you?
LR: To me, "Renewing the Fire" means to continue to carry those stories, those traditions, those art forms and the language forward with us as we go into the future.
BD: Finally, as a teacher working in the community you’ve grown up in, how does it feel to empower and be a role model for the students that you get to work with knowing you are encouraging these younger generations to carry these traditions and knowledge into the future?
LR: This is an important responsibility and I am always so grateful and proud when I have students that take an interest in what they are learning and continue to push themselves to get better. Over the years I have seen some phenomenal artists and hope they will continue to nurture the knowledge and skills they have gained from my classes. I know they get busy with college life or work life when they leave high school but I hope that in the future they will find their way back to the arts and continue to learn and to teach others.
(Breanna Delannoy is a contributing writer for The Smoky Mountain News. She lives in Waynesville.)
Want to go?
The "Renewing the Fire" mural will be a permanent piece located on the back of the Haywood County Arts Council on Wall Street in downtown Waynesville. The "ᏓᎾᏕᏲᎲᏍᎩ ᎭᎸᏂᎪᎲᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᏥᎳ Renewing the Fire through Education" exhibition itself will run through May 29 in the HCAC gallery on Main Street. For more information, click on haywoodarts.org.