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10/2/2007 10:20:12 AM (CST)
Shade shares knowledge of Cherokee gig making
LOST CITY, Okla. – The small shed outside the Hastings Shade home gives few clues to the creative blacksmithing that goes on inside.
There you’ll find piles of scrap iron, a forge, anvil and various small tools that Shade uses to create gigs, knives and arrow points, among other things. At the moment, he’s finishing a knife that started out as a single iron rake tine.
He cranks a fan that blows air into his coal-fired forge. As he cranks, the flames rise and the darkness turns into an eerie glow. Suddenly it is very warm.
He places another rake tine into the fire to soften the metal. This time he plans to fashion a two-prong fish gig. He places the tine in the hot fire, waits for it to soften slightly, then removes the glowing tine with pliers and begins to hammer.
Though a hard rain is falling and the air is cool, Shade is sweating profusely from the nearby hot coal fire as he hammers and shapes the gig. As it takes shape, he uses guides notched on his anvil to determine the width.
He is proud of the forge he bought 30 years ago from his friend Buck Neugin and equally proud that he has the ability to create useful objects out of what many people would consider junk.
“I enjoy knowing I can create things out of piece of metal and make whatever I want to make – a knife or gig,” he said.
Because it is a cool day, he carefully watches the color of the iron he is working with because if the metal cools too much it may crack while he hammers. The color tells him when he must return it to the fire.
“On a hot day you can hammer it longer,” he said. “The best time to make gigs is in the summer time.”
But hot days limit the time he can work because of intense heat from the forge.
“If you don’t keep hydrated out here, you’ll quit sweating. That happened to me this summer. When people want me to make a gig made on a really hot day I tell them they can’t afford it,” he said with a laugh.
As the gig takes shape, he ensures it has good “beards” (the barb that will hold the fish) and creates the “barrel,” which will wrap around the wooden shaft. He said he won’t use a nail to attach the shaft like some people do. Instead, after he places the gig on the shaft, he soaks both in water and lets the shaft swell into the gig barrel. Once dry, the gig is firmly in place.
Shade’s gigs are in demand. Some customers order three-prongs, which he said take more skill to make and take longer. He said he has a month’s worth of gigs to make for customers with plenty of demand for other items, too.
Blowguns and darts, stickball sticks, gunstocks, bows and arrows, carvings made from deer antlers, Cherokee marbles and knives are some of the other traditional items he makes. He also makes Cherokee baskets and silversmiths.
He is able to gather all the natural materials he needs for the traditional items he makes, and he knows what time of the year he should gather them.
“The time to cut wood is in December. Most any wood you are going to use for tools should be cut then,” he said.
He said he has to have to right frame of mind or “mood” to work on his gigs or other crafts.
“You come out here and that fire won’t start, you might as well do something else. The fire dictates whether I’ll make a gig that day. Or if you don’t feel good, you’re not going to make a good gig. If you don’t feel good there’s no using getting started,” he said.
He first learned how to make his own gigs from his grandfather Charlie Smith when he was 11, he said. His first gigs were made from old bedspring and were one-pronged, which is why he is still partial to using a one-prong gig today when he gathers crawdads and fish. He said he learned how to blacksmith from his other grandfather Albert Shade.
“He (Charlie Smith) told us I’ll teach you how to make your own gigs so you can make them yourselves. He said if I just make you all gigs I’d be making them all the time, and I don’t have time to do that.”
For many years, Shade had a hard time finding time to work in his shop. He served the Cherokee Nation for more than 28 years as an administrator, teacher, traditional artisan, volunteer and deputy chief along with raising a family with his wife of 42 years, Loretta. He was named a Cherokee National Treasure in 1991 for gig making and carving.
These days, at 66, he is free to make gigs or blowguns or “whatever he feels like working on,” and he devotes time to helping organize Youth-Elder camps where elders spend a weekend camping with children to teach them Cherokee arts, culture, language, music and sports.
Shade believes in sharing his knowledge of traditional Cherokee arts. This summer he taught four men how to forge and blacksmith their own gigs.
He also is hoping to travel to Cherokee, N.C., soon to teach gig making.
For Shade, a descendent of Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee syllabary, his dedication to teaching and helping preserve Cherokee arts is a matter of survival to ensure his knowledge, and that of his grandfathers, is not lost.
“It’s important to pass the knowledge on. They all may not use it, but we need to share it because we’ve already lost things that weren’t passed on to us,” he said.
http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Arts/Art … oryID=2635