Clay County History and Arts Museum

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Cherokee Homestead Exhibit

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Helen Gibson

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Willard and Ora Watson

Woodcarver, dancer, musician, storyteller and quilter

Watauga County, NC

Willard Watson and his wife Ora were among the extraordinary traditional artists in the Watson family of Watauga County, who were recognized with a 1994 North Carolina Heritage Award. Willard, a first cousin to famed guitarist Doc Watson, was widely known as a flatfoot dancer, storyteller, banjo player, and especially a woodcarver.

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Edd Presnell

Woodworker, toy maker, dulcimer maker

Avery County, NC

Edd Presnell was raised in a musical family and community near Beech Mountain. The area was home to storytellers, ballad singers, banjo pickers, instrument builders, and toy makers. He was particularly interested in woodworking. He first heard a dulcimer when his future wife, Nettie Hicks, came by with an instrument her father, Ben, built. "I was 15 or 16," Presnell recalled, "and Nettie brought the dulcimer over and played it." With help from his future father-in-law, Presnell made his first dulcimer in 1936.

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Stanley Hicks

Instrument builder, woodworker, dancer, musician, storyteller

Watauga County, NC

Stanley Hicks was born in 1911 in Watauga County, and raised on Spice Creek along with his eight siblings. He and his cousin Ray Hicks, also a famed storyteller, shared the same great-grandparents. Life for the Hicks family was hard; there were few jobs in the mountains, and families struggled to get enough food. Growing up, Hicks took what jobs were available. During the Depression, he worked for the Works Progress Administration for 75 cents a day.

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Amanda Crowe

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Amanda Crowe


Qualla Boundary

Like many traditional artists, Cherokee carver Amanda Crowe first learned her craft by watching others. She was drawing and carving by the age of four, and she was selling her carvings of animals and bids by the age of eight. "I was barely big enough to handle a knife," she says, "but I knew what I wanted to do so I just whittled away. I guess it was part of my heritage."

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Goingback Chiltosky


Qualla Boundary

Cherokee tribal elder Goingback Chiltosky was a master woodcarver who influenced several generations of carvers. His work includes carvings of animal and human subjects, often in native woods such as cherry, walnut, holly apple, and buckeye, but he also carved request orders from exotic woods. In addition to freestanding pieces, he carved large bas-reliefs. He said he always thought of his own "trademark as being a smooth finished piece of wood with a minimum of fine detail."

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Alton Blankenship

Broom maker and woodcarver

Marion, NC (McDowell County)

Alton Blankenship remembered that when he was a boy in Rutherford County, his father grew broomstraw and made, sold, and traded brooms. "I didn't know you could buy a broom ‘til I got to school and saw those fancy ones with the long wooden handles," he said. Though he watched his father make numerous brooms, it wasn't until Alton was in his mid-sixties, when he received a lesson from Buncombe County broom maker Marlow Gates, that he tried his hand at making his own. He went on to make kitchen, whisk, hearth, and turkey wing brooms.

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