Donate to the Museum

Session 5: The Arts

I remember sitting under the quilting frame, sort of concealed by the quilts. It was a special place. You could lie down there and get lost in all those beautiful colors, get lost in the beauty of it.

—Elizabeth Maynor, former executive director, Coharie Intra-Tribal Council

Rock Art in Western North Carolina

Beth Crist

Prehistoric rock art, found on all continents except Antarctica, forms the largest body of evidence of man’s artistic, cognitive, and cultural beginnings. The oldest known rock art, created in India about 200,000 years ago, consists of cup marks and a meandering line hammered into a sandstone cave. Archaeologists estimate recently discovered rock art in Australia to be 60,000 years old. The earliest known rock art in the Americas, believed to be 11,000 years old, is in Brazil. Known as "the cave of painted stone," it contains colorful handprints, stylized human figures, and animals in geometric shapes. North Carolina’s earliest rock art, between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, is an equally important record of prehistoric culture.

In 1998 archaeologists Scott Ashcraft and David Moore characterized and photographed ten rock art sites in the western part of the state; seven sites contain petroglyphs (designs chiseled or chipped out of a rock surface) and three contain pictographs (designs painted on a rock surface). Summaries of the archaeologists’ descriptions follow.

Brasstown Rock
Two petroglyphs, twenty meters apart, were carved into boulders on the Hiwassee River in Cherokee County. The larger petroglyph covers about one meter; it consists of a double spiral next to a zoomorphic figure, which has an oval body, four legs, a tail arching over the body, and what appears to be a head. This figure may represent a cougar and is similar to a cougar pictograph in Texas. The smaller petroglyph contains lines forming a U shape. Although undated, the double spiral and zoomorphic figure are consistent with Mississippian period (A.D. 700–1550) rock art.

Hiwassee Rock 
A variety of petroglyphs cover this large slate boulder, located on the Hiwassee River in Clay County. In addition to five spirals, the petroglyphs include a number of figures that may be human, anthropomorphic, or zoomorphic representations. These petroglyphs are most likely from the Mississippian period. Unfortunately the rock has been vandalized, due to its easy accessibility. In one instance a one-by-one-meter portion was removed and taken to a nearby home; another section reportedly was broken off and pushed into the river. Only about 60 percent of the original carving exists today. 

Judaculla Rock is the largest and best-known example of rock art in North Carolina. It is located in Jackson County on Caney Fork. According to legend, the Cherokees named the rock after “Tsul kalu,” a mythical giant hunter whose feet and hands scratched the rock as he leapt from the top of his mountain home and landed on the rock in the valley below. Unlike the other rock art sites described here, Judaculla Rock is directly associated with a larger archaeological site. These petroglyphs are located within a late Archaic-period soapstone quarry, from which material was removed to make soapstone vessels. The large amount of soapstone still remaining suggests the quarry was abandoned. 


Chatuge Rock
Chatuge Rock, once located on the Hiwassee River near the Chatuge Dam, sits in the front yard of a Clay County resident. The sandstone boulder is deeply incised with lobed and segmented circular forms. Grooved lines connect many of the carvings. Unfortunately visitors routinely mark the rock with chalk, making it difficult to decipher individual motifs. These petroglyphs probably date from the Archaic period (8000–1000 B.C.).

Little Tennessee Valley
Near Franklin in Macon County, several petroglyphs were carved into two small soapstone boulders about one hundred feet above and one-half mile from the Little Tennessee River. The artist included incised thin lines along with several anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures. This site may date from the Archaic period.

Judaculla Rock

Judaculla Rock includes three major styles of petroglyphs: animal and/or human forms, long grooves, and pits. The large boulder is so densely covered with petroglyphs that distinguishing individual forms is sometimes difficult. Some can be discerned, including human forms holding hands, a turtle, and lizard or salamanders. Most of the forms have heads simply represented by a pit. The number and density of designs suggests that they were carved over several episodes. This site most likely dates from the late Archaic period. 

Illustration highlighting individual images on Judaculla Rock

It is not known why the workers abandoned the quarry. In one theory they reserved a large soapstone outcropping for carving, thus using the area for quarrying and ritual activities at the same time. Another theory speculates that the carving began before there was much quarrying, and the quarry workers, attributing ritual value to the boulder, began to avoid it. As late as the 1890s, Cherokee groups held ceremonies at Judaculla Rock.

Brinkly Rock
Moved from its original location five miles east of Judaculla Rock in 1959, Brinkly Rock now sits on Brinkly Farm near the Tuckasegee River. The large soapstone boulder contains a few thin, shallow petroglyphs. The rock includes three human-like stick figures, two nearly perfect circles with pits in the center, and several carvings that are not discernible. The rock shows evidence of at least one soapstone quarry scar. The scar and style of petroglyphs suggest this site dates from the late Archaic period.

Crescent Rock
Located in the Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County, Crescent Rock sits in the middle of a rock shelter. Two petroglyphs are engraved in the boulder. One is a circular pit; the other is crescent shaped. Some speculate that the pit or both figures are the result of functional activities rather than artistic expression. Others point out that there are adjacent circular pits and crescents on Judacullah Rock. A few go a step farther, noting a strong similarity to rock art sites known to depict the supernova of 1054. Not enough is known about the petroglyphs to make definitive statements about their meaning or to attempt to date them.

Paint Rock

The pictograph at Paint Rock, located on a vertical rock cliff near the French Broad River, is an intricate rectilinear pattern in red and yellow. The design is similar to that found on Mississippian-period ceramics in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. An estimated half of the original pictograph exists today; the rest has faded or chipped off. The design and condition of the paint suggest that Paint Rock dates from the Mississippian period or later. 

Hickorynut Gorge
The three faded pictographs at Hickorynut Gorge are barely visible in a rock overhang five hundred feet above the Broad River in Rutherford County. The artist, or artists, painted all three in a red-orange pigment. The two designs on the rock shelter wall are so faint that only a vague, semicircular form is perceptible. More detail is visible in the painting on the ceiling, which is very similar to the Paint Rock pictograph. Like that site, the pictographs at Hickorynut Gorge may date from the Mississippian period or later.

The Deerman pictograph, depicting a man shooting an arrow from a bow into a deer, differs greatly from the other rock art discussed here. Located on the back wall of a small rock shelter near Hendersonville in Henderson County, this pictograph portrays a detailed depiction of motion and space. The artist applied a brown paint apparently with his fingers. Unlike stick figures, both the man, whose face is covered with a mask, and the deer are shaded. There are few examples of southeastern prehistoric rock art that exhibit such a high level of artistic expression. Consequently, some speculate that Deerman was painted in the nineteenth or twentieth century. If so, archaeologists agree that the artist took pains to make it look prehistoric by creating it in a realistic location, including elements of prehistoric culture and symbolism, and making authentic-looking pigment.

Archaeologists do not know why Indians in western North Carolina created rock art or what the designs mean. Many Indians, believing that the spirits of artists live on in their creations, consider rock art vital and, in a sense, alive. Whatever our responses or interpretations, rock art stimulates our imaginations and expands our awareness of cultural and artistic expression. It can mean something different to each person who ponders it.

Photographs and illustrations courtesy of Scott Ashcraft, United States Forest Service.

Hands on History

Melissa Clement

The following article appeared in the Fayetteville Observer-Times, March 17, 1996.

The large, freckled hands of Louise Ammons push a needle back and forth, making tiny stitches on a quilt suspended over a frame.

“People don’t live now like they used to. Times have speeded up,” says the 72-year-old Ammons, not looking up from her work. She and nine other women quilt in a room that has been painted white, but still looks like the children’s classroom it once was.

(To the left: Quilt from the museum's collection.) Ammons is part of the Coharie Senior Citizens group who gather several days a week at the Coharie Intertibal Building to quilt and talk about what's going on in three communities in Sampson County.

All the while, they’re pulling threads of tradition together into a picture of the past.

The group's members [have demonstrated] their skills. . . at the North Carolina History Museum in Raleigh in the North Carolina Quilting Bee. A large quilt they made [was] on display in the museum's women's history exhibit.

As the women sit around the frame, their hands dart back and forth creating a pattern of stitches around a green quilt stripped with maroon with the same brick house in each square. Their stitches outline a pattern printed on the fabric. . . . “In the old days, we made our own patterns,” said Alma Brewington. “People just don’t have the time to do the things they used to.”

 “We children would watch our grandmother quilt. She would come to my mother’s house and sit by the chimney. I’d have to keep the chimney going. She liked to dip her snuff by the fire. She’d sew those little teensy, itsy-bitsy quilt scraps to a piece of paper and cut the paper until it got the way she wanted it and sew the pattern on by hand and I didn’t darest let the fire get down low. 


“She did everything by hand, and then we’d take that quilt top and five or six women would come over and we’d eat a big dinner and we would quilt it out—we’d quilt until it came out of the frame.”

“And the children would play under the frame,” Ammons said. Her mother took scraps and made them into squares on a pedal Singer sewing machine. After several tops were complete, she would have a “quilting day” and work on two or more quilts at a time. Ammons learned to quilt by sneaking into the quilt room and quilting while the grown-ups were eating dinner. “I would miss eating anytime to quilt.”

“Mama would take humsp (homespun) white cloth for the lining,” Ammons said. “I don’t reckon she ever bought a lining. She’d take those white guano bags we used to get. Mama’d take them and bleach them white, get all the letters out, and use them for the lining. We used to buy feed and flour in them. Cloth bags—some of them would have print material on them and she’d take them and wash them out and make us dresses out of them.

“My daddy farmed. We worked in the field growing cotton, ‘tater, ‘bacco. You name it and we did it.”

Pulling a bit of the white fluffy synthetic fiber from between the lining, she told how the filling used to be made of cotton.

“In the old days my mother would tell my father to get her a bag of cotton,” Eloise Brewington said. “We’d pick ever how much she wanted in the quilt, a sack full. My father would take it to the mill to gin. Then they’d take it and get a yard broom and beat it ‘til it would be right fluffy, and then they’d smooth it out and quilt it. It’d be right pretty when they finished.”

Weaving tales

Maxine Bryant’s nimble fingers make short stitches across the roof of the house on the quilt. At 68, her hair is salt and pepper, her trim body clad in a green sweat suit. She talks about how her life was woven around cotton. As a child she picked cotton on her father’s farm. She attended grammar and high school in this building, which was called East Carolina Indian Center. After graduating she became a spinner in West Point Cotton Mills and worked her way up to supervisor before she retired in 1991.

Since the houses had no central heat, Bryant said, quilts were not only valued for their uniqueness—they were a necessity.

“Lord, yes. It’d be cold and we’d have so many quilts on us we couldn’t hardly turn over,” said Eloise Brewington with a laugh. “But they’d keep you warm.”

Luanna Faircloth remembers stories told by her father of her great grandmother, Sarah Revel, who lived in Robeson County. She not only made quilts but spun the yarn to weave the fabric. As a child, her father picked cotton on the family farm. At night he had to pick the seeds from the cotton. He couldn’t go to bed until he had filled his shoes with cotton. The next day his grandmother would spin the yarn to be woven on the loom for clothes and for quilts.

Elizabeth Bell is one member of the group who doesn’t like to quilt.

“Never did,” she said. “When it came time to quilt or kill hogs, I always said I had school work to do and took off.”

Now she has another excuse. She has glaucoma.

Alma Brewington worries that the art of quilting will die out after her generation is gone.

“The young people don’t take time to stop and look. Our teen-agers come in here and we try to get them to stop in and learn to quilt, but it’s too slow for them. It bothers me. And television. I leave my television off when I’m quilting. You can’t do both.

“The young ones don’t congregate anymore. They miss out on the companionship. They are missing out on the art of quilting, and they are missing out on what their ancestors did.”

Alma Brewington of the Coharie Quilters shows a captivated young visitor at the North Carolina Museum of History how to quilt.

Profile of the Past: Nancy George Bradley

Beth Crist

Born in the late 1800s, Bradley learned basket weaving from her mother, Mary Dobson, one of a few skillful weavers who mastered double-woven white oak baskets. Bradley passed down her skills to daughter Rowena, who is well known today for her exquisite rivercane baskets.

Rowena Bradley has fond memories of her mother’s basketmaking. “My mother made baskets day in and day out, except on Sunday,” she recalls. “Father would gather the rivercane and dig the materials for the dyes for Mother. Everything else was done by Mother.” Nancy Bradley made baskets for her family’s use and to trade, but she never sold them. Rowena Bradley remembers that her mother “tied [the baskets] up in an old sheet and took them to Cherokee to trade for groceries.” Neither Nancy Bradley nor her mother could speak English, yet both traded their baskets in markets well beyond western North Carolina.

In the nineteenth century, rivercane, the material used for most Cherokee baskets, grew scarce on the Qualla Boundary reservation. As a result, only a small number of women, including Nancy Bradley, specialized in rivercane baskets. Bradley occasionally worked with other materials, usually because she could not procure rivercane. She made honeysuckle baskets, which, by 1930, tourists preferred to larger rivercane and white oak baskets. She also made utility baskets from white oak, favored by the Cherokee, for her own use. Rowena Bradley recalls that her mother usually made “a big old white oak basket, like in the summertime of the year, have a garden, she’d go down and gather onions and cabbage and beans, you know, potatoes. A big oak basket, that’s what she’d put them in. And my dad usually carried one. He carried stove wood in it, you know.” Bradley even made baskets out of bamboo when a local craft shop owner, curious about the material, gave some to her.

The technique of double weaving involves weaving one basket inside another in one continuous weave, resulting in a strong, flexible, and durable basket. Few Cherokee made double-woven baskets at the turn of the twentieth century, but basketmakers revived the technique in the 1940s. Rowena Bradley makes these baskets today, often using designs she learned from her mother. “My mother never had no names or no meaning to her designs. She just made them. And that’s the way I do,” she says.

Double-weave walnut- and bloodroot-died rivercane baskets, made by Rowena Bradley.

As Nancy Bradley delicately intertwined rivercane stalks, her fingers coaxing shape and strength out of flat strips as colors formed patterns and textures, she wove not only the rivercane but also a record of Cherokee culture, her family history, and her individuality. Rowena Bradley proudly continues her mother’s craft but fears that the tradition of Cherokee basketry will not endure. “I will be honest and say that in a generation or two I think basket weaving among the Cherokee will die out because the children don’t take an interest like they used to,” she says. With the loss of this living tradition, the Cherokee people will also lose an important part of their heritage.

Quoted material from Weaving New Worlds by Sarah H. Hill (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1997) and Contemporary Artists and Craftsmen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (Cherokee, N.C.: Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, 1987).

Profile of the Present: Senora Lynch

Beth Crist

“I’ve always been inspired by the spirit of clay,” says Senora Lynch, an artist from the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, who calls her pottery Living Traditions. “Working in clay takes me back to my childhood days of playing in mud, a free spirit.”

Senora Lynch became interested in making pottery at age fourteen, when she assisted the tribe’s elders with a pottery class. She made some pottery herself, but after the class ended, she had neither the opportunity nor the materials to continue. Twenty years later, Lynch met a potter who agreed to teach her the craft. She’s been a potter ever since.

Lynch creates her pottery at home using the hand-coiling method, an exacting process. First, she pounds red clay and rolls it into long ropes. Next, she coils the ropes and stacks them to form the desired vessel shape, pressing them together. She then smooths the clay with her fingers and scrapes it with a tool to make the coils stick together. She continues to smooth and stretch the coils with her fingers, finally polishing the vessel with a rock to make it even smoother and shinier. To make a design, Lynch places white clay on top of the red clay and etches patterns in it with a fine tool. The vessel then goes into a kiln near Lynch’s home and is fired for four to eight hours. This process results in exquisite pottery that has been exhibited at the North Carolina Museum of History, 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, and Smithsonian Institution. 

Superstitions, sayings, and stories from the Haliwa-Saponi inspire Lynch’s unique designs, as does the natural environment. She uses the dogwood flower because it is a sign of spring, its appearance signaling that the time to plant corn has arrived. Tobacco, the spirit of life, and corn, the staff of life, are sacred plants to the Haliwa-Saponi and also appear in her designs. “My designs are my descriptions of tradition,” Lynch explains.

Left: corn and dogwood bowl. Right: Grouping with turtles and dogwood bowl.

Lynch is also an educator who teaches students about American Indians and works to overcome racial stereotypes. In her school programs—for kindergarten through twelfth grade, focusing on fourth grade—Lynch uses art to teach the history and culture of her people and other North Carolina tribes. Children, she observes, respond positively as she dispels the image of Indians as feather-wearing hunters on horseback. Lynch urges teachers to learn more about Indian history and culture. She was nominated for a 2001 North Carolina Folk Heritage Award for her work in promoting and preserving the culture of the Haliwa-Saponi people.

Related Links

Issues in Archaeology
Intrigue of the Past: North Carolina's First Peoples offers background information, graphics, and lesson plans on rock art and preserving archaeological sites.

Pottery Traditions
This lesson from Intrigue of the Past: North Carolina's First Peoples includes background information, an activity, and student handouts on the history of North Carolina's American Indian pottery.

To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions: Educator Information
This educator's guide from the National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibit includes background information, photographs and illustrations, lesson plans, and activities on American Indian quilts and quiltmakers (Adobe Acrobat required).

Tsalagi Basketry: Plants, History
Get information on Cherokee basketmaking traditions and view photographs of baskets (including a basket by Rowena Bradley) and their makers.

Other Arts

Native American Authors
This website from the Internet Public Library provides information on Native North American authors with bibliographies of their published works, biographical information, and links to online resources including interviews and online texts. Authors from most of the 8 state recognized tribes are included.

Southern Pow Wows
Learn about powwow dancing and music, as well as the history, clothing, and terminology of powwows.

Assignment 5

Complete one of the following options:

Option 1 (Choose this option if you are seeking technology credits for this course.)

Create a virtual field trip of websites about American Indian arts. You may survey various art forms and tribes or concentrate on one genre, time period, tribe, or region. Use an outline or a narrative form. Include the following elements:

  • the address and a brief description of each website
  • questions the students should answer after visiting each site 
  • assignments based upon the material 
  • other details you wish to include

For more information and examples of virtual field trips, go to or

Option 2
Create a list of American Indian art or humanities resources appropriate for your curriculum. Include a brief notation on how you can use each resource. Resources may include, but are not limited to, secondary sources, museums, photographs, music, videos (theater, movies, dancing, etc.), slide shows, lesson plans, literature, paintings, sculpture, pottery, and Indian artists themselves. Include at least ten resources on your list.

Submit your completed assignment via e-mail to:

Previous | Home