Saturday, July 05, 2008

Basket Revival and Revitalization

The resurgence in Cherokee Basketry continued in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and the basket makers in North Carolina seized the moment to produce and market their creations...

In contrast to other art processes, basketry of this period shows clear continuity with historic precedents in white oak and rivercane techniques, traditional choice and use of dyes, and a continuing presence of the double-weave technique, characteristic of the eastern Cherokee.

Lottie Queen Stamper taught basket making full-time at the Cherokee boarding school from 1937 until her retirement in 1966 and was a significant influence in the revival of contemporary eastern Cherokee basketry in cane and oak splints (see figure 36). She set high standards in her own work and challenged other basket makers to strive for such aesthetic levels as well. Her students included her niece Eva Wolfe, Carol and Agnes Welch, Nancy Conseen, and Rowena Bradley, all of whom established strong careers as basket weavers in later years.

...During the 1940s, Lottie Stamper became a singular force in sparking an interest in the revival of the almost lost art of the double weave technique of river cane basketry...

On of her most famous creations, Basket with Lid (figure 37) is based on the Sloane Basket, British Museum, London (see figure 9). The eighteenth-century basket is one of the oldest surviving examples of Cherokee double-weave basketry. Stamper replicated the basket's shape and pattern by studying a photostatic copy of the original. (QAC 1987, iii).

Stamper's niece and student Eva Wolfe became one of the most widely renowned basket makers in the United States. She was born July 24, 1922, in the Soco community of the Qualla Boundary, North Carolina. (Eva has since passed on) Like many other Cherokee women, she first learned the art of the basketry from her mother and later studied the technique further in a weaving class sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs School on the Qualla Boundary (see also her remarks in the epigraph to this chapter).

Later, Wofe refined her knowledge of the difficult technique when she worked with Stamper. Wolfe revived patterns of Historic twill-woven double-weave basketry, bringing the technique and designs to a new level of technical and aesthetic achievement (see figure 38). She received many awards for her basketry, including a first prize for a double-weave basket exhibited in 1968 at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. (Qac 1987, 2). In the 1977 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Eva a craftperson's fellowship grant to create an exhibition, later shown in the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery (Mails 1996, 251). Twill-woven double-weave rivercane baskets represent the oldest Cherokee basket tradition.

Nancy Bradley, legendary in the field of basket making, specializing in the challenging double-weave rivercane technique, although she worked in white oak, honeysuckle, and even bamboo at times. As early as 1915, Nancy Bradley was an accomplished weaver of cane, and, according to her daughter Rowena, she continued to weave until shortly before her death in 1963.

One of Nancy Bradley's most outstanding examples, Burden Basket (figure 39), made in 1941, features natural and dyed rivercane in a square-to-round form with a beautifully configured swastika symbol repeated on each of the four sides. ...

Nancy Bradley's mastery of the material is evident in the smooth transition from the squared bottom of the basket to the round top, giving Burden Basket an elegant form. The circular rim is accented by a dark brown chain patter, which contrasts with the golden color of the natural cane. Such skillful manipulation of color, emphasized through visual contrast, adds further to the beauty of the surface design.

Burden Basket was one of the eight Bradley rivercane baskets collected by Clark Field in 1941...

Traditionally, burden baskets were woven of durable cane or oak splints for carrying heavy items such as food harvests. They were worn on the back, secured by a tumpline around the chest. When Burden Basket is compared to other plain, unadorned, more utilitarian baskets of the type, however, it is apparent that Bradley's basket was intended not for such heavy labor, but for a more formal purpose or perhaps as a object to be collected by a patron. We certainly admire Burden Basket as one of the most artistically superior examples of Cherokee basketry in general and of the double-weave style in particular. Without question, Nancy Bradley was an accomplished artist by all standards. (this basket is actually a twill-plaited weave, rather than the traditional double-weave)

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power; for a copy of this book:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

19th Century Baskets

page 109: When European immigrants moved into the southern Appalachians, they brought white-oak containers and the expertise to make them. Using metal tools, they constructed cabins, furniture, and a wide range of functional objects for household use; made toys for their children; and carved musical instruments. they especially favored the plentiful oaks for making splint baskets, which were not among the basket forms made by the Cherokee at that time. Ever resourceful, however, Cherokee basket weavers added the oak material and the splint basket form to their repertoire, expanding once again their creative options.

After the Removal, the Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw continued to make baskets in Indian Territory, each group developing its own unique style, yet all recalling the historical roots of the southern tradition.

Cherokee weavers in Oklahoma found different plant life. buckbrush, for example, with its long, liable runners suitable for weaving made an excellent basket-making material. The western Cherokee developed their own unique style of basket weaving based on both tradition and innovation, with strong, functional designs.

For the Cherokee in the nineteenth century, the basket tradition remained strong. Cane continued to be the primary material used in making Cherokee baskets during the first half of the century, as oak splints were added to the repertoire. Toward the end of the century, honeysuckle, a Japanese plant, was introduced in the South, and eastern Cherokee basket makers adopted it as a material, adding it to the similar indigenous variety that grew in the area.

Both eastern and western basket weavers used the double-weave technique, although each group had unique characteristics.... The double-weave technique of weaving baskets features an outside basket joined by a seamless edge to a separately woven inner basket, called the "return." The double weave permits a variety of innovative design combinations, from varying the width of splints and controlling the placement of color to creating strikingly different patterns between the exterior and interior woven layers.

Cherokee basket makers were masters of color and design, expertly using a wide range of natural resources. Bloodroot, a favored natural dye source, was used extensively. Found along the banks of streams and near running water, it can be recognized by the single white flower that blooms in the early spring. Walnut was used frequently to provide contrast to the red bloodroot dye (bloodroot alone produces an orange color; only when you add mordants does it turn to a red/orange color; see Cherokee Natural Dyes) and to the cane's natural soft golden color. In the late 1880s commercial aniline dyes became popular, although the nonnatural dyes were never fully accepted by collectors and buyers.

Although rivercane is very difficult to process and weave, it nonetheless remained a favored material where it was available. The weaver can create a range of geometric designs by varying the width and combinations of warp and weft; other advantages are the cane's shiny gloss and excellent dyeing properties. (you can tell Hamburg dyed and made double weaves by it's none glossy look - the outside shell of the cane is removed, so that it will accept dye better) Two weaving techniques predominate; checkerwork, used from prehistoric to contemporary times, featuring the warp and weft woven at right angles; and the double-weave twill technique, the most difficult to create, featuring diagonal patterns formed by the positioning of the warp and weft. A strong sense of color and design, particularly in the rivercane basketry, is a dominant feature of southeastern Indian basketry.

The Cherokee and other southeastern groups made and used various types of baskets for sacred and secular purposes. Where traditional basket making has persisted, the tray-like forms associated with food processing usually dominate the basket makers' production (Gettys 2001, 175). New types of baskets were made in elaborate form and pattern. Especially of interest artistically are the lidded examples using dyed rivercane.

The Cherokee Polychrome Basket with Lid (figure 29) is a rare pre-1843 double weave container made of durable rivercane; both its antiquity and artistic merits set it apart among those extant. The weaver skillfully created one of the most artistically significant polychrome twill-plaited baskets known to exist from the years immediately following the Trail of Tears Removal period (1838-1839_ when most North Carolina Cherokee were forcibly removed west to Indian Territory. The basket's double-weave construction is one of the most challenging weaves to create, and this basket verifies the considerable skill possessed by Cherokee weavers. The earliest known depiction of a similar type basket appears in the 1682 painting titled Les Tresors de l"Amerique (figure 2).

Both the lid and the body of the basket are formed with two separate, woven layers of rivercane strips, each with a unique design. While the lid's interior pattern is quite similar to its exterior one, the body of the basket is even more exceptional for having two totally different designs created for the inside and outside surfaces of the separate layers. The interior features a bold horizontal pattern, composed of the same dark brown, red, and golden yellow colors, yet dramatically set apart in its unique configuration. The complex double-walled structure, the challenging design solutions, and the highly refined shape suggest this basket was woven by one of the most skilled Cherokee basket makers of the time. The lid's unusual inward-slanting sides, surrounding and enclosing the concave surface of the top, give it an elegant, graceful profile unmatched by other examples.

This basket compares with two other very rare Cherokee lidded and dyed rivercane baskets of the eighteenth century: the first (figure 9), in the Sloane Collection of the British Museum, London; the second from the Historiska Museet, Lund, Sweden. Such expertly made baskets were valued objects, reserved for special use. Their refined form, size, and beauty suggest they were used to hold treasured personal items, exchanged in trade, or given to an official or dignitary in the region. Some such baskets were prized gifts that ended up in private and museum collections in Europe and the United States. Due to the antiquity and exceptional artistic merits, Polychrome Basket with Lid is one of the most important dyed rivercane lidded baskets made by the Cherokee.

After the 1840s, basket makers continued weaving baskets for many of their own needs and making others to sell or trade to non-Indians. Traditional form and function merged with new basket designs and uses. The need for ceremonial baskets of the preremoval period diminished. In fact, as Sarah Hill (1997) explains, "Of the three functions of baskets seen prior to the nineteenth century - utilitarian, trade, and ceremonial - only two remained visible after 1838, testifying eloquently to deep levels of cultural dislocation" (151). After the Removal, the economic significance of baskets became even more important to families; both men and women created and sold baskets to support their families in the new and different economy.

Dislocated Cherokee submitted spoliation claims requesting compensation for their losses during the Removal. The claim of John Vann ...dated 1838...listed two spinning wheels, furniture, tools, livestock, and other belongings, including thirty gourds, a half-pound of indigo, and six bunches (several strands tied together) of beads in assorted colors. ... Such inventories also support the theory that white-oak basketry became an important form of eastern Cherokee weaving after the Removal.

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power; for a copy of this book:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cherokee Rootrunner Baskets - 1783

page 86: Rootrunner Basket (figure 17) was woven by Margaret "Peggy" Scott Vann (1783-1820), James Vann's third wife, whose mother was Cherokee. Rootrunner Basket is the earliest known example of a Cherokee basket made of rootrunner. It departs from Cherokee basket-weaving tradition in the use of the coiled vine material and it's non traditional form with a handle and fitted lid. This basket, one of only two rootrunner baskets from Spring Place, is round and fragile, as compared to the sturdy square and rectangular rivercane and white-oak examples made by other Cherokee weavers. Two other known baskets from the mission are the traditional double-weave rivercane technique.

Rootrunner Basket features vine woven around a sturdier frame than the earlier twill and plaited rivercane baskets in the region. This technique is comparable to that used for the honeysuckle baskets that would become popular later in the century. Like most utilitarian or domestic baskets, Rootrunner Basket features no dyed pattern, its decorative quality resting solely in its aesthetically pleasing round shape and gracefully formed handle.

The delicate, lightweight nature of the two mission rootrunner baskets suggests their intended purpose was not for heavy domestic use, but rather a more decorative and less rigorous existence, perhaps to hold valuables or simply to be admired as a luxury object resting in a special place. The differences in form and function imply that Cherokee basketry was evolving from a primarily utilitarian role to roles that met the demands of new audiences. The baskets clearly reveal the interaction of tow cultures - the Cherokee and Euro-Americans - and are unquestionable evidence of Cherokee basket weavers' skill in both keeping tradition alive and responding to contemporary currents.

Cherokee weavers experimented with various types of vine, reed, willow and other media. Some nineteenth-century baskets are incorrectly identified as being made of honeysuckle, but the Japanese plant was not available to Cherokee women until the 1890s and only became popular as a weaving material in the twentieth century. Furthermore, the vine used in these baskets is smooth all over, whereas honeysuckle vine has characteristic "knots."

Some basket designs may have been widely known and shared, while others perhaps belonged to a particular settlement, family, clan, or weaver, or may have signified certain customs, concepts, events, stories, or status )S. Hill 1997, 101). Through historic turmoil and social change, Cherokee basket weavers added new forms, materials, and patterns to the established repertoire. As a result, the Cherokee basketry tradition evolved to include both successful precedents and fresh innovations. Pottery, however, came closer to extinction than did basketry. That said, early nineteenth-century Moravian missionaries purchased ceramic vessels from Native American women in the area, suggesting new markets were possible for a declining craft.

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power; for a copy of this book:

River Cane usage among the Cherokee

page 50: John R. Swanton (1946) considered cane to be one of the most important of all raw materials in the Southeast. Two types were commonly used in the region: Aruninaria gigantean (Commonly called River Cane) and Arundinaria tecta (commonly called Switch Cane), (244). Archaeological evidence in the from of negative impressions in the soil reveals the considerable antiquity of its use (Sears 1956, 29). The Cherokee constructed a wife range of functional objects including woven mats, baskets, and quivers from durable, lightweight cane...

page 55: The Cherokee war chief wore red painted eagle feathers (one stripe for each enemy he had killed) stuck into two-inch-long pieces of cane fastened to his scalp lock (Lewis and Kneberg 1954, 15). "[W]hen an eagle was killed and its feathers taken for use in rituals," Charles Hudson (1976) notes, "the feathers had to be kept wrapped in a deerskin and placed in a small, round feather house, built especially for this purpose, on the edge of the dance ground" (168).

The Cherokee also used natural fiber to weave baskets and mats. Cane mats, typically made in the twill weave, were used on benches i homes and in council house, for wrapping the deceased in burial, and for other purposes. Southeastern mats were about four to five feet wide and about six to eight feet long (Lewis and Kneberg 1954, 41). Artists dyed cane mats and baskets by immersing and simmering cane strips in various types of dye. Dyes were created from roots, berries, bark, ashe, and other natural materials, depending on the color desired.

page 56: Powhatan, powerful chief of the Powhatan Confederacy of Algonquian Indians in the Chesapeake Bay area, received a delegation of Englishmen early in the seventeenth century while sitting on a bed covered with mats. He was wearing a deerskin robe, and at his elbow was a leather-covered pillow ornamented with pearls and "white" (perhaps shell) beads. Young women sat at this head and feet, and long each side of the house sat another twenty of his wives. Each of these women had her head and shoulders painted red and wore a necklace of "white" beads (Tyler 1907, 134. More than 150 years later, in his 1775 journey to Cowee (North Carolina), William Bartram saw town house "sophas...covered with mats or carpets, very curiously made of thin splints of Ash or Oak, woven or platted [sic] together" (Bartram 1789/1995, 85)

Rivercane was used for making baskets from at least as early as the Woodland period to the present. Cherokee mythology offers an in-depth history of these important items. The Cherokee tell of a basket made by Kanane-ski Amai-yehi, or spider-Dwelling-in-the-Water, a creature resembling a water boatman, to capture the first fire. She, like the water boatman, crossed boundaries between land and water and wove the material that Cherokee women associated with carrying water as well as many other daily uses (King 1999, 94-95). Because the Water Spider, like many anomalous beings could live in water and on land, ti was considered to possess exceptional powers. Cherokee baskets are also linked to women in the figure of Selu, The Corn Mother, who held a basket to catch the corn and beans that issued from her body, as described in "Kanatie and Selu: The Origin of Game and Corn.".

Although baskets were used in many colonial households, only two early eighteenth century lidded baskets are known in museum collections. One is in the Historiska Museet, Lund, Sweden, where it was previously attributed incorrectly to the Chinese; it was recently identified as being from the Southeast and probably of Cherokee origin. The other, better-known example is in the Sloane Collection of the British Museum, London, as mentioned previously. Only rare examples of eighteenth-century baskets are known to exist outside museums.

Known as Doubleweave Lidded Basket (figure 9) the Sloane basket, brought to London in 1725, is the earliest known Historic Cherokee basket of its type. Constructed using the twilled, double-weave technique, the basket is 19.7 inches (50 cm.) long. However, differences between the designs in the lid and those in the bottom suggest the lid actually may be an upside-down tray. Twentieth-century Cherokee basket weaver Lottie Stamper named the top design "The Casket" (i.e., coffin) and the bottom "The Pine Tree" (J.C.H. King 1999, 94-95). Both parts are comprised of rivercane strips, some natural color, other dyed dark brown and still others red-brown.

Hampton Rowland Jr., (1989) suggests the first thing to understand about cane in the Southeast is its abundance: "Benjamin Hawkins made a survey of most of the Indian villages in Georgia and west Alabama in 1799 and he remarked on cane being readily available in over half the locations" (27). Ultimately, most large cane brakes disappeared, and the important basket-weaving material became rare. "By the late 1700s, river cane, used as fodder for horses, cattle, and hogs, had become very scarce" (Drooker 1998a, 106)

Adair (1930) described the complex design of and high regard for Cherokee baskets: They make the handsomest clothes baskets...I ever saw, considering their materials. They divide large swamp canes, into long, thin narrow splinters, which they dye of several colours, and manage the workmanship so well, that both the inside and outside are covered with a beautiful variety of pleasing figures; and though for the space of two inches below the upper edge of each basket, it is worked into one, through the other parts they are worked asunder, as if they were two joined a-top by some strong cement. A large nest consists of either or ten baskets, contained within each other. Their dimensions are different, but they usually make the outside basket about a foot deep, a foot and a half broad, and almost a yard long...Formerly, those baskets which the Cheerake made, were so highly esteemed even in South Carolina, the politest of our colonies, for domestic usefulness, beauty and skilful variety, that a large nest of them costs upwards of a moidore. (456).

J.C.H. King (1999) speculates as to how baskets such as Sloane's were collected. The governor, in Charleston, would have been in contact through a network of intermediaries, such as traders, with people in the interior. As traders sold cloth, metal tools, and tobacco to prominent Native American leaders, they would have received copious deer-skins in exchange, and perhaps also a basket or two given as a gesture by a woman related to one of the Cherokee traders. The basket might then have become a gift outside the normal spheres of utilitarian exchange. In this manner, it would have been a symbol of cultural and economic allegiance, possibly in a colonial home before being sent to Europe (93-94).

The use of white-oak splints for baskets gained widespread popularity only after the introduction of metal tools, which permitted the efficient manufacturing and fashioning of the splints (Catesby 1731-43, vol. 2, p. xi) During the 1720s, Mark Catesby stated: " I now send ye capt. Easton in ye Neptuen a Box of Dryed plants with an Indian Apron of the Wild Mulberry this kind of Cloath with a kind of Basket they make the Split cane are the only Mechanick Arts with Notice" (J.C.H. King 1999, 92)

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power; for a copy of this book:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mavis Doering - 1929-2007

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power

"One of the most accomplished weavers, Mavis Doering, was born August 31, 1929, in Hominy, Oklahoma. She was named an Honored One by the Red Earth organization of Oklahoma in acknowledgment of her exceptional weaving skills. Doering's style combines elements of traditional Cherokee basket construction techniques with her own unique desing interpretations. Ina 1989 artist's statement for the Native Americans as Creative Adaptors exhibition in Athens, Georgia, she says, "Basket weaving offers many things to me and, as a third generation weaver. I strive to do the best job I can so that my people would be proud" (Doering 1989, 30) Four examples of her weaving, Buckbrush Baskets (figure 63), illustrate her style, emphasing repetitive bands of contrasting colors, two adorned with leather, beads, and fathers, typical of her mixed-media works.

Using buckbrush and honesuckle runners, white-Oak and ash splints, reed, and cane, Mavis Doering creates a range of different styles and patterns, often embellished with attachments to give the baskets heightened visual interest. She faithfully researches and fathers natural materials, spending many hours preparing and dyeing the weaving elements before beginning the actual weaving. "The majority of materials that I use are gathered in eastern Oklahoma. My mother owns and lives on 80 acres which is part of her original allotment, about 20 miles east of Tahlequah, and this is where I obtain most of the natural materials that I work with" (30). Most Doering baskets bear well-known Cherokee patterns, such as Mountain Peaks, Double Chief's Daughter, and Lightning.

A member of the Cherokee Nation of (in) Oklahoma, Doering created a group of baskets that incorporated painted elements contributed by contemporary painters Gerald Stone (Seminole-Cherokee), Jeanne Rorex (later Jeanne Rorex Bridges, Cherokee) and Joan Brown (Cherokee-Creek) and unique motifs such as the Witch Deer. The basekts were shown at the Sixth Annual Sales exhibition, June 12-September 30, 1988, at the Southern Plains Indian Museum and Crafts Center, Anadarko, Oklahoma (Anonymous 1988, 64-65) Mavis Doering has been featured in television programs and is the recipient of numerous awards for her works, which are represented in several private and permanent collections, including the Southern Plains museum and the Oklahoma State Art Collection."

for a copy of this book:

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Legend of the Cherokee Rose

When the Cherokee were removed from their homelands during what became known as the Trail of Tears, they were forced to leave everything behind that was dear to them as well as everything they had that might have helped them have a better start in a new place.

The women were full of sorrow and began to cry. They cried so hard and shed so many tears that their men were afraid they would lose their strength and not be able to care for the children and for the family. The men were afraid that the women would become so weak from sorrow and crying that they would die. That night the men asked Creator to help the women and give them something to take their sorrow. As they went along the next day and looked back at where they had come from, they saw beautiful green plants with white roses spring up along the trail. Those white flowers jumped up everywhere their tears fell, its seven leaflets representing the seven Cherokee clans, and it had gold in the center like the gold the white men were looking for in Cherokee country. The growth of the strong thorny plants reclaimed some of the land the people had lost and when the women saw the Cherokee Rose, it gave them the strength they needed to bring up their children in a new Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee Rose is a heritage rose and it is the Georgia state flower. The number of petals on Cherokee Roses varies from 5 to 7. It is a very hardy flower.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Origin of the Pleiades and the Pine

Origin of the Pleiades and the Pine

Long ago, when the world was new, there were seven boys who used to spend all their time down by the townhouse playing the gatayu.sti game, rolling astone wheel along the ground and sliding a curved stick after it to strike it. Their mothers scolded, but it did no good, so one day they collected some gatayu.sti stones and boiled them in the pot with the corn for dinner.When the boys came home hungry their mothers dipped out the stones and said,"Since you like the gatayu.sti better than the cornfield, take the stonesnow for your dinner."

The boys were very angry, and went down to the townhouse, saying, "As our mothers treat us this way, let us go where we shall never trouble them anymore." They began a dance - some say it was the Feather dance - and wentround and round the townhouse, praying to the spirits to help them. At last their mothers were afraid something was wrong and went out to look for them. They saw the boys still dancing around the townhouse, and as they watched they noticed that their feet were off the earth, and that with every round they rose higher and higher in the air. They ran to get their children, but it was too late, for they were already above the roof of the townhouse - all but one, whose mother managed to pull him down with the gatayu.sti pole, but he struck the ground with such force that he sank into it and the earth closed over him.

The other six circled higher and higher until they went up to the sky, where we see them now as the Pleiades, which the Cherokee still call Ani.tsutsa (The Boys). The people grieved long after them, but the mother whose boy had gone into the ground came every morning and every evening to cry over the spot until the earth was damp with her tears. At last a little green shoot sprouted up and grew day by day until it became the tall tree that we call now the pine, and the pine is of the same nature as the stars and holds in itself the same bright light.

source: Mooney, Cherokee History

(interesting in all this info is no reference to the River Cane plants they used for making baskets - Selu btw was the first basket user in Cherokee History)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Seven: The Sacred numbers

In every tribe and cult throughout the world we find sacred numbers. Christianity and the Christian world have three and seven. The Indian has always four as the principal sacred number, with usually another only slightly subordinated. The two sacred numbers of the Cherokee are four and seven, the latter being the actual number of the tribal clans, the formulistic number of upper worlds or heavens, and the ceremonial number of paragraphs or repetitions in the principal formulas. Thus in the prayers for long life the preist raises his client by successive stages to the first, second, third, fourth, and finally to the seventh heaven before the end is accomplished. The sacred four has direct relation to the four cardinal points, while seven, besides these, includes also "above," "below," and "here" in the center." In many tribal rituals color and sometimes sex are assigned to each point of direction. In the sacred Cherokee formulas the spirits of the East, South, West, and North are, respectively, Red, White, Black, and Blue, and each color has also its own symbolic meaning of Power (war), Peace, Death and Defeat.
(White was a Peace color and Red a war color)

source: James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Fomulas oftheCherokees

(Every Traditional Oklahoma Cherokee Double Walled basket starts with 4 and 7 spokes)

Additional Notes on the First Fire

The first fire: This myth was obtained from Swimmer and John Ax. It is noted also in Foster's "Sequoyah" and in the Wahnenauhi manuscripts. The uksu.hi and the are, respectively, the Coluber obsoletus and Bascanion constrictor. The water-spider is the large hairy species Argyroneta.

In the version given in the Wahnenauhi manuscript the Possum and the Buzzard first make the trial, but come back unsuccessful, one losing the hair from his tail, while the other has the feathers scorched from his head and neck. In another version the Dragon-fly assists the Water-spider by pushing the tusti from behind. In the corresponding Creek myth, as given in the Tuggle manuscript, the Rabbit obtains fire by the stratagem of touching to the blaze a cap trimmed with sticks of rosin, while pretending to bend low in the dance. In the Jicarilla myth the Fox steals fire by wrapping cedar bark around his tail and thrusting it into the blaze while dancing around the circle.

Tusti for, a small bowl; larger jars are called and unti.ya.

source: James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Fomulas of theCherokees

The First Fire

In the beginning there was no fire, and the world was cold, until the Thunders ( who lived up in Galun.lati, sent their lightning and put fire into the bottom of a hollow sycamore tree which grew on an island. The animals knew it was there, because they could see the smoke coming out at the top, but they could not get to it on account of the water, so they held a council to decide what to do. This was a long time ago.

Every animal that could fly or swim was anxious to go after the fire. The Raven offered, and because he was so large and strong they thought he could surely do the work, so he was sent first. He flew high and far across the water and alighted on the sycamore tree, but while he was wondering what to do next; the heat had scorched all his feathers black, and he was frightened and came back without the fire. The little Screech-owl (Wa.huhu) volunteered to go, and reached the place safely, but while he was looking down into the hollow tree a blast of hot air came up and nearly burned out his eyes. He managed to fly home as best he could, but it was a long time before he could see well, and his eyes are red to this day. Then the Hooting Owl (U.guku) and the Horned Owl (tskili) went, but by the time they got to the hollow tree the fire was burning so fiercely that the smoke nearly blinded them, and the ashes carried up by the wind made white rings about their eyes. They had to come home again without the fire, but with all their rubbing they were never able to get rid of the white rings.

Now no more of the birds would venture, and so the little Uksu.hi snake, the black racer, said he would go through the water and bring back some fire. He swam across to the island and crawled through the grass to the tree, and went in by a small hole at the bottom. The heat and smoke were too much for him, too, and after dodging about blindly over the hot ashes until he was almost on fire himself he managed by good luck to get out again at the same hole, but his body had been scorched black, and he has ever since had the habit of darting and doubling on his track as if trying to escape from close quarters. He came back, and the great blacksnake, Gulegi, "The Climber," offered to go for fire. He swam over to the island and climbed up the tree on the outside, as the blacksnake always does, but when he put his head down into the hole the smoke choked him so that he fell into the burning stump, and before he could climb out again he was as black as the Uksu .hi.

Now they held another council, for still there was no fire, and the world was cold, but birds, snakes, and four-footed animals, all had some excuse for not going, because they were all afraid to venture near the burning sycamore, until at last Amai.yehi (the Water Spider) said she would go. This is not the water spider that looks like a mosquito, but the other one, with black downy hair and red stripes on her body. She can run on top of the water or dive to the bottom, so there would be no trouble to get over to the island, but the question was, How could she bring back the fire? "I'll manage that," said the Water Spider; so she spun a thread from her body and wove it into a tusti bowl, which she fastened on her back. Then she crossed over to the island and through the grass to where the fire was still burning. She put one little coal of fire into her bowl, and came back with it, and ever since we have had fire, and the Water Spider still keeps her tusti bowl.

(some Traditional Double Walled Baskets have the image of the Water Spider woven into the basket bottom)

source: James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Fomulas of the Cherokees