Progress continues on ‘Sacred Fire Project’ designed for hospital courtyard

Exciting strides are being made in the heart of Cherokee culture, thanks to the invaluable support of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. At the forefront of this remarkable endeavor is the “Sacred Fire Project,” brought to life through the collaborative efforts of renowned metalsmith William Rogers and two exceptional artists, Nathan Bush and JR Wolfe, both enrolled members of the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians).

This visionary trio has embarked on a mission to transform the unused courtyard on the hospital’s campus into a culturally rich and meaningful space for employees and patients. Their work centers around a captivating copper piece that promises to be an awe-inspiring tribute to Cherokee heritage. Through a generous grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, the Cherokee Indian Hospital Foundation has commissioned this ambitious project, empowering the artists to create something truly extraordinary.

The centerpiece of their work will feature masks representing the seven revered Cherokee Clans, gracefully encircling a mesmerizing fire. This masterful display will be a powerful symbol of unity and respect for their ancestral roots.

Cherokee Indian Hospital Foundation Board Member Carmaleta Monteith, who has played an integral part in securing the grant making the project possible, recently visited William’s studio in Cullowhee with Josh Farr from Robins & Morton. Carmaleta inspected Williams’ progress, getting to see pieces of the art built to scale for the first time. Josh was able to explain the dimensions of the sculpture and give an update on the sources that will be used to produce the fire in the center. After ensuring the sculpture’s layout included enough space for ceremonial dances to take place around the flame, Carmaleta left the studio more excited than ever to see the vision come to fruition.

This isn’t the first time these three talented artists have left an indelible mark on the landscape of western North Carolina. Their previous creations include a striking copper sculpture at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center, immortalizing the “Cherokee Eternal Flame,” and another remarkable piece at the Cherokee Indian Hospital, known as “Grandfather Buzzard,” majestically overlooking the hospital’s river walk area.

The dedication and passion poured into their work are evident, with the trio having already invested over 400 hours in their current project. As friends and collaborators, they share a profound connection to their heritage and a deep desire to preserve and celebrate it through their art.

The grant awarded for the “Sacred Fire Project” holds a promise that extends far beyond the creation of a stunning art piece within the hospital courtyard. Beyond the tangible beauty it will bring, the grant also encompasses an invaluable opportunity for the artists, William Rogers, Nathan Bush, and JR Wolfe, to give back to the community. With this support, the trio will embark on a journey to visit various community clubs of the EBCI, where they will not only showcase their exceptional metalwork skills but also share the essence and significance of their art. This act of teaching and sharing holds immense importance to all three artists, as it fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of Cherokee heritage among the community members. The grant will provide each community within the Qualla Boundary with their own metalworking tools, allowing future generations to learn the skill.

At the heart of this cultural exchange lies the significance of copper metalwork for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. For generations, copper has held a special place in their culture, representing strength, endurance, and spiritual connections. The art of metalwork is more than just a craft; it carries with it stories of ancestors, a reflection of identity, and a means of preserving the rich traditions of the Cherokee people. Through their art, Nathan, and JR are not only reviving age-old techniques but also bridging the gap between the past and the present, ensuring that their heritage continues to thrive and evolve for future generations. As the artists share their knowledge and expertise, the grant’s impact on the community goes beyond a physical art piece, igniting a cultural renaissance and fostering a sense of unity and pride among the EBCI members.

As the “Sacred Fire Project” continues to unfold, it promises to be a beacon of cultural significance, inspiring all who witness its splendor. With the unwavering support of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, these artists are blazing a trail of preservation, artistry, and unity for generations to come.