, Muskogee, OK

September 22, 2013

Cherokee adds new spin to art form

He combines his passions, carves contemporary tribal knives

— TAHLEQUAH — Growing up in Oaks near Rocky Ford has many advantages. You’re magically never bored.

There’s always a fish fry to attend or deer to hunt, and you are completely blanketed in Cherokee culture.

Terry Crow, 46, facilities supervisor for Cherokee Nation Entertainment, developed a love for the traditions of his tribe and hunting at an early age and has found a way to combine both into a striking contemporary art form.

“I’ve always had deer antlers lying around and a fascination with knives since I can remember,” Crow said in a media release. “I just never knew exactly how to make one. One day, back in ’97.

“I believe, my wife came to me after seeing some knives another artist had created and said I should try it. I’ve been carving ever since.”

Crow, a Cherokee citizen, quickly learned to carve knives, hunting bows, jewelry and other decorative pieces out of deer antler, elk bone and other natural materials he had found.

While drawing and traditional art have always come natural to him, modernizing an ancient Cherokee tradition had its challenges in the beginning.

“I wanted my first carving to be an eagle head, but I kept dropping it while I was working,” said Crow. “Every time I dropped it, it would chip more and more off the beak. When I was finished it didn’t look like an eagle at all, but some kind of unnamed bird.

“My father-in-law still has it, and while I always want to take it back to fix it, he won’t let me touch it. I guess because it was my very first piece. It has character.”

Carving using bone, deer tines and wood is a longstanding tradition among Cherokee people. Until recently, most knife-like items were polished using the flint napping process.

However, over the past 75 years, many Cherokees have combined the two arts, learning to create knives with modern carved handles.

Crow has made more than 200 contemporary Cherokee knives and numerous carved pieces that have traveled across the United States and overseas. The most unique piece, a snake complete with full body scales, he carved from an old elk tine.

“For a long time, I just kept that tine lying around. It looked like something to me, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to shape it into what I saw,” Crow said. “Finally it just came to me. I used to draw what I saw in something. Now, I carve.”

Crow is a retired Army veteran who earned nine medals, including a Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal and Expert Marksmanship Badge Grenade.

He has been with CNE for more than seven years and currently lives in Woodall with his wife, often using his many passions to teach his children and grandchildren about their ancestry.

A knife carved by Crow will temporarily be on display at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center in Tahlequah.