Reverence

By Sartorius, Tara Cady | Arts & Activities, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Reverence


Sartorius, Tara Cady, Arts & Activities


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The true story belongs to the storyteller, not the subject. That having been said, many might dispute such a claim, especially those whose story is told by someone else. After all, we best tell our own story. Or do we?

Take, for example the subject of the work, The Tribesman (above). He is a full-blooded Cherokee and though he was christened "James" at birth, his Cherokee name is Going Back Chiltoskey (1907-2000) (pronounced "chill-TOSS-key") or "G.B." for short.

Some say he was named after his grandfather who, after suffering along the Trail of Tears in 1838, dreamed of "going back" to his native Cherokee homeland in what is now the western part of North Carolina (see www.geo cities.com/TheTropics/Shores/4682/ chiltoskey.htm). Others, including Going Back himself, say he was so called because he suffered a long illness during babyhood and the medicine men had to keep "going back" to his home to heal him.

Which is true? Maybe both. That is the thing about stories. They are often poetic and symbolic, and not always factual in a literal way. Yet stories are potentially more truthful than the "truth" itself. The same applies to art. Stories and pictures, either one or both together, can tell many truths at once.

In 1974, artist Hubert Shuptrine (1936-2006) produced Jericho: The South Beheld, a large and impressive "coffee table" book of his early works. Poet and novelist, James Dickey, wrote the text. The sequel, Home to Jericho, was published in 1987 and contains more mature works by Shuptrine (pronounced "sh-up-TRY-n") accompanied by his own text. The first book is a collaboration of poet and painter; the second features the painter as poet.

A preliminary watercolor for The Tribesman, titled Study of the Cherokee (dated 1979), is depicted in Home to Jericho, along with a family tree of Going Back's lineage. The study is a detailed close-up of Going Back's face surrounded by very sketchy hair and clothing. It is remarkable to realize that Shuptrine worked on The Tribesman, if only in his mind's eye, over a period of six years.

The story of friendship between the Chiltoskeys and the Shuptrines characterizes much of the intent in both men's lives. They were both artists. Going Back was a master wood carver. The two met in the 1960s at the Plum Nelly Clothes Line Art Show in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Shuptrine was exhibiting his paintings, Going Back was selling his woodcarvings and G.B.'s wife, Mary, was showing her Cherokee basketry work. Their "instant connection" grew into a friendship that lasted more than 30 years. Going Back and Mary were occasional overnight guests in the Shuptrine's home in Chattanooga, Tenn., and it was on one of those visits, 14 years after their first meeting, that Going Back posed for Shuptrine.

Going Back's pensive demeanor is palpable. With sunlight illuminating one side of his face, G.B. seems to be considering the past, present and future simultaneously. His attire juxtaposes two North American cultures: his blue denim jacket and collared work shirt contrast with the large and elegant Native American beaded rosette medallion around his neck.

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A rosette medallion is traditionally a circular pattern of beads sewn onto a piece of leather. G.B.'s rosette bears the colors red, white, yellow and black, colors most commonly interpreted as the colors of all the people on this earth. The skewed white star in the center of G.B.'s rosette has five points, each with a central black dot toward the points. A five-pointed star is an unusual configuration for a rosette, most of which are symmetrically divided into four quadrants.

It is possible the five points symbolize the "five civilized tribes" (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole) that the U.S. government forced to Oklahoma in the 1830s and '40s. The Oklahoma state seal also bears a five-pointed star with each arm of the star inscribed with the symbol of each of the five tribes. …

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