Almost a year ago I wrote a post about souvenirs and where they are made, and my conclusion was some of best things to buy while vacationing are crafts that have something to do with the heritage of the area you are visiting. Today we happened to venture out to our local tourist-trap type place, Cherokee, NC.
Not that all of Cherokee is a tourist wasteland. It is actually an interesting mix of vintage-style kitsch, modern tacky and Native American heritage. Today I went in search of the heritage.
I can remember a time, not so long ago, that authentic Cherokee crafts were sold in only a few venues, mainly the official gift store, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual. It is still the best place to find the authentic, but I’ve noticed that a lot of mainstream gift shops have also started carrying Cherokee crafts. It is good that consumers have a choice, but there is still plenty of junky to go around.
One thing that it took me a long time to learn is that I’m really better off buying one special quality item than a whole boat-load of knick knacks. You also have the knowledge that you are helping support a craftsperson, who by being able to practice the craft, keeps the tradition of it alive. One thing I love about the Cherokee Mutual is that each piece is identified by the maker,the date made and the materials used.
All this cultural goodness comes at a price. For years, Native crafts were terribly underpriced. To make a basket like the one above, the maker has to source the materials (often going into the woods herself to gather the wood and dyestuffs), cut and dye them, and then do the weaving. All this is time intensive, and the maker deserves a good return for her work. For instance, the basket above was priced at $180. For an idea for how much fairer this price is, consider that my mother bought this basket, much more intricate but the same size, for me in 1995 for $36:
Still, a $180 basket is a much better buy than a basketful of bibelots, in my opinion. Consider the other ways in which to spend your souvenir allowance. Like any other tourist shop, the shops in Cherokee have a wide variety of coffee mugs, shot glasses and refrigerator magnets. But they also have an even great amount of “Indian” stuff, made in China, and cheap in price. What is really interesting is that for years the Cherokee have had their own factory in which they make “Indian” stuff for kids: drums, wooden tomahawks, rubber tipped spears, slingshots, and Plains Indian headdresses.
My advice? Go to Cherokee (or any other tourist haven) buy yourself a beautiful Native made basket, buy the kids a dangerous Indian-made toy, and forget about all that other junk.
$6.99, and made in China
$6.99 and made in China
$6.99 and made in China
Truth in labeling.