Cherokee tribal elder Goingback Chiltosky was a master woodcarver who influenced several generations of carvers. His work includes carvings of animal and human subjects, often in native woods such as cherry, walnut, holly apple, and buckeye, but he also carved request orders from exotic woods. In addition to freestanding pieces, he carved large bas-reliefs. He said he always thought of his own “trademark as being a smooth finished piece of wood with a minimum of fine detail.”
Born in the Piney Grove community of the Qualla Boundary, he began his long and diverse career of carving at the age of ten when his brother Watty gave him a knife and a few instructions. Forced to attend the Cherokee boarding school, where only English could be spoken, he found comfort in whittling wood. Eventually he learned he could sell these small carvings. He attended high school at Parker District School in Greenville, South Carolina, because of its woodcarving program. He continued his studies of woodcarving and other crafts at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and at the United States Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, before returning home in 1935 to teach woodworking and woodcarving at Cherokee High School.
In 1942, Chiltosky moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was soon making scale models for invasion maps and bombing targets during World War II. He even worked for a short time in Hollywood, making models for movie sets. Eventually he returned home to Cherokee, where he married Mary Ulmer, a teacher and historian. Together they collaborated on three books about Cherokee culture.
Goingback Chiltosky has been honored for his exceptional art work. His pieces are included in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution and have been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Museums, church sanctuaries, and individual collectors have commissioned carvings from him. Visitors to Cherokee can see his carvings on display in the permanent collections of Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in the town of Cherokee.