Drive around ancient Cherokee lands to see new crafts
Stecoah Drive-About Tour begins at the site of its home, the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center. The Center is located in the historic Stecoah Union School building, built of native rock using the skill and labor of many local residents. The school welcomed its first students in the fall of 1926. On Dedication Day, the proud community posed for a panoramic photograph that is on display in the school’s auditorium. The main building burned shortly after completion and was reconstructed within the same rock walls. It reopened in 1930 and, today, remains a solid stone structure surrounded by approximately 10 acres of natural mountain land. After 68 years of service, the school was closed in consolidation in 1994.
The name Stecoah is derived from the Cherokee language. The term “Usdi Gohi,” meaning “little place” was applied to many places by the Cherokee, but here the words became “Stecoah” and the name stuck.
To honor that legacy, the Center has created the Courtyard of the Cherokee, an outdoor arts and culture exhibit that authentically represents the seven clans of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The exhibit is intended to educate and bring awareness to the public about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, especially the Snowbird Community in Graham County. The courtyard’s focal point is an Eternal Flame sculpture that features hammered copper elements that depict the seven clans and the Cherokee legend of the spider attached to a steel flame base. Interpretive exhibit panels bring awareness of the Cherokee syllabary, the written language of the Cherokee people. The exhibit headers are translated into the Snowbird dialect which is different from the Cherokee dialect. Native plants surround the space.
Throughout the year, the Arts Center celebrates mountain traditions through its artisan gallery, programs, festivals, workshops, and other events that appeal to all age groups. One highlight of its offerings is its two-day Drive-About Studio Tours, held annually in June and November. On Drive-About days, local artisans welcome visitors to their studios and galleries. A printed drive-about brochure is available at the Stecoah Artisans Gallery.
The Stecoah Valley Art Center also sponsors the Quilt Trails of Graham County, a separate driving tour that takes visitors to 15 barns adorned with colorful painted quilt blocks. A brochure and website guide visitors to the multiple stops along the tour.