From spear points to pottery, bone beads to war clubs Haudenosaunee have changed and shaped stone, bone, clay and wood into useful objects since early times. Carved animals or figures were used to decorate household items such as combs and soup ladles. Archaeologists also find mysterious carved “birdstones” which date back 7,000 or more years that may have been used as atlatl (spearthrower) weights.
These early carvers were highly skilled craftsmen. But Haudenosaunee did not begin to create sculpture simply as art until the 1930’s. These first experiments were with wood and portrayed everyday Haudenosaunee activities of the past. It wasn’t until 1969 when Duffy Wilson, a Tuscarora artist, began to carve in soapstone that things really started to get exciting! Duffy included Haudenosaunee stories and symbols in many of his sculptures. Soon other artists wanted to carve too. Wampum patterns, flying heads, the snake-haired Tadodaho, and Grandfather masks keep the ideas they represent alive in the minds of the people.
Today Haudenosaunee still create sculpture from natural materials such as stone, wood, bone, antler, and clay. Others combine modern materials like metal, plastic, and fabric. Many include symbols, stories, and ideas in their work as a way to celebrate what is important to the Haudenosaunee. Others use their sculpture to communicate ideas that make people think about their behavior, stereotypes, the future, and the world around us.
"Forever Growing", soapstone by Vince Bomberry, Cayuga
"Clay Woman" by Tammy Tarbell-Boehning, Mohawk
"Gas Man" by Pete Jones, Onondaga
Antler Comb by Stanley Hill, Sr., Mohawk