Cultural traditions help bring people together. Whether it's a ceremony or industry, traditions date back centuries, and many continue today.
John Redeye is a Seneca artist — a skilled carver with an incredible eye for detail. Some his most amazing pieces are created from discarded antlers from deer and moose. Recently, Redeye got a challenging request from a West Virginia museum — carve a canoe from scratch using traditional methods.
He took the commission despite never having tackled a project of this kind. He completed that job - a large boat over twenty feet - and now is busy working on a second canoe.
"I said, 'Let's do it!' They gave me from April to April, and once I got started I said, this is going to be done in no time. So it took me a month and a half," said Redeye.
That was no small feat considering he was working with a 22' trunk of an eastern white pine tree. The process, however, is somewhat simple — burn and carve.
"The burning makes it easier to chop out. Once it burns it's like charcoal. You hit a block of charcoal, and it just...you keep hitting it and keep cleaning it out," explains Redeye.
Redeye says that the burning also serves another purpose. The heat forces out sap, which in turn helps seal the canoe.
"I could see the sap actually pushed out. When it got hot I could see it start bubbling on the top, and I could see where that heat pushes the sap out. I'm going, wow this is the way they did it a long time ago, and that's probably why it floated," said Redeye.
After each burning, the artist continues to chop out the interior using an adze, a tool that dates back to the Stone Age. It's a grueling job that has given Redeye a real appreciation for the challenges people faced in centuries past.
"Oh yeah, definitely, definitely. Like I said, this was their method of transportation. Man if you could just go back in time and look at what they did. They had the whole tribe back then, you know? When one guy got tired, they had the whole tribe," said Redeye.
Making canoes by these methods has been practiced as far back as 1000 B.C., so it's no surprise that the artist felt his ancestors guiding his hand.
"I feel like they were here watching. I even had a hawk sitting in a tree above me, and he was watching me, and I'm from the Hawk Clan, so that tells me something," said Redeye.
The efforts of this artist go well beyond his satisfaction at a job well done. The canoes represent the continuation of his culture.
"Because if it dies, then we have nothing. We have nothing to go on. We use everything our ancestors used. We're keeping this culture going, our traditions. Everything at the cultural center, we're using it to keep it alive," said Redeye.
For more information on John Redeye's work, click here