Preserving traditional cultural knowledge
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — A battle against time has inspired a mentorship.
Scott Roberts is reportedly the only Muscogee (Creek) citizen with the knowledge to produce traditional Mvskoke pottery, but he does not want to pass on without a vessel to hold it for future generations.
The mentorship was formed from a partnership between the Oklahoma City Muscogee Creek Association and For Girls Becoming, an affiliate of the Seventh Generation Fund, according to material released on the program.
For Girls Becoming develops and provides arts mentorship opportunities for young Mvskoke women with professional Mvskoke artists.
“This is the one that’s kind of critical because of Mr. Roberts’ health,” Natalie Garrett said. “He’s got rheumatoid arthritis, I know it’s very difficult to get around.”
Garrett is one of two people selected to participate in the pottery mentorship. She said the number had to be narrowed down from seven to two people because Roberts’ had gotten sick.
Roberts’ health caused a postponement but he has moved forward in hopes to teach what he knows about Mvskoke pottery.
The program released states Roberts began to produce pottery in 2005 in the style the Mvskoke people practiced during a historical span of 4000 B.C.-1650 A.D.
He not only uses designs from that era but also the method in which to create them.
“I hand dig most of my clay and prepare it into a workable medium. All the shaping and forming of the pieces is done by hand with simple tools,” Roberts is quoted in the release.
He said the final colors of the pottery are the ‘gift of the flame,’ since it is a mystery until the pieces are completed.
For Garrett, Roberts’ style of pottery holds value beyond art.
Garrett has a master’s degree in archaeology and anthropology. She was required to take a pottery class while in school.
“We had done some basic pot building in this class just to know what we’re looking at when we find it in the field,” Garrett said. “Creek pottery is a very utilitarian type of pottery.”
According to his website, Roberts has been a member of the Oklahoma Anthropology Association and Central States Societies since the 1970s.
She said Roberts’ work reflects the subjects she studied in school.
Garrett said Roberts’ teaching style is anecdotal, mixing stories about his life, how much pottery means to him and the resourcefulness he has acquired over the years using tools.
“He was talking about an antler that he found; he’s used it for years and years,” she said.
The first class of the Roberts’ mentorship was held Sept. 7 at the OCMA facility and this series will continue until Nov. 3.
“I believe that their intent is once we learn that we’ll be able to pass that on as well,” Garrett said. “Someday we may teach classes too.”