Wood carver Adam Welch (1925-1985) was born in the Big Cove community on the Qualla Boundary. After retiring from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he took up carving. Working in the house in winter and outside in summer, he made masks and animal carvings from buckeye and a variety of other woods. In 1977, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual honored him with an exhibition of his work.
Adam Welch was born and raised in the Big Cove community on the Qualla Boundary and moved to Yellowhill where he raised his family. He did not turn to carving until later in life. Having discovered his talent, Welch soon learned that making work and selling work as a producing artisan presented different challenges. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of practice to carve,” he recalled. “If I had to make money off the first few carvings that I did, I’d never do it.” He thought about quitting the craft numerous times and credited others with encouraging him. “Many people kept encouraging me to carve,” he noted. Tom Underwood of the Medicine Man Craft Shop was one of those. He also remembered Sevier Crowe, a fellow carver, as “the one that mostly kept me going when I wanted to quit.”
Retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Welch worked at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, carving and talking to visitors about 18th century Cherokee life. Working at the Village gave Welch a chance to improve his carving and also inspired new ideas. Welch's skill in mask making did not go unnoticed; he took home several awards from the annual Cherokee Indian Fair. A member of Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, the cooperative arranged an exhibit of his work in 1977. His show included masks and animal forms carved from buckeye. Also in the 1970s, Welch began to experiment with making pipes, carving red pipestone. He showed two effigy pipes in the 1977 exhibition.
Welch explained his process in Carvings by Adam Welch, a brochure printed to accompany the exhibition. “You need a lot of time to carve. I have a bandsaw, but no real working shop.” Working in his house during winter, he often worked outside during summer, enjoying the fresh air beneath a shade tree. His wife Madeline was a weaver of honeysuckle baskets and he often helped her. Still, his heart was in working with wood. “I help my wife...but I like carving better than making baskets.”
Excerpted from Cherokee Carving: From the Hands of our Elders, 2013
Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Carvings by Adam Welch (Cherokee, NC, 1977).
Juanita Hughes, Wind Spirit: An Exhibition of Cherokee Arts and Crafts (Cherokee, NC: Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., n.d.).