CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University sophomore Joel Queen turned chunks of sandstone from Fontana Lake into sculpted figures that will be displayed at Monticello, the Virginia home of President Thomas Jefferson.
Queen, a 35-year-old art major at Western, was commissioned to create two sculptures that will be on display in Jefferson’s Indian Hall. His works will be part of an exhibition, “Framing the West at Monticello: Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark Expedition,” which will be open to the public beginning Jan. 16. The exhibition is the centerpiece of Monticello’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The exhibition will approximate the appearance of Jefferson’s Indian Hall around 1807-09, when he displayed natural history specimens and Native American objects sent or brought back by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jefferson’s household furnishings were sold to pay off his debts not long after he died. The present whereabouts of his original Indian collections are unknown, so the Thomas Jefferson Foundation commissioned several Native American artists across the country to create new pieces for the exhibition, based on documentation of the original collection and study of historical objects in other collections.
Queen’s sculptures are reproductions of two mortuary figures, one male and one female, that were found in a Native American grave in the 1800s when a Tennessee farmer was plowing his fields. Those original artifacts, dating back to the late Mississippian Period (1400-1600), are now exhibited at the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum, Queen said.
Queen’s works will be the only Eastern Indian works included in the Monticello exhibition. After examining the original artifacts, Queen created the reproductions, using modern sculpting methods, over a two-month period. He delivered the pieces, both about 17 inches tall, to Monticello in November. During that visit, Queen was treated to an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the famous mansion of the third U.S. president.
Queen will return to Monticello for the official opening of the exhibition on Jan. 18. He has been invited to give a lecture on Cherokee art to school children, and he may get to meet President Bush, who is expected to make an appearance at that function, the inaugural event in the national observance of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.
A resident of Whittier and enrolled member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, Queen was 14 years old when he started carving soapstone bears, a few of which he sold to friends for $5 each. As an adult, he has received many honors for his art work, which primarily includes pottery and sculptures. Queen is a seventh-generation member of the pottery-making Bigmeat family of Cherokee, and has been a leader in the effort to revive the patterning and design of traditional Cherokee pottery.
Queen said he hopes to earn a master’s degree in art after he completes work on his bachelor’s degree. He is considering pursuing a teaching career in which he can teach Cherokee art to school children “to help keep the tradition going.”
The Monticello exhibition will be on display through the end of 2003.