Since the late 1970s Angela Scordato made sure the hand-crafted wooden bench once given to her by Oneida craftsman Richard Chrisjohn (Wolf Clan) took center stage. She always made sure the piece was within her gaze. And as time continued to march on she wanted to be certain the bench would be appreciated. Her fear was that once she passed from this earth, the piece would sit unnoticed in a relative’s garage.
Not wanting that scenario to play out she decided it was time to bring it home – to the Oneida Indian Nation Shako:wi Cultural Center.
Although the bench has a Western flair, it was created by hand – and by lots of heart – by Richard, former Nation Representative. Richard, for whom Shako:wi is named after, passed away in 1991.
“It made me so happy to know that there’s a plan for Richard’s bench,” Angela said. “Richard said he made the bench with ‘my hands and my heart.’ I thought, ‘Who could possibly appreciate it?’ The only thing (I thought) was it had to be taken back home. I knew they would take care of it. And we were welcomed with open arms.”
But how did Angela meet Richard? It all comes down to a request for a shared meal.
Back then Angela and her family spent plenty of time camping. During those trips, while she was developing her beading skills, she discovered pow wows and attended many in New Jersey. It was during one of these events in her home state when she struck up a friendship with Richard. It began with an unusual request: he handed Angela and her friend some deer meat, instructed the pair to create a stew, and asked them to return the next day.
She and her friend were unsure of how to prepare deer but they put their heads together and created the meal.
“I was used to making Italian stews. Everybody ate it so I guess it was pretty good,” she said, and laughed.
From that day on, she and Richard built a friendship. “Richard showed us his bone work, and he did teach me how to make necklaces from that.”
And as she learned about his crafts she also learned how important it was for Richard to see the Oneida Indian Nation once again flourish.
“He talked about how important the preservation of the language was to him,” she recalled, saying Richard was planning to make recordings in Oneida to share with others. “Having him as a friend, just listening to him when he was talking to others, he shared so much of himself and what he made. His art was made from the hands, and from the heart. It came from his soul.”
And the feeling was mutual. After many visits to the family Richard gave Angela the bench as a gift of friendship.
“It was overwhelming,” she recalled about that day. “That he’d share something so magnificent, it was a surprise. There was a lot of learning, a lot of sharing. He taught me and my children a lot, and about life in general.”
Angela’s trip with Richard’s bench in 2015 marked the first time she came to the Oneida Haomelands and she found Shako:wi, “beautiful beyond words.”
“The place is overwhelming when you walk in and to see those White Pines,” she said. “Kandice (Watson, Wolf Clan) explained if you hold on to the branches, they always come off in pieces of five. She did what Richard did – she was teaching. I miss this. She gave me a beautiful memory again – listening and learning.”
“To me, it (the bench) is a treasure,” she said. “I wanted it to be cared for properly. It was time.”
The bench is on display at the Shako:wi Cultural Center on Territory Road in Oneida.