For Elwood Webster (Wolf Clan) working on crafts – from metalwork to leather pieces and more – began when he was only 6-years-old, watching his grandfather Albert creating artwork from nature.
“Ever since I was a little guy, I used to follow my grandfather, that’s what he used to do,” he said. “I used to watch and sit with him all the time. He’d go get firewood and bring a bobsled with him up to the picnic grounds, up Webster Road, past Eli Homer’s, all the way up. He used to be always telling stories.”
“What I always wanted to do was to carve. I saw him plenty of times making arrows and bows. They used to hire him to make things for the State Fair. When I was six, he gave me a pocket knife. I thought it was the greatest thing.”
And thus began Webster’s creative quest starting first by carving a replica of a German Lugar, a pistol used by the Germans in World Wars I and II. “I started carving one, and it looked just like it. And then I’d carve another, and another.”
Although Elwood has lost the original pocket knife his grandfather gave him, he gained so much more. He expanded his art skills having created various crafts, weaponry, regalia and other traditional pieces, also adding leatherwork and painting, using a variety of materials. Now he is hoping he can pass his skills on to the next generation.
Early in 2016 Elwood led a class on making traditional flint knives and the accompanying sheath. Sponsored by the Oneida Indian Nation’s Shako:wi Cultural Center, the class was held at the Nation’s Cookhouse.
“I hope that our people come interested to learn, to see, to experience,” he said. “Maybe one or two out of 20 people, of everything that is taught, they will go on and, eventually, become a teacher. Everything comes from the heart. I see that and I feel that. The next generation will feel that too.”
For those who felt unsure about the class, Elwood said don’t. “All you have to do is pay attention and just enjoy what you are doing,” he said, continuing to offer encouragement. “This is a part of them. It’s from our ancestors to today. To have somebody learn, and to really follow through, whatever they want to do, we’re going to show them.”
After all, that is exactly what Elwood’s grandfather had done – take the time to show the next generation the craft in hopes of carrying it through the next seven generations.
Elwood is inspired by nature, and also by the people he has met. “I can see something, I can use it. I can make utensils, knife blades, and spear points – the same things our ancestors used years ago.
“If I see a dancer and I feel the dancer, and you can see (the dance) is coming from his heart – I make it a gift. I ask their grandparents or their parents if it’s OK to honor that person with an eagle feather. What I make I give away mostly as gifts.”