A visual narrative of the Cherokee language opens at Museum Center at Five Points on Saturday

Beginning Saturday, visitors to the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland can see a stunning exhibit of works created by 93 Cherokee artists. Different parts of the Cherokee culture are represented in "Generations: Cherokee Language Through Art." Ages of participants range from 3 to 91 years old, and the 85 pieces in the show display a wide range of media, styles and approaches.

The artworks were created by artists from the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma), United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (Oklahoma) and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (North Carolina). Participants are practicing artists from all three Cherokee tribes, Cherokee Nation Immersion School language students and Cherokee families.

Mickel Yantz, curator of the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, Okla., juried and assembled the exhibit. The call for entries requested those submitting to illustrate the rich history of the Cherokee language in order that it survive in the future. The artists used a different character from the Cherokee syllabary as inspiration.

The Cherokee language is unique because it was the first American Indian language to be written down. The man who accomplished this remarkable achievement was Sequoyah, a Cherokee born in Tennessee. Although Sequoyah was illiterate, he invented a written symbol for each word in Cherokee. His initial attempt in 1809 was too complicated to use in real life. By 1821, he had devised an 87-character (later reduced to 85) alphabet or syllabary. The syllabary allowed the Cherokees to become literate almost overnight.

Today, there are about 150 American Indian languages in North America, according to Yantz.

"We wanted to bring the Cherokee language alive in a way never seen before," Yantz said. "The exhibit hits as many senses as possible with visual, textual and audio."

Traditional materials used by Cherokee artists (river cane, gourds, wood, quilting, clay, basketry) contrast with contemporary items in the creation of the works in the show. For example, K.A. Gilliland, Andrew Sikora and their two children, Skyla and Sean, collaborated on a sculpture that incorporates a small television that is operated by remote control.

In addition to the artworks on display, there will be a section of the exhibit where a DVD will help visitors learn the correct phonetic pronunciation of each character in the Cherokee syllabary.

Yantz, although not of American Indian descent, has had a fascination for American Indian artwork since he was a child. Originally from Seattle, he was surrounded by Northwest Coast art and focused his studies toward understanding it and the artists. Seven years ago, while working for the Smithsonian Institution, he was offered his current position at the Cherokee Heritage Center. He says he is honored to have the opportunity to work with Cherokee artists and further his knowledge of American Indian art.

"I feel 'Generations' was the most rewarding experience I have had the pleasure to be part of, and I hope this exhibit will continue to be shown in the future -- each time creating passion for the Cherokee culture, language and art."

Lisa Simpson Lutts, director of the Museum Center at Five Points, said she is thrilled to host this second exhibit from the Cherokee Heritage Center. In conjunction with "Generations," she and her staff have organized a number of adult and children's programs related to Cherokee art, history and culture.

The exhibition will continue through Oct. 15.

The museum, 200 E. Inman St., is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors/students and free for children under 5. Admission is free on the first Saturday of each month. Call 423-339-5745.

Email Ann Nichols at annsnichols@aol.com.