Monday, December 7, 2009

Dream Catchers, Gourd Rattles and Hand Drums

This is the first drum I made. It was deer hide, and the streaking was dye from black walnut hulls.

As promised, here’s a post about my craftwork. You may have read about the snowshoes a few weeks ago. Now I’ll tell you about the other stuff I make. To be sure, don’t get the idea I have this shop or craft space and I sit down and actually work at these things everyday, because I don’t. In fact, if I was serious about it all, I’d have that Etsy shop or be trying to sell this stuff to make a few extra bucks. I have had a few chances at some art fairs, but I don’t usually have enough pieces done to hold a display.

Most of what I make gets given away quickly. I make Dream Catchers, for example, and if I mention it, people tell me a tale of a dream they have had or a story about someone that they know that needs one because their dreams have been terrible lately and I either give them one I have already made or make one especially for them. I am not psychic, but I do get an idea or a very strong thought about what someone might need in the area of dream management. I put that into the Dream Catcher as a color combination or type of wood or thread I use or type of beads and feathers and such.

Wall display.

I also make rattles out of gourds. I have made rattles out of rawhide as well, but I like the gourd rattles. I make them in a number of ways. Some, I glue a handle onto the stem of the gourd. Others, I drill right through the gourd and attach the handle with a wooden dowel and peg. Some I paint or decorate, others are made plain and natural. Coffee beans, corn or small stones are used as the rattling matrix. I made a scrapper out of an old spoon to hone out the insides of the gourd body. Different gourds make different sounds. Each has an individual sound determined by shape, size, what’s inside making it rattle and type of gourd variety

The makings of a unique Dream Catcher made from a gourd.

The completed Gourd Dream Catcher.

The Native Americans from the Fort Mojave Tribe use rattles, and not drums, to carry their beat. They often times color them and paint designs on them. Two years ago, when I was out there on The Longest Walk II, I met with some of these Tribal Elders and we talked about gourd rattles. I feel I came away with some good first hand knowledge.

A California Tribe shaking the Gourd Rattles.

The drums I make are one sided hand drums. That means there is skin on only one side of the hoop. They are made of rawhide that is moistened and stretched over a wooden hoop. When the rawhide dries, it gets very taught. I use buffalo, elk or deer hide. I recycle most of the wooden hoops from second hand stores. Wooden salad bowls from teak or beechwood seem to be the best. I buy the hides from a reputable source. Most of them are in the range of eight to sixteen inches in diameter. I also make a drum beater to go with the drum and sometimes a carrying bag made of wool or felt.

All of these items can be called a Sacred item in the vernacular of the Native American tribes that have been around this area. Dakota and/or Ojibway. What makes an object a sacred object is what kind of attitude was used to make it and how or where the items to make it came from. Some purists might argue that since I am not a Native American, I can’t make these items. But I was taught, by Native Spiritual Elders, that if my heart is good, and I got the message from the Great Spirit, then I may proceed.

Closeup of the Gourd Rattles, one plain, the other decorated in blue.

Let me explain further by telling you of a recent experience. I made a drum once, and it came out sounding great, but it had a small hole in the skin. Usually, this is not good, so I didn’t try to sell the drum for much money because of the flaw. When I got this particular hoop, it came from a guy who made hoops from cedar. The cedar he used was taken in the woods. He also gave tobacco to the spirits for the use of the wood. I got the rawhide skin in a good way as well. I also gave tobacco and gifts to receive the skin I used to make this drum.

Red Earth from Grand canyon was used as dye to decorate this small hand drum. The red soil was mixed with bear grease and painted on.

One day, a friend asked me if I had any drums. He wanted one for a gift to give to a friend of his. He wanted to give his friend a drum that he could use in the Sweat Lodge ceremony. So, I knew that the drum would be used in prayer and ceremony. I told him I had this flawed drum. He said he’d like to see it. I brought it to him. He said he’d like to buy the drum and he asked me how much I wanted for it.

I told him that since he was going to be giving it away to someone that was going to pray with it, I would give it to him. My friend gave me tobacco for the drum and I gave it away. A few weeks later, he gave me $100.00 as a gift. Then, he gave the drum as a gift to his friend.

His friend’s brother liked the drum and asked him where he got it. He told him that I made it. This guy then comes to me and gives me a canister of tobacco and asks me to make him a drum. He gave me a hoop to use for the drum he wanted. Since I accepted the tobacco, I was obliged to make him a drum. It took me over six months, but I delivered that drum to him last weekend. He may or may not give me any money, but since he was going to use this drum in ceremony, I gave it away.

If he would want the drum to use to enter contests and try to earn money, I’d sell the drum and not give it away. Same with the Gourd Rattles and Dream Catchers. For decorations or ornaments, I sell them. For spiritual use, I give them away if I am compelled to do so.

The pictures on this post are examples of Rattles, Drums and Dream Catchers I have made. Many times, you’ll see Dream Catchers in gift shops and stores. They are usually perfectly round. Mine are usually never perfectly round, but rather they are circular in the way they come back on themselves and have no beginning and no end.

Life is not perfect for anyone. It is not a perfect circle. The only things that are perfect in nature are natural, like the moon and the stars. And even though our lives come back to meet, as in birth, childhood, adulthood and eldership, the circle comes back to itself, but the journey can be twisted and elliptical. This is what the Dream Catchers I make capture. This unpure circle of real life. This was my vision.

Even if I make a Gourd Rattle or a Dream Catcher that I sell as a decoration, I smudge the materials I use with sage. Just in case the item is given as a spiritual gift, I know it was made in a good way. Whether the person who buys it needs to know that or not isn’t decided upon until I sell it.

All this information may seem strange, but this is how I do it. I use the teachings I have learned about this particular path and through my own thoughts and direction make the items.

I also make Walking Sticks, Talking Sticks and the occasional Dance Stick. Dance Sticks are used as part of an outfit or regalia that a dancer would use at a Pow Wow. The Walking Sticks are useful to elderly people who might be a little unstable, or anyone, for that matter, that needs a crutch to help them walk. The Talking Sticks are used by people at talking circles. The stick is passed along from one person to another around the circle. When you hold the stick, you speak. The words are the truth, to your own heart. The stick is passed around a circle and everyone gets a chance to speak.

Some of the wood I use for Dream Catchers is basswood root, willow or anything I find that would lend itself. I have used driftwood from the ocean and pinon pine from the desert. I’ve used ancient redwood from Northern California for the handles of the Rattles and for Drum Beaters or Walking/Talking Sticks. Once again, if I see a piece of wood that might serve the purpose, I give tobacco and take it if it comes from nature.

A large Dream catcher. Three separate sections. Dead branches were held together to make this unique frame.

In the Dream Catcher above, the bottom section had a turtle shell woven into it. An opening was made on the back of the shell and another weaving was placed there.

I use glass beads, never plastic. Glass is from sand, sand is natural. I use feathers, leather and/or yarn to decorate. There are never two that are alike as the size, the shape, the materials and the colors change with every item, be it a Hand Drum, Gourd Rattle or Dream Catcher. I do use some decorations like buttons that look like hands or butterflies and dragonflies. These are store bought. I smudge myself and the work and any items that I use before putting them into a piece.

Now you know a little about what I do as far as craftwork. Some may call it art. If you do, then I am flattered. I consider it working at making stuff, using my hands. It also gives you a glimmer into my life and what kind of path I walk as far as my perceived connection with the natural and spiritual world.

Here are some examples of my work with captions. If you have any further interest or any questions, e-mail me and I will try to answer. Click on any photo to enlarge the view to see detail.

As always, Peace to all.

A piece of bone was woven into the Dream Catcher.

A smaller Dream Catcher woven into the bone.

Driftwood Dream catcher with buffalo head nickel woven into the webbing. A small turquoise stone guards the opening in the center.

Larger pieces of Driftwood used here.

Unique shape to this one, and large glass beads.

A Dream Catcher mobile.

Front side of a small hand drum.

Back side, showing the webbing, of the drum above.

Two drums and a Gourd Rattle hanging in the old shop in Ashland.

Some smaller Dream catchers. The largest in this picture is about eight inches in diameter.


I, Like The View said...

oh man

you are so gifted! these creations are truly amazing. . . wonderful

dream catchers from driftwood - who'd have thought it? (I've only seen mass produced round ones)

and the dye on the skins on the drums - so beautiful (reminds me of when I was learning to pare leather when I was bookbinding)

half way thru I remembered that when I was little I had a gourd rattle (from Africa, I think)

thank you so so so much for taking the time to put this together (now I want to show you my shell mobile that's hanging in the living room!)

really really beautiful

thank you

<---- going back for another look

Mel said...


The processes that happen that no one sees but is surely felt-- Wow. It humbles me, truly.

They're wonderful.

And I like that they're not perfectly round--it speaks truth about life's journey.

The staining of the drums puts me into this silent space of knowing just how small I am and how large He is. I consider that a really awesomely powerful thing--no doubt so do the recipients of the artwork that you do.

Thank you for sharing it here with us.

<-- going for another look as well!

Chuck said...

lovely, question: how'd your hands look after fooling around with those black walnuts! I've got one in my yard...

Spadoman said...

Thank you so much for the compliments. I appreciate it.

I,LTV... Your words are way too kind. I don't feel gifted at all. I got the idea of using pieces of wood when one day I picked up two gnarled pieces of pinon pine in the desert of New Mexico. I was carrying them to my car and I put them into the trunk. Upon doing so, they "nested" together and I saw what circumstance had given me, a design and a space to weave. I then started to imagine other pieces of wood.
My desire is to weave a giant Dream Catcher in the forest, if I ever find just the right tree, (or trees).

Peace to you and thank you for coming by.

Mel.... Thank you, as well, for stopping by and for the nice compliments. The staining is a neat part of the process. It is separate from making the piece. Same with the decorations on the Gourd Rattles. I don't have any pictures of ones that I have wood burned or painted on, but I never make them with decorating them in mind. I make them, then decide, (or not), to paint of whatever.

Thanks again and much Peace to you.

Spadoman said...

Well, My Brother, The Moderate Man. Great and wonderful to see you again. It has been quite a while.
I need to go over to your place and check things out. I see you are blogging again.
The walnut husks are put into water. They make a dark brown rich color of it. I twist the skin a lot like tie dye, and dip parts of it in this dyed water, but only for a few minutes. The result is what you see when the skin is taken out, untwisted and rinsed. My hands seem to not get much staining at all since I wear rubber gloves.

Peace Brother. Great to see you. Thanks for stopping by.

Unknown said...

Breathtaking. Thank you. That turqouise orb really stood out to my eye. I have yet to savor everything...

susan said...

Oh my. I know I've seen a few of your dream-catchers before but the seeing a collection of your beautiful craft work all at once is truly stunning. The idea of making the catchers from naturally curved objects is wonderful and the results prove you really are an artist.

Thank you for this wonderful post. I'm going back to look again

Spadoman said...

Pagan... Thanks for stopping by. Glad you saw something you like. Peace to you.

susan... Thanks for the compliments. From you, the words have special meaning for me. Your art work rocks!


deb did it said...

Joe, your work is stunning. The Dream Catchers are exquisite! I love the free-form style of course using all natural elements. Oh that one especially with the turtle shell is fabulous. I am in awe of all your work. Yes, indeed a craftsman with deep rooted talent. You artwork has life and meaning.I am honored to learn and befriend more about you.

Jester said...

I was inthe middle of taking a shower when I got the thought to make a dream like every other idea I get I "Googled" it. I found a picture of your dream catcher made from tree branches.....right up my alley, I LOVE IT! I tend to like stuff off the beaten path with it's own character & your catchers are just what I was looking for!!!

CanadianGardenJoy said...

These are magnificent !
Made with such detail, thought and care .. the rubbing of sage is an extra gift, whether it is known or unknown to the buyer .. this was an amazing post I might have missed if it were not for my curiosity .. so I am grateful to my "cat" side for nudging me in this direction ;-)
Joy (meow) and purr !

katherine. said...

beautiful and so specially made

RedWarPaint said...

I have been searching high and low for some informaiton and was hoping that maybe you can help. I see that your first drum you used the walnut hull dye. I have also used this in the past but have a totally different effect. The drum turns out dark brown. How do you streat the dye?

RedWarPaint said...

Beautiful. I have been searching high and low to try to find information on what technique you use to streak the walnut hull dye. I have use the dye, but normally soak the rawhide in the solution and the entire hide turns brown. Can I ask you how you do this?

Unknown said...

I would love to purchase the one with the turtle shell.....please tell me it's for sale????