Today’s artifact is a carved wooden cane or walking stick, made by Keeny Vann in 1947. Mr. Vann, a Cherokee, was an outpatient at William W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He gave the cane to Margaret DeLawter, a nurse serving in the Indian Health Service at the hospital.

The top of the cane is carved into the shape of a hand, holding a short stick. There are a variety of relief carvings on the body of the cane itself, including several cowboys, a squirrel, a parrot, a horse, and a seated cow (my favorite). A carved scroll includes the date “1947” in pencil; most of the figures have details drawn in pencil, and what looks like some colored paint or marker. But no signature; fortunately the donor, Ms. DeLawter, gave us the artist’s name when she donated the piece.

Ms. DeLawter’s story (she received her nursing degree from the University of Maryland in 1936, eventually retired from the Public Health Service with the rank of Captain, and lived in Bethesda for much of her life) is relatively easy to trace. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the artist other than his name. Vann is a family name with history in the Cherokee Nation, which helps confirm the donor’s story; Tahlequah is the capital of the Cherokee Nation (and the oldest municipality in Oklahoma), incorporated by the Cherokee National Council in 1843; the William W. Hastings Hospital was built in 1935. So far my research hasn’t turned up anything else. Was the artist old or young? What did he do for a living? Why was he in the hospital? Did he do other carving work? Do the images he chose for the cane reflect his childhood, his work, or simply things he knew how to carve?