Primitive Naturalist Jeffrey Gottlieb to Showcase the Making of Cherokee Moccasins at Fair

Opening day of the N.C. State Fair is days away, and artisans participating in this year’s Village of Yesteryear exhibit are preparing to educate fair-goers in the State’s largest hands-on classroom.  

Primitive Naturalist, Jeffrey Gottlieb, will be making the trip to Raleigh from Whittier, N.C., to teach the public how to make Southeastern style moccasins, the traditional footwear worn by the Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, and other Southeastern tribes.

“Throughout the eleven days of the fair, I will be taking measurements of the foot, cutting out foot patterns in buckskin, and stitching the footwear with gathering pleats just like Native Americans made for their tribal villages, “ explained Gottlieb. 

Moccasins, a soft leather shoe without a separate heel, helped Native Americans feel the ground and protected their feet. 

“For the buckskin to be suitable for shoe-wearing, it has to be soaked, stretched, and the hyde fibers are broken apart. This was an essential process, or else the leather would dry too hard and not bend with the foot,”  stated Gottlieb. “It was a very tedious process for Native Americans to do.” 

The buckskins were soaked in the animal’s brain with smoke and wood to develop color in warm, smoky, and orange-browns. Yep. You read that right. Native Americans used the brain of the animal to bring out the color. Fast-forward to modern technology, animal skins can now have a depth of color, but original moccasins were more basic. 

“One buckskin would make about three pairs of shoes for adults and six pairs for children,” remarked Gottlieb. “They are the perfect shoe for toddlers.” 

Gottlieb travels all over the U.S, teaching others about primitive skills. “I’m thrilled to be part of the Village of Yesteryear and showcase this particular skill,” remarked Gottlieb. “I do the primitive way of measuring, too, meaning I do it by eye and not exact numbers. Instead, I trace the foot to make a pattern.”  

Gottlieb makes tiny moccasins, too, for earrings and key chains. He’ll have his buckskins there and do the entire moccasin-making process throughout the fair’s 11-day run. 

You can learn more about Gottlieb and his many talents on his website. He is known in Jackson County for his unique bark baskets and hand-carved cutlery, which he sells at the local Farmer’s Market and through Arts and Crafts markets. In addition, he teaches primitive workshops at the Falling Leaves Rendevous twice a year, the longest-running Primitive skills gathering east of the Mississippi. Gottlieb learned to make moccasins through Rendevous organizer Darry Wood over 30 years ago. 

“In the ’60s, as a young boy, Darry asked an elder Seminole how to do this craft. He nagged the 100-year-old elder over and over until the man gave in,”  laughed  Gottlieb, who exudes such passion for primitive skills when discussing this topic. “We are fortunate to have this skill learned from him to keep passing on that knowledge to others.”

You will find the Village of Yesteryear in the Holshouser building on the N.C. State Fairground. This interactive exhibit encourages the continuation of artisan skills. Vendors also take custom orders.The Village of Yesteryear operates  from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except on Thursday, Oct. 13, when the exhibit will open at 12 p.m

About Leigh Powell Hines

Leigh Powell Hines is a midlife blogger in Raleigh, NC, and the founder of and OutaboutNC on social media. When working in TV news, Leigh covered every county fair on the local news and loved how it brought the local community together and educated our youth in a fun way. Her favorite fair food is a pretzel and local NC beer in the NC Public House.

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