Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Ricky and Tammy Jones
Robeson County, NC
No two pieces of Ricky Jones’s and Tammy Jones’s art are alike. Both were born and raised in Robeson County, a community both consider their true home. “This is where I’m from,” says Tammy, the daughter of a local pharmacist and a beautician from Baltimore. Ricky was “born a Locklear,” and was then adopted by Alice and Devan Jones. “I’ve been around all my life,” he says.
Ricky and Tammy Jones identify are members of the Tuscarora tribe. Ricky’s maternal grandfather was a Pipe Carrier, a sacred leadership position in the tribe. The Pipe Carrier keeps the sacred pipe and uses it in for prayer and tribal rituals. Steeped in this practice and history, Jones makes traditional pipes out of briar root. “When you pick up something, and if you look at it enough,” he says, “it speaks to you, it becomes alive.”
Ricky Jones first took up stonework as a means to cope after surviving a serious car crash. “The spirit had to rise up and give him what he needed to get through it,” Tammy remembers, “so he picked up a piece of stone and it began from that.” Ricky carves pipes and pipe bowls out of stone, and together the Joneses make wampum and jewelry as well. “All this came to me. I never took a class in art or anything like that,” Ricky says. “All I had to do was pick it up.” Each piece is different because they use a variety of materials at their disposal, many of which come directly from the land.
The Joneses traveled for many years with members of the American Indian movement and the Black Panthers, an experience that taught them that “radical times require radical thinking; radical thinking will in turn lead to radical actions, and radical actions will lead to radical change.” That worldview has an indelible impact on their art. “We wanted to tell the story of our people. We wanted art that, you couldn’t deny it, you couldn’t duplicate it, and it couldn’t be held political prisoner,” Tammy says. “And that’s what we created.”
Even so, the Joneses maintain that their art is not political; instead, it speaks to faith, place, and identity. Ricky’s work has won blue ribbons at the annual North Carolina Unity Conference in Raleigh, and both Ricky and Tammy sell their work. Together, they are a testament to the combined power of history, spirituality, and art.