G is for Goingback Chiltoskey

Helbing Collection A-Z is a continuing feature of our blog. Each week for 26 weeks, I will highlight an item or items from our Helbing Collection of Native American Arts and Crafts.

Goingback Chiltoskey was an award-winning Cherokee woodcarver and educator. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally. Besides his beautiful art work, he also did work for United States government – including carving scale models of beaches that the military used to plan invasion campaigns during WWII. The Smithsonian has his work as part of their permanent collection – and so do we.

Detail of Wall Plaque by Goingback Chiltoskey

Cleora Helbing first encountered him when he was a student in the Federal Indian Schools, where he later worked as an instructor – encouraging other students to pursue their art. There are 2 pieces in our collection, a wall plaque and a pair of bookends. About the plaque, Cleora Helbing wrote: “Wooden Wall Plaque. An 11 1/2 by 15 1/4 inch cherry plaque, featuring the figure of an Indian seated on a horse with his arms uplifted, praying to the Great Spirit. This plaque, along with the bookends (66.1.35) were carved by Goingback Chiltoskey, and are representative of his first work. You might be interested to know how Goingback got his name. Goingback’s father and mother were in the “Trail of Tears” migration when the Cherokee were driven from North Carolina to Oklahoma because the white man wanted his lands. Most of the Cherokee remained in the territory–and later state–of Oklahoma. Some, like the Chiltoskeys, however, returned to North Carolina, and Goingback was named “Goingback Chiltoskey” in honor of their return.


Later Goingback became one of the famous Indian woodcarvers in the country and just this past year, 1965, he was honored by the U.S. government for his remarkable art ability in making a model of SM-1 nuclear power plant. I am glad I encouraged Goingback as a student to go on with his art work. I helped him to get his first job.

In our (PCHS) research, we found another explanation for his name. He reportedly claimed that he was such a sickly child, the doctor had to keep ‘going back” to see him.

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5 Responses to G is for Goingback Chiltoskey

  1. I have a small bird carving signed G B Chiltoskey, it is simple and beautiful. I cannot find any info on it. It is signed on the side of the base, dated 1974. Can you help me find out more about it ? Sincerly Marcia Miller Juneau Alaska

    • Ann says:

      It would be fun to see a photo of the bird carving. I really enjoy the carvings we have in our collection. The plaque is especially impressive. I doubt I would be able to tell you much about it since you already know the artist and the date. You are very fortunate to have a piece by such a talented artist! He was famous, so there are many websites with his biography. See – http://www.ncarts.org/artist_page.cfm?ser=40551&num=40051

      Both of our pieces are signed “Goingback Chiltoskey” and were carved when he was a student at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, in the early 1930s. They are very early works. The plaque is dated 1932. At some point, he must have changed his signature to G B Chiltoskey – at least by 1974 when yours was carved.

      According to a lovely tribute I found on-line – “Tribal elder Goingback Chiltoskey was a master woodcarver who influenced several generations of Cherokee carvers. His work includes carvings of animal and human subjects, often in native woods such as cherry, walnut, holly, apple, and buckeye, but he also carved request orders from exotic woods. In addition to freestanding pieces, he carved large bas reliefs. Goingback Chiltoskey said he always thought of his own trademark as being a smooth finished piece of wood with a minimum of fine detail.” (He passed away in 2000)

    • DOUGLAS coats says:

      that is my uncle, send me copy of it I will review it, He often carved water birds ducks and cranes etc.

    • Simone Crmaer says:

      Im his Great Niece
      Many Blessings,

  2. Simone Cramer says:

    My name Simone Cramer. I am interested in Goingbacks work. He and Mary were what I called “home”. I would love to meet with you and speak on visions of an
    Arts and Crafts Store dedicated to G.B. and Mary. Also, discussion on the Etowah Indian Mounds here in Cartersville Ga.


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