As someone who is interested in history, and more specifically historical aspects of beading and other ‘women’s work’ I am always fascinated to learn about different culture’s practices with regards to beads and embelishments. One of the cultures who have had a huge impact on beading and bead embroidery, is the Native Americans. They have made some of the most beautiful beaded pieces and continue to do so! Their work with seed beads is intricate and colorful, and their applique process is intense!
The symbols they use are distinct to each tribe and their beadwork usually holds a spiritual significance which expertly flows through the entire piece. I love it when artists work spiritual aspects into their pieces. It’s something I try to do myself in many of my works. Sometimes with more success than others.
Native beadwork began with natural materials such as seeds, wood and bone. Their most intricate work was quillwork where they wove together quills from porcupines or bird feathers. They didn’t start using seed beads until the Europeans brought them over for trade, but once they did glass beads quickly took over as a favorite method of embellishment over the much more labor intensive quill work.
The best part is that Native American beadwork is still going strong! There are many artists out there today who are keeping their ancestral traditions alive. KQ Designs is where I found the delightful picture of a beautiful crown decked out in some stunning beadwork, posted above. You can find many more Native Artists on Etsy! One of the ones I found that makes some really amazing pieces is LJ Greywolf. Check out his shop on Etsy, you can tell he puts some love in each of his pieces. Beaded Willow makes some great chokers and her barrettes are dripping with beads! I love it!
My great grandfather was a rural doctor in Oklahoma that worked partially for a reservation. Sometimes his patients couldn’t pay in cash, so they paid with some beautiful beadwork. My grandfather’s beloved childhood moccasins are beyond repair, but still maintain some of their beaded beauty. I am currently working on fixing a beaded basket that at some point during the years has begun to fall apart. The basket itself is still very well kept, though the string holding the beadwork on is broken in several places. It is beautiful, and well worth the effort. I just wish I had someone with more experience with the Native American style of beadwork to fix it. I feel like I’m throwing mud at a work of art!
For more information on Native American beadwork check out this article from Fire Mountain Gems. Reading it today is what started my brain processing this blog post. Totally worth it!