I love almost all Native American beadwork. It was what drew me toward beads in the first place. I've been thinking about why I like it so much. Perhaps it's because it offers honest simplicity, down-to-earth practicality, and intent stemming from the heart rather than the intellect. Maybe it's the colors and the repetitiveness of design. The excellence of craftsmanship is part of it too. When I touch a bag, belt, moccasins, doll or other significant item made by a Native American, it seems to voice the essence of the artist, emitting a feeling of energy and life.
Emphasizing different colors, motifs and techniques, each tribe has its own recognized style. The barrette above and the ones following were made by Northern Alaskan Natives, beaded on hide. They are part of a collection owned by Kathy Hinkle, whose beadwork dolls and improvisational bead embroidery were featured in my previous post here.
An often overlooked, but fantastic place to see and buy Native Alaskan beadwork (and baskets) is at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. The current facility, built in the late 1990's, replaces a much older hospital. The gift shop offers very high quality Native arts and crafts. The auxilliary volunteers who ran the shop in the old (and now in the new) facility purchased the best work that came through the shop, establishing a hospital collection, which is displayed in large, beautifully designed cases on each floor of the hospital and in small cases along the grand spiral staircases between the levels. In my opinion, the work in these cases, equals or exceeds any I've seen in a museum; and the work in the gift shop is better than most Anchorage or Sitka galleries or shops offer.
Here is something I bought at this wonderful gift shop.
Since I'm on a roll, here are a few sketches from my note book, and a little information about places to see Native American beadwork on the East Coast.
Above is a sketch of the head of a Northern Plains Indian doll from around 1900 seen at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich CT. She has a leather face, bits of leather couched on for ears, a triangle of leather folded and sewn into the shaping seam for her nose. Her cheeks and mouth are painted, but her eyes are glass seed beads.
This is a sketch of another doll I saw and loved, but couldn't afford to buy in the gift shop of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Although she was modern, she had an old-world look and feel. The designs were painted on coarse cloth, and then accented with the traditional colors of opaque and white-heart seed beads. The seams of the doll were embellished with a stitch I'd never seen before and haven't seen since. Made with very tiny seed beads (perhaps size 16), it was dense, like a wrapped seam, but appeared to be woven in a cross-hatch pattern. I spent a whole day in this museum, and wished I had time to return the next day. The exhibitions were supurb.
Here is one other sketch I made while there. It's a Lakota turtle amulet, approximately 7 inches long by 6 inches wide, all done in lazy stitch on hide.
I totally admire artists who keep sketch books, many of which are works of art in themselves. Cynthia Toops is a polymer clay artist, who is always sketching her ideas in little hand-bound books, later to be realized as miniature masterpieces. Inspired by Cynthia, I made a book and vowed to sketch every time something pleased me or caught my eye. That was in April of 1998, and there are still many blank pages in the book. The filled pages infuse my heart with joy and inspiration. What happened? Why haven't I kept it up? This doesn't make sense at all. Do I need to make a blogmittment?
By the way, here is a fun book about art journaling and sketching by Lynne Perrella.