Anna Vandelman writes:
Naomi Smith, our guest lecturer on Jan 18th 2017, shared the “Spirit of the Bead” and “Indigenous Stories of Beadwork” with our Guild, introducing us to the work of several First Nations peoples.
Many beads were acquired through exchange during the fur trade. Early beading was done with extremely small beads (sizes 22 and 24 – the smaller the number the larger the bead). A common object for beading were six-sided flap bags made for both native and non-native purchasers. Patterns included crosses depict the four corners of the world as well as other symbols interpreted through beads. Florals motifs appeared on pouches likely of Seneca origin. Some embroidery also shows added ribbons with beading on the ribbons. Decorative items were not differentiated as “art” but are fundamental artifacts.
Naomi showed us some of the popular techniques, including the use of paper templates and double-beaded edges. She showed us how purses opened in the back and not by lifting the flap.
From the 1870s to about 1910 beads get thicker with sizes 9 and 8 being used. Clear beads can be seen on the paper templates overlaid on navy blue velvet. New objects are created: pin cushions begin to appear along with hat pin cushions. By about 1921 there were more new products, including matchstick holders. And as photography became more prevalent there were beaded photo frames.Selling these products created a way for women to survive.Travelling sales saw tribe members carrying up to 2000 lbs. of bead work across the country.
After the slide show we were all invited to view – and touch! –the artifacts. Of great interest were the exquisite cuffs and collars. We could feel Naomi’s pride in her history. But beading remains a living activity: Naomi told us about a current commemorative art installation, “Walking with our Sisters,” where beaded moccasin tops symbolize indigenous lives cut short.
Altogether a rich opportunity to glimpse another culture through textile techniques.
About Naomi Smith – Beader
Naomi is a First Nation Artisan and Educator. She is actively involved in educating others about the ways of the First Nations people of the Woodlands and Northeastern area from a historical and contemporary perspective often through the story of beads. Her work embraces ancestral designs in the form of bags, adornment and traditional accessories. Naomi’s work has been exhibited across Canada and internationally. She has exhibited at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington DC and NYC, Vancouver 2010 Olympics and participates in numerous Native and non-Native events throughout the year. Her work has been acquired as permanent collections at the Art Gallery of Guelph, Niagara Historical Museum, and private acquisitions throughout the world.