Web
Analytics Made Easy - StatCounter

Spirit Seeds celebrate First Nations beadwork

For over 15 years, Naomi Smith collected beadwork designs while she created traditional beadwork, leather craft, moose hair embroidery, quillwork, sweetgrass or birchbark basket making and adornment.

For over 15 years, Naomi Smith collected beadwork designs while she created traditional beadwork, leather craft, moose hair embroidery, quillwork, sweetgrass or birchbark basket making and adornment.

In a curator’s talk for Spirit Seeds: A Celebration of First Nations Beadwork on June 15 at the Peel Art Gallery Museum & Archives (PAMA), Smith spoke about how beadwork adornment is important to First Nations people.

“Even way back when, we were identified by certain things that we wore and the symbols that we had,” she said.

Before glass beads came over to North America from Europe, Indigenous people used natural dyes which were not quite as bright as the glass beads.

The exhibition’s title Spirit Seeds means “little spirits” translated in Anishinabe and summarizes for Smith what Woodland bead artists thought about when they first saw seed beads.

The Haudenosaunee Woodlands style of beadwork caught the eye of non-Native women who desired little purses, dainty calling card cases, and hats. In the Victorian era, hats were more popular than now said Smith as she pointed out hats beaded mostly in the Tuscarora and Mohawk styles.

Indigenous women kept pace in the 1800s with what was happening in the society around them.

“We are talking about a time of great change when our traditional ways of life were eroded. Settlement was occurring. We weren’t able to hunt and gather the way we used to,” said Smith, Spirit Seeds guest curator.

A historic photograph at Luna Island on Niagara Falls showcase two Tuscarora women in front of their workmanship while a non-Native Victorian-era woman holds up a little fist purse similar to one in a case near Smith. The photograph tells the story of a cross-cultural exchange between Native and non-Native people.

Beadwork became a form of trade and financial success for many Native families. A cottage industry sprang forth. Smoking caps and World’s Fair caps were made and sold at tourist destinations. In the mid to latter part of the 1800s, over two tons of this material was taken to various events across Canada according to Smith.

The cross-cultural exchange continued with the strawberry. For Indigenous people, the strawberry is a medicine plant while for Victorian-era women, the strawberry form was meant for their sewing boxes as a pin cushion to protect their needles which were not easily obtainable in the 1800s.

Made well before the 1800s, wampum beads were made out of tiny cylinders carved from quahog shells.

Seneca elder, Yvonne Thomas provided a description of the Hiawatha Belt, from her late husband, Chief Jacob Thomas, Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River, for the exhibition.

The Hiawatha Belt represents the agreement where the five nations, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca joined together under a unified government. The broad dark belt of 38 rows of wampum was very hard to make. “It took me two days to make five beads,” Smith said about her attempt at wampum beads.
The beadwork story continued with master bead artist Samuel Thomas, Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. His beadwork sculpture, Prophecy 4, a Niagara Falls representation exemplifies beadwork innovation.

Thomas began research of 18th and 19th-century beadwork styles over 30 years ago.

Smith began beadwork when she was seven-years-old. The custodian, historian, and researcher is mostly self-taught. She is an artisan and educator from the Chippewas of Nawash and now lives in the Greater Toronto Area.

She created the name Spirit Seeds for the exhibition because she wanted to convey the idea that they were known as little spirits in some First Nations languages.
“It suggests that they have a sacredness to them and that they are worth honouring. When you make things from them, you’re honouring that. You’re honouring who you are,” said Smith.

The exhibition Spirit Seeds: A Celebration of First Nations Beadwork runs until October 13, 2014 at the Peel Art Gallery Museum + Archives (PAMA). Naomi Smith will conduct two beading workshops at PAMA. Beaded Strawberry Workshop: July 12, 2014, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and a Beaded Cuff Workshop: October 4, 2014, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 9 Wellington Street East, Brampton, ON, 905-791-4055.

1 comment

Posts Carousel

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

1 Comment

  • Harry Smith
    June 19, 2014, 4:43 pm

    Another “Spirit Seeds” article featuring our daughter Naomi. Hoping that anyone who is in the Brampton area might drop in and see the exhibit. It lasts into October.

    REPLY

Headquarters:


Oneida Business Park Suite 124
50 Generations Drive, Box 1
Ohsweken, ON N0A 1M0
Six Nations of the Grand River Country


Email: info@tworowtimes.com


Main office: (519) 900-5535


Editorial: (519) 900-6241


Advertising: (519) 900-6373



 


Latest Posts