On Tuesday, September 12th, I hosted my first raised beadwork class here at the Abbe Museum. I was excited to share this special art form with others because it's very dear to me and I've been doing it for nearly 10 years now.
Raised beadwork is a form of beading in which the beads do not lay flat against a surface but instead pucker off the material to create a three-dimensional look. This particular beading technique became very popular in Northeastern tribal communities, especially in areas close to Bar Harbor and Niagara Falls, where the tourist industry fueled a demand of skilled beadworkers to create delicate home goods and purses for Victorian visitors. Among the Haudenosaunee, raised beadwork adapted and flourished into several distinct styles and continues to be a popular beading medium for regalia and art. Other northeastern tribes, including the Algonquins and Wabanaki tribes, adopted raised beadwork in tourist hubs even though collectors, especially in the Bar Harbor area, tended to gravitate towards basketry.
As a member of the Algonquin First Nation of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec, there is a deep history between my ancestors and beadwork. We’ve always adorned our clothing and moccasins and we continue to do so today. Northeast Woodland beadwork, for example, is deeply rooted in space; it reflects the naturally occurring flora and our celestial understanding of the world. It’s a distinct style I love to share with visitors to the Museum who are not familiar with the beading traditions of this area.
During my class on the 12th, I brought out items from our collections that properly illustrate raised beadwork traditions. All the items are either Haudenosaunee or Wabanaki and demonstrate the similarities and sharing of this work, as Native peoples adapted to a cash economy based on tourism. Guests in the workshop, as well as those passing through the museum, were welcome to look at the collection items and see what a contemporary artist, like me, has done to continue the legacy of Woodland beading. Participants in the workshop were also shown step-by-step how to style their own flower using raised beadwork techniques such as a rope stitch, single and double stamen stitches, and an urchin stitch center. Through this process, the attendees have a greater understanding of the diversity and uniqueness of Northeastern beading traditions and now have their own creation to take home.
Miigwetch to my participants and all those who stopped by to learn!
Starr Kelly is the Curator of Education at the Abbe Museum. She is a member of the Algonquin First Nation of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec, and has worked as a middle and high school social studies teacher and is a social justice oriented educator, developing what she refers to as a "curriculum for dignity." Her lessons and pedagogical approach put theory into practice by honoring those she teaches about while simultaneously creating an environment which is responsive to the needs of her learners and dignifies her students' lived experiences.