Beading Culture: Raised Beadwork and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin

Co-curator and Project Director Jody Clowes writes, “being exposed to art, philosophy, music, and literature as a young person shaped my worldview and opened my eyes to the beauty, multiplicity, and paradox of human experience. As an adult, I continue to be cracked open by exhibitions, storytelling festivals, poetry readings, and inspiring speakers. My work as a curator, writer, and event organizer—especially in the short-staffed nonprofit sector—is often more efficiently done on my own. I’ve gradually come to trust that questioning my assumptions and asking for help and guidance first, rather than running with my first impulses, will lead to better results. Working with the Oneida artists in Beading Culture has reinforced my desire to approach every project with humility and an open mind.”

This project examines identity, resilience, culture and revitalization through the eyes of a tradition that is both art and craft. Beaders tell of how Haudenosaunee women in the late 19th and early 20th Century survived by selling raised bead souvenirs to visitors to Niagara Falls. Many of these beaded items take hundreds of hours to create, an investment of months of attention and thought. The tradition shared with the Oneida is one that created emotional moments for the artists whose projects spanned years and produced items that tied them to what was going on in their lives. Whether it was depicting culturally significant motifs in their handwork, or beading items that mark major life events, the beaders tie tradition to cultural resilience and reconnection to their heritage.

Public programs include an opening with a lecture and artist demonstrations, a panel on nurturing and sustaining traditional Native arts, gallery talks, and workshops for small groups. Produced in partnership with the Oneida Nation Museum and Oneida Nation Arts Program, the exhibit opened in September at the James Watrous Gallery (Madison) and after it closes in November will travel to additional Wisconsin venues before installation at the Oneida Nation Museum in 2017-2018.