of the American Indian
3001 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201
"The Power of Tradition”
The group exhibition, "The Power of Tradition,” which opened January 10, 2009 showcases beadwork by Karen Ann Hoffman, an Oneida Indian from Wisconsin, Barbara Little-Bear DeLisle, a Mohawk from Quebec, Canada, and paintings by Towanna Miller, a Mohawk from Quebec. DeLisle and Miller are mother and daughter.
The exhibit includes decorative and fashion accessories of elaborate raised beadwork — a hallmark of the Iroquois peoples (Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora). Some are “whimsies” — pincushions, three-dimensional birds, storage boxes — intended for general sale. Others — bandolier bags, medicine bags, moccasins, and collars — are typically custom-made for personal use. Beaded motifs include wildlife, plants, strawberries, and the celestial tree of life.
DeLisle has been beading for about 50 years. As a young child, she threaded needles for master beadworkers on her reservation in Canada. She reproduces traditional patterns, such as floral designs, passed down from her great-great-grandmother but often rendered in luminous, contemporary colors on materials like satin and dyed leather. Pieces on display include bright orange and yellow beaded pouches with matching ribbon straps and colorful scissors cases, among other items. “My work is not only traditional but spiritual as well,” she says.
The gallery show includes a display of nine beaded tourist items from the 1950s and 1960s, made by DeLisle’s aunt, Mary Scott.
Hoffman was named a Wisconsin Master Folk Artist in 2007 by the Wisconsin Arts Board. Her beadwork has won awards at juried exhibitions at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis and the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Many of her works on display use white beads sewn on a black velvet background with a lining of calico cloth. Her pieces include a round, beaded mat around which tribal council members might sit for discussions and deliberations. The circular shape symbolizes unity of thought and purpose. The Iroquois have a long tradition of beadwork, an art form that evolved from porcupine quillwork. Prior to European contact and the availability of colorful, imported glass “trade beads,” Iroquois artisans made beads from shell and bone.
Miller’s acrylic and mixed-media paintings—some of which utilize beads, velvet, leather, and seeds — are inspired by Native spiritual beliefs and legends, cultural staples like corn, and contemporary Native music. Her paintings, which she refers to, collectively, as “Mohawk Whispers,” emerge from “thoughts, feelings, memories, music, and words,” she says. “I keep asking myself, 'What does it mean to be Mohawk?' And my next painting whispers to me.”
Canadians Miller and DeLisle have been selected to exhibit their work at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Exhibits are funded in part through a generous grant from the
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