Creating a Zoom Community: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Beaders Inspire Each Other to Make Art during the Pandemic
by Gwendolyn Saul
The pandemic halted conferences and meetings in person, including the annual gathering of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beadworkers at the International Iroquois Beadwork Conference. The group began gathering online via zoom to catch up with each other, share completed projects, and even bead together. Several group members made their own masks embellished and adorned with raised beadwork and including plants and animals associated with healing.
Dolores Elliott, an organizer of the beadwork conference for years, explains, “The zoom beadwork group consists of dozens of people who share a love of beautiful Iroquois beadwork. They live in several states and provinces and zoom brings them together to chat about their recent beaded creations. They inspire each other and share their new ideas and designs. The International Iroquois Beadwork Conference has brought admirers together on an annual basis since 2009, and now the beadwork lovers can meet on a monthly basis through zoom.”
Gwen Saul (Gwendolyn.Saul@nysed.gov) curates the New York State Museum (NYSM)Ethnology Collections and directs the growth of the NYSM Contemporary Native Art Collection. In 2018, she co-curated «Community and Continuity: Native Art of New York» at the Samuel Dorsky Art Museum, SUNY New Paltz. Currently, she works with Indigenous communities and Nations across what is now New York to curate and develop the state museum’s contemporary Native American art collection and to decolonize attributions of historic material culture in the collections.
This mask is titled “Good Medicine.” It was created back in April of 2020 in response the call for artists requested by Nathalie Bertin of the Breathe Facebook page. The subject was the COVID-19 pandemic. My thought was how can I help? My answer is “Pray.” I created this mask to represent prayers and healing medicine gone around the world with the Traditional Strawberry from our Oneida Creation Story. It has been featured in the 1st Native Art Magazine and in a documentary produced for the Canadian Broadcast.
Stefanie Sikorowski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is inspired by Creator, family, flora and fauna. She is a beadwork artist whose work has been featured at the Scarbaccio Gallery in Stevens Point, James Waterous Gallery in Madison, WI, and most recently, her work was part of a virtual exhibit sponsored by First American Art Magazine. “Over the years,” she writes, “I have dabbled in various mediums. Trying this or exploring that but never one that would grab my attention as hard as Iroquois Raised Beadwork. Iroquois Raised Beadwork brings to mind the name I was given as a child by my Great Uncle. I have been told the translation means ‘The Spirit that comes to gather the dew from the grass as the sun rises.’ Spirit seeds is a beautiful way to describe the beads I work with. Every bead has a lesson whether it is love, honor, respect, patience, or compassion. With these lessons, my goal is to share the knowledge of my ancestors through my art to the next generations.”
Breath of Life
I felt it was important to express myself in this unique time in history. I am showing the pure breath of life our creator started us with; however, it has been affected by this virus, spreading everywhere in the world. If you could see closely, the virus is mutating. I like to use raised/embossed beading every time I bead, along with the flat work, as that method, the velvet cloth, the red binding, and the fire of the ribbons all connect me to my people who came before me. I sign most of my work with some kind of bee and/or hummingbird, as I identify with the hummingbird, and Debbie means bee.
Deb Howard (email@example.com) is a self-taught Haudenosaunee beader, bear clan from Kenhte’:ke (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory) in southern Ontario Canada. It is her mission to teach as many from her territory how to do raised beadwork as would like to learn, starting with family! Currently, Deb lives in Red Deer, AB. In addition to her beadwork art, Deb shares that during the pandemic, “I have been able to connect with my people in ways I could not before through free language lessons, the International beading Conference beading projects, and other native beading/culture/teachings classes. I have always been so isolated from home, so as bad as COVID-19 has been, there is gratitude for all I can partake in.”
Callie Konwanonhsiyohstha Hill, beadwork artist from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory shares images of her raised beaded mask. Read about her mask and other Mohawk beadworkers, at https://www.tvo.org/mohawk-beaders-find-healing-in-their-art.
Callie Konwanonhsiyohstha Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a beadwork artist from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and has been creating with beads for forty years. Her mask honors her late mother, featuring a hummingbird, her mother’s favorite bird. Her mask is also currently featured as HUMMINGBIRD MASK part of an online exhibit of Mohawk beadwork artists: https://www.tvo.org/mohawk-beaders-find-healing-in-their-art.