My Montana Home

by Sue Reynolds

 

Most non-Native American people have seen Indian beadwork only in trading posts, museums or maybe on dancers’ beautiful outfits at a powwow. Meeting the people who make these works of art and hearing firsthand about the meaning of their beadwork, creates a greater understanding of American Indians and of this art form they’ve made their own. Over the past six summers, I’ve experienced Native culture, mostly at Native celebrations across the West, to find out who’s behind this long tradition.

 

This Water Bird design dance belt would have taken Karen Whitworth four months working straight through. After beading the striking geometric design, which symbolizes the sweathouse, purification, and healing, she put it aside for 20 years. Recently she returned to it and finished the background. Her adult daughter wears the new belt with a calico cuff wing dress, a style traditionally worn by Salish elder women.

 

An honored Salish elder, Agnes “Oshanee” Kenmille was an expert bead worker and hide tanner. She created the beautiful outfit she wears here, and taught these traditional skills at Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead reservation for many years. Not long before she died, Agnes generously shared an afternoon of stories about her early years, opening my eyes and heart to another time and a distinctive culture.

 

Deea Old Elk-Stewart, age eight, proudly shows me her dance belt inside the family’s tipi at Crow Fair. Beaded by her mother, the belt has a traditional Crow geometric hourglass design on the back. Deea’s belt colors and design are similar to her father’s dance outfit. Of Crow heritage, she wears the belt with a traditional style red dress adorned with plastic elk teeth, which her father gave her.

 

A full-blooded Crow, Walter Old Elk Jr. has carved out a profitable niche creating beautiful medallions. He learned beadwork by making repairs to his father’s dance outfits. Later, he made his own regalia and now is busy with orders which, he says, come from all over the U.S. For this medallion Walter started with a floral design from an old Crow black and white photo, adding his own colors and extra patterns.

 

The work of Master Beader, Jackie Bread, may be seen at Indian Uprising Gallery, Bozeman. Jackie, who lives in Great Falls and grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, has helped to develop the art of illusionary pictorial beadwork, in which depth is created by using graduated shades of beads. She says, “I love to create beautiful things that speak of myself and my people but present it with innovation. Her work is in the most prestigious collections.

 

A full-blooded Crow, Walter Old Elk Jr. has carved out a profitable niche creating beautiful medallions. He learned beadwork by making repairs to his father’s dance outfits. Later, he made his own regalia and now is busy with orders which, he says, come from all over the U.S. For this medallion Walter started with a floral design from an old Crow black and white photo, adding his own colors and extra patterns.

 

Starting at age 11, Rose Pablo Parizeau learned beadwork from her beloved Salish grandmother who raised her. Other elders taught her, too. One who’d been to art school and was an excellent beader told her, “You can take a rose and use five different reds in it.” The cradleboard she holds was a joint effort, with two other women helping Rose assemble the board and cut the sack. Rose loves to bead, and doesn’t sell her work, saying, “It gives me a good feeling inside my heart that my work does something for someone else. I do it for my family.”

 

Sue Reynolds’ exhibit, “Understanding Native American People,” is up at The People’s Center in Pablo, MT through September 30th. Reynolds has photographed American Indian celebrations across the West. Her Native American and landscape images have been featured in solo shows in San Francisco, around California, and in Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan. They are in collections nationwide. Her work and events may be seen at www.susanreynoldsphotography.com