American Native Arts and Antiques

Exceptional Current and Vintage Native American Arts

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Native American Bead Work

Iroquois Owl Box Purse
Sioux moccasins/1950's
Maliseet Beadwork
Wabanaki neck knife & sheath

Native American tribes have long used beads to decorate their material goods. Prior to European contact beads were made of local materials, shell, wood, clay, pottery, stone or bone, with more unusual materials in areas - such as copper beads made around the Great Lakes. The arrival of Europeans introduced glass beads manufactured in Europe and Asia which have now been used by Native American bead workers for almost five centuries. Along with beads, Europeans brought metal needles, thread, ribbons and cloth which gradually replaced hides, and furs. Hides had been traditionally been decorated with paint, porcupine quill, moose or caribou hair embroidery and Native made beads, cloth replaced the hide and furs as glass beads replaced traditionally made ones. New design motifs were also introduced, but regions throughout the country retain their distinctive designs in their bead work as well.

Since I am located in Maine, Wabanaki and Iroquoisian bead work is more readily available - and the bead work of the North East is what I primarily will feature both in this brief introduction and on this website and in my ebay store. However I will offer plains bead work pieces along with North West coast and Athabascan work on one or both sites when I can. Take a look at all of it to get a sense of the great variability of style and technique that Indian bead workers use.

Northeast beaded items are either Iroquois or Wabanaki, with individual tribes having their own design preferences. One is generally able to distinguish between Wabanaki or Iroquois items... and usually can assign an item to an individual tribe. However - there are some items which have both Iroquois and Wabanaki attributes. These are neighboring groups that interacted frequently including inter-marriage. The materials used were the same so sharing of design ideas and techniques happened naturally leading some beadwork pieces difficult to ascribe definitively to a particular tribe.

Iroquois bead work frequently has raised designs. The designs are often floral and sometimes have animals. The larger designs have usually been done over a cut out paper pattern. The bead work frequently includes clear beads. Wabanaki beadwork doesn't have raised bead designs, doesn't use paper cut outs behind any of their designs and have less floral motifs. Double curves are often incorporated into the Wabanaki bead work design.

Iroquois bead work is more common than Wabanaki (the federation that includes Abenaki, Maliseet, MicMac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy). A Penobscot elder explained to me that beads and cloth to bead on cost money, and the Wabanaki had little money so their crafts were mostly made from things they could procure from their immediate environment. - But there are Wabanaki beaded items and during April 2014 I will add antique Maliseet and MicMac beaded items to the store in the "Vintage Maine Indian Items" section.

There are many current beaded items made by Paul St John, Mohawk. Paul's father was Mohawk, his mother is Maliseet, MicMac and Passamaquoddy so Paul makes bead work in all of his family's traditions. He also makes beaded items with plains style beadwork - You can see all of his bead work in the ebay store American Native-downeast

PHOTO DESCRIPTIONS: please click individual photo to see entire picture

1. Owls on Large Iroquois BOX purse Available in this store "Antique items from other areas"

2. Sioux Moccasins c/1950's Available in this store "Antique items from other areas"

3. Maliseet Beaded Match (or comb and brush) Holder -- Available in this store "Vintage Maine Indian Items"

4. Wabanaki neck knife & sheath by Paul St John, Mohawk Available in the ebay store American Native-downeast