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June 9 - Colors in Beading

Well we had some fantastic guests again today. Not the least were a few technical folk helping us with some new cases that have covers. YAY! Some of the butcher paper history drawings are also up now thanks to Steven, the Wednesday intern. More work done by visitors on the communal beading project, and my table mess proceeds apace. All things unfolding as intended.

Someone asked me today where I got my beads. I have two stores I like to order from online. I have one place I like to go and poke through. I have a serious bead collection myself. When community members see me bead they often donate things they think I'll like. Finally, I am often given collections of beads from people who have passed. None of this helps the fact that seed beads come in certain colors and not really others. Glass is a picky substance.

If you come into the gallery and look at Michael's beading you will see a sort of blue bead that it is literally impossible to get anymore. The bead is turquoise blue, on the blue side of that range, and almost has what is called a 'greasy' finish to it. Seed beads are classified by size, color, surface and finish. The possibilities should be endless, but they just aren't. There is a good range of reds, blues and greens. Browns are, frankly disappointing, though they are getting better. Yellow ranges are better than brown ones, but meh... Although whites are good generally, there are some that I never seem to be able to find when I want them. Beads come transparent, opaque or 'greasy'. Greasy beads are sort of translucent, can't see through them but they do catch light. Any of these can be shiny or matte. Either of these can be treated with a luster to give it sort of a rainbow effect. There are also some new galvanized beads, don't have any, not played with them yet. All of this sounds very exciting but unless you are just staring at the beads and enjoying the colors how do you put them together?

Historically color use in Native beadwork was reasonably flat. They also didn't have the range of color we have now. If you look at the older beadwork in the gallery you will see what I mean. The artists picked a range of colors, assigned them to areas of the beading and got on with it. The work is fantastic, but very graphic. If you look at Michael's blanket strip on his buffalo hide you will see that he uses the geometric patterning that is wonderfully traditional, but also uses more colors than would really have been likely. It's access to materials. Folks would have used all of the colors if they'd had a bigger box of crayons. Someone in the gallery the other day said that one of my pieces looked very victorian. I know that the reason is the five close pinks I used in one geometric section of the work. I like color. I like shading. Beads don't mix like paint. I use close colors together. For what I do I have to really.

I often have the work of one of my mentors out on my work table. Dav Pate is a painter and bead artist here in SF. He taught me one of the more difficult styles of beading: flat round peyote stitch. Some of you will be familiar with tubular peyote stitch, it's common enough on things like feather shafts and keychains. Many groups all over used flat peyote stitch my favorite examples include Apache t-necklaces and a really fine beetle from an egyptian source. Flat round peyote stitch is just what it sounds like: patterns built in concentric half-steps from the center, though they often end up hexagons or octagons rather than circles. Dav uses more brights than I usually do: acid yellows, flame reds etc. He plays these off against matte beads generally, his favorites being black or beige. This makes the colors pop and gives a dynamism to the work. The most common beginner problem with beading is an analog to overblending drawings, things can look muddy if you don't make sure that there are highs and lows in your color choices. I fall into that one if I'm not careful.

Anyway, color is amazingly tricky in beading. Blending, even if done technically well can look either messy or mechanical. Come look at the vest I'm doing, I have three different blacks so far to get the effect I want. The pics won't show it, mostly because I intend that your eye doesn't without looking carefully. Come visit, I'll show you.

June 10 How do we learn to do this stuff?

After questions about my background, my religion and alternately about my inspiration and vision, the most commonly asked question I've had in the gallery so far is 'How did you learn to do this stuff?' I'm sure that other Native artists have other answers to that question but here is a bit of an answer for me. I use a number of different beading techniques in my work. In order of most to least common as of this week: bead applique, flat peyote stitch, flat round peyote stitch, cheyenne brick stitch and loomed beading. Now to take them utterly out of order...

My non-native parent, my Mom, was a Camp Fire Girl (go ahead and laugh this is unexpected and funny stuff). She taught me how to do loomed beadwork, oh... I can't have been even ten yet. Don't get me wrong, my Pop could have just as easily have taught me, and I do have some memory of Dad-sourced tips on getting things aligned correctly etc. Somewhere there is a watch fob with an eagle on it that Dad made when he was a kid. I struggled with a rose patterned split loomed necklace for ages and I can't remember if I ever finished the thing. I did it on some archaic, 1950s trademarked 'Genuine Indian Bead Loom'. As I recall it had a guy in a war-bonnet pictured on it. I don't think that I did much with looming until years later and I was... what was I? I think I was living in Berkeley and managing a yarn store. I wanted something, I think it was a belt. My ex loved the idea. We took a jaunt over to MLK Jr. Way and picked up a more fancy and politically correct loom and bunches of beads, some of which I still have. I did make the belt... I never put it on leather. Maybe I should dig that one up and bring it in... I haven't really done all that much with looming. I find the loom a bit too much equipment. It interferes with my ability to drag my work around with me.

I've been looking at Pow Wow regalia for years. In my case, more Southern style stuff: Kiowa, Apache etc. Cherokee women these days wear a thing called a tear dress, very wagons west. They are made from seven yards or so of pleated fabric, many of the pleats in areas that should not be enhanced. My colors are black, red and grey. I look like a flame-roasted 5'3" beefsteak tomato in mine. This is not the fault of the seamstress, it's just that, at 5'3" there is really no place to put that much fabric... not sexy or fun to wear. More traditional clothing for my folk leaves you topless and wearing a backless skirt, perhaps a bit too sexy and also illegal in many places. Back to Pow Wow regalia: I've always been just obsessed with the beadwork. There was a time that pattern, color use and other clues could tell you the tribe of the wearer. Things are far more scattershot these days, which considering everything makes both a social and a design sense, all cultures evolve or die. Anyway, I saw a Ho-Chunk hair ornament that I wanted wanted wanted. It attached at the back of the woman's head and fell to her ankles in long, periodically dividing strips. There were bells at the ends, very elegant. Oh I wanted one. The technique used to make them is called Winnebago diagonal stitch. I left that off of the list because, well, I only ever made the one thing. The technique requires many needles, long, continual strands of thread for warp and weft, a large unmolested space in which to work... In short, I'm not sure how anyone ever decides to do a second one of these unless for some it is like childbirth and you forget the agony. There was a woman who used to come to pow wows who did earrings in this stitch. At the time I could absolutely not afford a pair of the earrings, so I bought a pair of cheyenne brickwork earrings (the story really WAS going somewhere). I learned how to do brickwork by staring at that pair of earrings. I still love them actually. I've used the technique to do a number of sculptural things over the years. From time to time I stare at my hair drop, which I never wear, and then pick up some cheyenne stitch piece. I'm shuddering now just thinking about the work that went into that ornament. Sigh.

I learned flat peyote stitch before I learned tubular peyote stitch. Again, the vector was a bit unusual and again it was motivated by a bit of greed. I guess I haven't mentioned my book addiction. I've no idea how many books I own. I've had an SF library card since I can remember. I've probably read at least two books a week since I learned how: not bragging some were bodice rippers, some were literature, some were math, some history. I'm omnivorous in my reading. Right now it's a hoot of a pulp sci-fi book. Anyhow, in one of the books I owned, probably given me by my mom, there was this wonderful scrap of Apache beadwork. There was a very anthropological description of how it was made (turned out to be wrong, but I got there). So, one afternoon I sat down with beads and mis-copied it. That was fully intentional, mind. I am not Apache but I know a few. Much of their stuff has significance that I do not know and do not seek to know. I have no right to any ceremonial Apache thing and since it wasn't clear from the book if this was, in fact, ceremonial, I played it safe and didn't copy it exactly. I did learn how to do the stitch. The piece turned out fantastically well. Flat peyote is still a favorite technique.

I'm afraid I don't remember not knowing how to do applique. Someone must have shown me at some point. Just a blank. It may have been very early in life. No clue.

Flat round peyote, however, was taught me by my neighbor, mentor, friend, elder Dav Pate. He had this amazing thing that I (yep, this again) just had to know how to do. I have a number of his things in the gallery and if you don't see one when you stop by, ask me.

Thing is no matter what culture you come from the most effective way to master a technique is to copy (or close mimic) masterworks. They made me do that in art school when I went, being a bit obsessional doesn't hurt. If YOU want to learn applique, we have a group piece in the gallery, come play.

June 11 Trancing out

Last Friday I did a poetry reading elsewhere, so I had not yet experienced the gallery on a Friday evening. Wow. Just wow.

Fridays are a long day to begin with. We technically start at 1pm, but I'm a morning person so I'm usually there in the closed gallery picking away at stuff much earlier than that. Until 5 it was a usual gallery day, if with a slightly more engaged group of folk and a larger percentage of great questions. That may be a perception thing on my part. I'm at a REALLY happy place with my raven beading. My color trick is working. I get quite childishly happy about this sort of thing. So really, it was a fairly stellar day. Fun work, good company, stunning view out the window. People I like coming to visit. Just like my own workspace without the periodic household strangeness or urgency. I did snap a needle, but I didn't stab myself (always awkward trying not to bleed on the leather when that happens). We had visitors from Australia, all over the States and Canada as well as one of my bestest friends. The fantastic Mary Jean Robertson stopped by, she hosts the longest running Native radio program... well, anywhere. Two upcoming artists in residence visited as well. The lineup this year looks great.

The evening was more challenging for me. I am, as I said earlier, a morning person. By 6 my eyes don't like the light in the gallery. I AM working with tiny bits of glass after all. The cool thing is that the guests really stayed pretty good: interested, engaging, willing to try the beading. Aside from the worrying, and probably contraband, presence of wine near my project (I was too tired at that point to shoo the wine bearers away) it was all pretty good, if long and more populated then the rest of the week.

So, today's burble is a bit short. There is a reason. I am so into the project I'm doing that what I want to say is: grey, matte black, matte gunmetal... another rank of feathers. Next group with red beads. Sadly, this is mostly incomprehensible without a visual of the piece... and even so. Because my color trick is working photos aren't going to do it for you. You must come visit.

Oh and the beads I sent for got here so also: tangerine, cobalt... montana blue. Yeah I know... just wait until the inevitable frustration point. I am, if possible, less comprehensible then.

When you come by look in the Pool of Enchantment, we've been visited by an egret a few times.

June 12 - Hot

We only had a very few folk in today, so we both got a good deal of work done and talked about bad Native themed movies. Well, we talked about different kinds of movies, but we talked most about what I call 'Bad Indian Movies'. These would be films with glaring cultural errors, stereotypes or other faux pas. It was a hoot.

Way too hot for museums today I guess. We saw more people coming through the gallery to get to the loo than we did folk coming to see our work. Hard to take it personally when it's just stunning outside.

As for the movie chat, it turns out that both Michael and I have a soft spot for video kitsch. The Interns were holding their own as well. It wasn't a terribly high-brow or artistic conversation, but it was great fun. It would be fun to see if someone could come visit and suggest a bad Indian movie that neither of us have seen...

Oh man, it's even too hot to blog. I need some lemonade. See some of you tomorrow.

June 13 Making up for yesterday

Rollicking is the word I think I want.

It turns out that Sundays are not always slow. The wind came up and blew folk into the gallery. The universe is full of complex and varied blessings. What can I say. Not much time to bead. There were some great conversations about art: promise and responsibility etc. We spoke about forms of abstraction. We spoke about gesture and method.

Im inarticulate and beading now.

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