Iroquois Beadwork Conference Brings Native American Nations Together

Morgan Giordano

Colgate students may feel iso­lated when they come to Hamil­ton, New York, but many are un­aware that another nation lies only twenty minutes away in Oneida. The Iroquois Oneida Nation and the Onondaga Nation that is near Syracuse are just two of the repre­sentatives that met for the 2011 Iroquois Studies Association con­ference on Friday, September 16 for a total of three days. Over 200 people attended the confer­ence from all areas of the Western hemisphere, including Montréal, Wisconsin, Ottawa, Washington and representatives from each of the six Iroquois Nations.

Colgate’s Longyear Museum of Anthropology in Alumni Hall has collaborated with and hosted the annual international conference for three years now. The Iroquois Stud­ies Association provided the numer­ous speakers slated throughout the weekend and Colgate brought the keynote speaker, Ruth B. Phillips of Carleton University in Ottawa. Each year, a theme is provided around which to center the conference. Se­nior Curator of the Longyear Mu­seum of Anthropology Carol Ann Lorenz had known Dolores Elliot, who provided much of the collec­tion, for years from Iroquois artists coming together.

“Eighteen months ago, I said, why don’t we do [the conference] this year to show the native art of North America, so students can see the benefits of artwork,” Lorenz said.

They discussed the possible theme of beaded Iroquois artwork, and Elliot generously agreed to lend part of her collection as the headliner. Elliot has been a life­long collector of Native American beaded pieces of art. Her collection contains over 2,000 items, which forced Lorenz to pick a theme for the Longyear Museum exhibit.

“We picked out objects and se­lected pieces from Dolores’s house. We opened up box after box after box after box. She let me pull out whatever,” Lorenz said.

They ultimately settled on animals as the theme, and the title, “Birds and Beasts in Beads: 150 Years of Iroquois Beadwork” was born.

The Iroquois beadwork that El­liot provided shows how the styles and images change over time and vary between each tribe. The dates of production range from 1840 to present. The style of the piece de­pended on where and when the piece was created. For example, rabbits, deer and squirrels typi­cally appear in Tuscarora beadwork, while larger forest animals appear in Iroquois work. Mohawk bead­work alternates between clear and colored beads, usually either red, blue, green or yellow. Elliot used connections to contact other bead collectors to supplement her collec­tion. Unique and rare pieces from other collectors were added to the museum, such as beaded bags with unicorns on them and pieces with images of camels and hippos.

The bead-centric theme contin­ued throughout the weekend. Speak­ers gave speeches about the history of beadwork. Vendors were present dur­ing the conference to sell both newly created bead ornaments and vintage beaded works. Conference partici­pants brought their own beadwork collections from home, and there was a contest in which people could vote for their favorites in a variety of cat­egories. Personal beaded clothing was also put on display. The only item not seen was jewelry, because beaded artwork “means applying beads to an­other place,” such as a cushion or bag. A field trip took participants to the Shako:wi Cultural Center in Oneida Nation Territory to see old beadwork.

A silent auction also took place at the event. One of the highlights of the con­ference was on Sunday, when Elliot and Annette Clause taught a class on how to bead small felt hanging birds in a simi­lar style to those hanging in the Long­year Museum of Anthropology cases of Alumni Hall.

Although upon first glance the bead­work just seems to be beautiful and intri­cately made, the history of many nations and their changes over time can be seen in the work. By seeing the words “from Niagara Falls” on one pincushion, one can tell that the beadwork began to take on a new purpose towards the beginning of the 20th century. This past we ekend the beadwork served to bring together members of several nations and those that appreciate the hard work and beauty of the beadwork.

Contact Morgn Giordano at [email protected].