Weekend symposium brings together beaders from across Canada

Winnipeg-based Métis artist Jennine Krauchi with a dog blanket beaded by her mother Jenny Meyer. Krauchi assembled this. It was featured in First American Art Magazine. Photo: Nicole Bauberger

Last year there was a beading conference in Toronto. It was organized in conjunction with Beads They’re Sewn So Tight, an exhibition of contemporary beadwork curated by Lisa Myers at the National Textile Museum. I heard a lot of people say they wished they could go, especially around the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre Sewing Group. This year, there was a beading symposium in Manitoba—Ziigimineshin Winnipeg 2020. The event took place from Feb. 6 to 9. I attended, partly in order to report back to interested Yukoners who were unable to make it.

The first presenter, Métis beadworker, Jennine Krauchi, has spent years studying the collection of beadwork at the Manitoba Museum by making replicas. She screened a short film about the installation of the 20-foot tall octopus bag commissioned for the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, which she created and beaded with her mother, Jenny Meyer.

After that, I viewed beadwork in collections at the Manitoba Craft Museum and Library, the University of Winnipeg, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). At the WAG, I met the new assistant curator of Inuit art, Jocelyn Piirainen (the first Inuk in this position) and saw some breathtaking Inuit beading. There were more presentations than I can do justice to here, but here are a selection.

On Friday we heard about the Manitoba Museum’s scholar-in-residence program. This summer program welcomes young Indigenous scholars to spend intensive time with the beadwork collection. They often create a replica or original piece in reference to their observations and develop ideas through this process. In the afternoon, the Brandon Beading Babes, a beading group that makes its home at Brandon University, spanned the stage with tables. They sat, beaded and each told their stories.

Nalakwis is the beadwork artist behind the #beadthisinyourstle.challenge. They talked about how that idea started and gained its own life. It was interesting to meet them in person and hear about the dynamics behind this internet sensation.

On Saturday, Amber Sandy talked about a wonderful project she led through the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto that brought seniors and elders into dialogue around objects in the centre’s collection. To begin with, they met twice a week for eight months, but the relationship and learning continued from there. After lunch, Whitehorse researcher Dr. Ukjese van Kampen offered a clear and animated version of the history of Yukon floral beading patterns, which was well-received by the audience.

There was also a presentation from curators Sherry Farrell Racette, Cathy Mattes and Michelle LaVallee. They are developing a large show of beadwork for the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, opening November 2021. Together, they talked about their research for the exhibition, including a visit to the Santa Fe Art Market. They encourage Indigenous beadwork artists to send them images of their work.

On Sunday, there was a presentation by Tsiigehtchic’s Margaret Nazon, famous for her celestial beadwork based on images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Nazon painted a vivid picture of her world and art practice, including personally witnessed history of how beadwork as an artform evolved in the McKenzie Delta. She also talked about how her unconventional work interacts with expectations of more traditional beading.

After lunch, the conference concluded with a tour of the Manitoba Museum’s stellar beadwork collection with curator, Dr. Maureen Matthews, who welcomes its use for research, especially as part of a project of decolonization. There was also a visit with beading artists at the Manitoba Métis Federation.

There is talk of another gathering during the run of the ‘big show’ of beadwork at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, which is slated to open in November of 2021. This symposium aimed to develop scholarship about beading. Nevertheless, many people’s hands beaded busily as they listened to presentations. Aileen Malcolm is a bead artist from Nipigon, Ontario. Her First Nation, the Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek, supported her in coming. She came hoping to learn beading techniques. She found people who shared their techniques with her informally in the context of the conference, so she returned home satisfied.

If you’d like more information, come share some tea at Arts Underground on Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. I will present my notes from the presentations in more detail and share more pictures, especially details of the beadwork from the collections.