Flowers in Native North American Beadwork Exhibit

Mar 6, 2014

I love beaded flowers, as you've probably noticed from the photos in two recent posts ("10 Ways to Tackle the Tassel Trend" and "Create a Seed Bead Flower Accent for Gift Packaging").  I have a feeling I'm not the only one who finds Native American beadwork enchanting, so I'm sharing a sneak peek of a new exhibit on beaded floral designs opening this month.

Michelle Mach
Contributing Editor, Beadwork



A new exhibit at the Autry National Center of the American West opening this spring will showcase beaded floral designs.  The exhibit includes 250 objects such as moccasins, bags, dresses, hats, jackets, and other beaded and quilled items from fifteen institutions.  Many of them will be displayed to the public for the first time.

The exhibit's divided into four sections:

  • The first section, Sacred Foundations of Floral Imagery, shows how flowers are part of the Native North American belief system in which "everything has a place an an inherent spirituality."

Pipe bag, Potawatomi, 1860s. Skin, yarn, thread, glass beads. Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center.

  • The second section (History and Art as Commodity) reveals the early impact of European contact, including the introduction of trade goods such as steel needles and glass beads.  It also shows the way floral beadwork changed as artists began making items for tourists as a source of income.

Bundle of trade beads, French, circa 1880s.  Paper, string, glass beads. Autry National Center.

  • Native Expressions, the third section, explores regional, tribal, and personal stories and includes more than seventy pairs of floral-adorned moccasins.  "You can look at the work and appreciate it strictly by itself as glorious imagery, but when you know something about the meaning behind the designs, it's even more terrific," said guest curator Lois Sherr Dubin. Lois is the author of several bead-related titles, including The History of Beads and North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment.


Moccasins, Arapaho/Shoshone, 1947. Leather, glass beads. Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center.

  • The final section, Contemporary Beadwork, includes interviews with contemporary beadwork artists such as Cherokee artist Martha Berry.


Bag made by Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux), circa 2011.  Hide, cloth, glass beads, ribbon, metal. Southwest museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center.

The Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork exhibit runs March 15, 2014–April 26, 2015 at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles, California.  Find hours, directions, a schedule of related events, and more information at theautry.org. Thanks to the Autry National Center of the American West for providing the photos for this blog post.


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