How do we learn to do these things? by Kim Shuck, June Artist-in-Residence
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.