Art community hopes beading weaves its way to a lasting impact

Educator at the Mann Art Gallery, Lana Wilson, explains the beading activity she will be teaching for Culture Days. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Jayda Noyes, Daily Herald

The Indigenous art form of beading is rising in Prince Albert.

The hype began with artist Catherine Blackburn’s touring exhibit—currently at the Mann Art Gallery—which features warrior garments made out of Perler beads.

Now, Blackburn and other Indigenous artists are teaching free beading classes with the help of organizations around the city.

One of Catherine Blackburn’s New Age Warriors pieces, the inspiration for highlighting beading in Prince Albert’s Culture Days. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

On Friday, Blackburn and Gabrielle Ermine each taught three school groups as part of Culture Days, which is a weekend of different cultural events celebrated nationally.

Ermine teaches beading regularly at the Arts Centre.

Then, a similar program is available on Saturday for the community at the Mann Art Gallery from 1 to 4 p.m.

Educator Lana Wilson said the idea is to expose people, especially children, to different backgrounds.

“Really, this is a one day opportunity and activity. In a lot of ways, it’s just the fairest tip of the iceberg, like it’s a single snowflake, right? But what it can do is hopefully start a conversation,” she said, emphasizing there’s much more to Indigenous cultures than what people will see at these events.

Wilson will be teaching the community class with an idea offered by Blackburn, but they’re hoping participants learn more than just the technique.

“Beading and stitching are often associated with women and the creative power of women and we thought that it was maybe something that could resonate with a lot of different cultural groups, but would especially highlight First Nations and Metis artists.”

She added the gallery reached out to YWCA to see if a newcomer could also teach, as they know beading and stitching are common in India and Africa, for example, but were unable to make it a reality.

With the message of resilience in mind, Wilson will be photographing participants in a confident pose, which will be printed on a cardboard circle to represent a medallion. She will ask them to think of a powerful word, such as ‘mother’ or ‘us’ to add underneath.

From there, they will use beads to trace the image.

Younger participants can simply bring a powerful word to life with Perler beads.

In addition to highlighting beading for Culture Days, the Indigenous Peoples Artist Collective (IPAC) is funding two advanced beading courses for 10 participants each on Saturday.

One is taught my Blackburn and the other by Ruth Cuthand, another local Indigenous artist.

What makes Cuthand’s work unique, said Wilson, is she often beads bacteria, like smallpox, which wiped out Indigenous people during European settlement.

“She’s not beading the floral designs,” said Wilson about Cuthand’s honest method of storytelling.

Following the classes, Cuthand is giving an artist talk at the Mann Art Gallery at 4 p.m. The talk is open for anyone to attend and is free of charge.

Through each of these events, Wilson hopes people will view beading in a different light.

“We don’t need to keep these artificial distinctions between ‘Oh, that’s handy craft or ‘Oh, that’s a craft, that’s a hobby,’ like (art is) only paintings and sculptures. (Beading is) real art,” she said.

It’s through her own willingness to try different cultural forms that she found a new method of self-care.

“One of the things that really struck me as I was beading is how similar in terms of like meditative and relaxing and how it was really nice for me to be able to be creative, but in this technical, deliberate, meditative way.”

Making beading a theme for this year’s Culture Days was Wilson’s idea.

She hopes it will turn more eyes to Blackburn’s exhibit and her message of empowering Indigenous women.

New Age Warriors is open at the Mann Art Gallery until Oct. 25.