Los Angeles, CA (December 3, 2013) — Art and spirituality converge with trade and commerce in Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork
, a groundbreaking exhibition opening at the Autry National Center of the American West in March 2014. Through 250 unique objects and personal stories, the exhibition is the first of its kind to explore how beaded floral designs became a remarkable art form as well as a means of economic and cultural survival for the Native North American people.
On view at the Autry from March 15, 2014, through April 26, 2015, Floral Journey presents moccasins, bags, dresses, hats, jackets, and other exquisite beaded and quilled items selected from fifteen cultural institutions, including the Autry's Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, and multiple private collections. Many of the objects will be displayed to the public for the first time.
“The Autry National Center of the American West is privileged and honored to present Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork, a visually stunning exhibition exploring the cultural meanings behind the imagery of floral beadwork,” said W. Richard West, Jr., President and CEO of the Autry. “The exhibition tells a unique story of convergence—in some instances, a collision of cultures under devastating historical circumstances, and in others, a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, techniques, and materials. Delving into the ‘hidden language’ of the imagery adds a layer of understanding and insight that is ripe for future discussion and interpretation.”
Throughout the exhibition, Native voices are combined with scholarly research to reveal the layers of cultural meanings within floral imagery from precontact through the twenty-first century. Four main sections within the exhibition lead the visitor through the evolution of floral beadwork, beginning with basic sacred concepts that are found in the imagery. From there, visitors learn about the history of European contact and its many impacts on beadwork as an art form. With this foundation, the Native Expressions section delves deeper into regional differences within floral imagery, and begins to tell personal stories. These stories continue into the final section of the exhibition, bringing the narrative into the present through interviews with contemporary beadwork artists.
“We hope people see that this extraordinarily beautiful body of art contains many layers of information. 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. “These are not inert, static objects; they pulsate with life because every piece has a story.”
Sacred Foundations of Floral Imagery
The exhibition begins with the introduction of basic sacred and secular concepts that visitors can apply throughout the gallery. For Native North Americans, flowers are seen as part of a belief system in which everything has a place and an inherent spirituality. The objects included in this introductory section embody Native belief systems and demonstrate the evolution of adornment—and its transformation into floral imagery—from ancient to contemporary times.
Key objects in this section include a James Bay Cree beaded hood that draws visitors into the gallery and a precontact Mississippian shell gorget that embodies many sacred concepts.
History and Art as Commodity
Visitors will learn about the early impact of European contact, such as the consequences of the settlers’ introduction of trade goods such as steel needles, trade cloth, and glass beads. The exhibition also emphasizes the emergence of “art as commodity,” revealing later changes in floral beadwork trends as Native artists began making items for tourists as a source of income at popular destinations such as Niagara Falls.
From left to right: Moccasins, Arapaho/Shoshone, 1947. Leather, glass beads. Donated from the collection of D. L. and Shirley K. Hall. Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center; 184.108.40.206–.2. Canadian Plains Cree gauntlets, 1900. Native tanned hide, commercial leather, glass beads. Loan courtesy of Robert and Lora Sandroni. Ojibwa vest, 1885. Velvet, cloth, ribbon, glass beads, brass buttons. Gift of Miss Donna Held. Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center; 1911.G.1.
The Native Expressions section takes visitors deeper into regional, tribal, and personal stories. It is organized into five cultural/geographic areas where floral beadwork flourished, spanning from the Eastern Woodlands to the Columbia River Plateau.
Connecting many of these stories is the Moccasin Trail, a path of more than seventy pairs of floral-adorned moccasins from tribes across North America, culminating in a striking contemporary pair of quilled high-heel boots by Jamie Okuma (Luiseño, Shoshone). The trail leads the visitors into the gallery, where they will see significant objects such as Emma, a fully beaded Iroquois outfit made by Niio Perkins (Akwesasne Mohawk); a sled dog blanket; and moose-hide gauntlet gloves.
In this final section, interactive displays link the stories of the past to the present through interviews with contemporary beadwork artists. One video interview highlights the fascinating story of Cherokee artist Martha Berry, who singlehandedly revived the Cherokee beadwork tradition by using museum collections to teach herself techniques that had been lost for over a century.
More Than 250 Unique Objects
Floral Journey brings together objects from the Autry National Center’s Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection with works on loan from other institutions including American Museum of Natural History, Denver Art Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Fenimore Art Museum, National Museum of the American Indian, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, Royal Ontario Museum, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and several private collections.
Related Publication and Programs
Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork
(Autry National Center / University of Washington Press)
By Lois Sherr Dubin
This companion publication to the exhibition celebrates the beauty and power of Native North American floral art. This beautifully illustrated book showcases exquisite materials relating to the story of how American Indian flower imagery, following European contact, became a major art form as well as a symbol of cultural and economic resilience. The story begins with the earliest teachings of silk floral-embroidery techniques and designs to young Native women in seventeenth-century Quebec missions and continues through today with dazzling contemporary beadwork from all regions. The book will be available for purchase in the Autry Store in both hardcover ($65) and paperback ($40) editions.
A wide range of related programs is planned throughout the exhibition run. Highlights include a seminar
with curator Lois Sherr Dubin
and other leading scholars;Change and Continuity: The Impact of Intertribal Trade on Material Culture
, a discussion featuring historical archaeology professor Stephen Silliman
and history professor Natale Zappia;
and a series of Community Beadwork Programs
with artist Tiffany Jackson
(Cocopah/ Rosebud Sioux/Quechan/Paiute/Laguna Pueblo). Jackson will guide participants through the basic beadwork process to create a community beadwork project for display in the museum.
Floral Journey is sponsored in part by The E. L. and Ruth B. Shannon Family Foundation. The Autry is also grateful for additional support from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Paloheimo Foundation; and special thanks go to The Reed Foundation, and Lora A. and Robert U. Sandroni.