PARK HILL — When members of the Cherokee tribe of Oklahoma started researching the traditional beadwork of their ancestors, they discovered a unique art form. Unlike the better known, geometric shapes of the Western tribes, the Cherokees made a softer motif, based on plants and flowers and other organic images. They used tiny beads and fine designs. And the modern researchers found, said Sharilyn Young, that Cherokees didn’t bead in the Wild West show manner, or create powwow costumes; they decorated items we wouldn’t expect to see beaded today — leather hats, bandoliers, purses or moccasins that might have been worn on formal occasions. Young is on the staff at the Cherokee Heritage Center outside Tahlequah, which has gathered tribal beaded items from around the world for a show like none before, she said.
Where were they?Mickel Yantz, curator of "Beadwork Storytellers, A Visual Language,” said the historic pieces have been gathered from collections in some 15 American museums, including the American Museum of Natural History, Denver Art Museum, Ohio Historical Society and Smithsonian Institution. The University of Aberdeen in Scotland is sending pieces that are being returned to the U.S. after more than 200 years. Yantz said a donation of the American Indian objects was made to Scotland in 1786, and the university was founded to house that collection. By the 1800s, Yantz said, Cherokee pieces had spread all over the world. This is the first time all the pieces will be together, Young said. About 50 pieces are featured. Half of them are historic, some very fragile. The rest are done by contemporary bead workers, many who have studied and copied the old patterns and styles. Center officials will hold an opening reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free during the reception. Young said artists have done great work in the past 10 years, inspired by the old items. The show will also feature classes. "We’re trying to revive this art form,” she said.
IF YOU GO
‘Beadwork Storytellers, A Visual Language’Where: Cherokee Heritage Center, 21192 S Keller Drive, Park Hill. When: Exhibit runs through April 19. A free opening reception is 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Center hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Cost: Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children and $7.50 for seniors and students. For information: (888) 999-6007; www.cherokee heritage.org.