Small beautiful sparkling beads dance around the wrist, woven into a matrix pattern around a sturdy cuff. The glistening qualities of seed beads, coupled with their tiny strength, are highlighted in the work of Comanche artist Leslie Whitefeather.
BB: When and why did you start beading?
LW: I started beading because I wanted to dance. My uncle Osmond Parton and my grandmother Marie Atewooftakewa-Yellowfish showed me a few stitches one day, gourd and flat-stitch round. It was fun, easy and I loved it. Also, many people I knew had inherited parts or all of their regalia. One thing that is most important about my beadwork, it’s made to last and for posterity.
Essentially, I want to pass my beadwork on to the next generation. I’m not prolific, but my pieces are made well with quality materials.
BB: Describe the general process you go through to create your work.
LW: Everything I make is custom. Usually, when someone asks for beadwork, I ask them what their dream piece would be. My favorite is when someone tells me to do whatever I want. I always a concept in my mind. I usually don’t rush anymore. I have a full-time job and work 45-55 hours per week. I also serve on the Comanche Nation Gaming Board of Directors. I have very little free time. Beading keeps me sane and is truly a labor of love. I’m grateful for those who order from me. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and time to make quality beadwork. Those who custom order, enable my creativity to grow. I bead loom-work, flat-stitch, flat-stitch round and gourd stitch. I also sew and do featherwork. Nearly every piece ordered and sold has been through Facebook.
BB: What matters to you most as a bead artist?
LW: It took about ten years to be confident and consider myself a beadwork artist. It helped me financially get through college. It’s great to see something years later and say, “Wow, I made that." I think as an artist, it’s important to give credit for those who do the work. For me, a dog tag takes about 13 hours and a solid large medallion can take up to 50 hours from concept rendering to completion, all with tremendous attention to detail and energy. I’ve seen some people claim other’s work for their own, which is disgusting, or not give someone credit for their original idea or the work they put into a collaboration. Basically, maintaining integrity in one’s life and art is most important.
BB: What or who is your inspiration?
LW: First and foremost my Ancestors are my inspiration and give me strength in daily life. Occasionally, when I am upset or frustrated, I remember what my ancestors went through for me to be here. Also, there are so many beaders and artists I’m in awe of who inspire and raise the bar with originality and quality; Arlis Whiteman, Derwin McCabe, Al Retasket, Brian Larney, Daneta Kaulay, Jess Williams, Summer Peters, Kenneth Williams, Shane Watson, Angela Ochoa and Joseph Newman. There are so many more, these are just some of the individuals who do amazing work and inspire creativity.
BB: What is your favorite quote or life motto?
LW: “Upu-pitsa-pie-hi-thua”, in Comanche it means, “comes back on you”. Whatever we put out in the world comes back to us, good and bad.
BB: What is something that a lot of people don’t know, but should know, about your tribe/home community?
LW: The Comanche Nation is a Southern Plains tribe located north of Lawton, Oklahoma. Comanche Nation Gaming is the largest employer in Southwest Oklahoma. We operate four casinos in the area and recently broke ground on an 87 room hotel. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree focusing on economics and business so my mind tends to lean toward the pragmatic and economic development of my tribe. We have a tremendous number of talented artist in all genres; paint, sculpting, beadwork, textile, southern singers and dancers. We love powwow and gourd dance; it’s in our blood. I would say we maintain a strong balance of the traditional and progressive. I’m incredibly proud of and love my tribe.