March 22, 2014

Artist Profile | Chenoa Williams

I love beadwork. The tiny sparkling beads remind me of both the past and the future - when I see beadwork, I think about the stunning buckskin dresses of the past and the pixels of futuristic digital art. I think of beadwork artists as honoring traditions while creating a bridge for future artists.

Within the field of beadwork, there are many techniques, from peyote stitch, to whip stitch, to 'lazy' stitch and more. Artists use these varying styles to execute their vision.

Sometimes beads need to be applied individually, and their flat application needs to be spaced out so each bead can breath and add to the design. Sometimes they are strung on, five at a time, giving an almost three-dimensional 'puff' to the design. Even veteran artists learn new techniques, and I love how many beaders are self-taught in the sense that they learned about beadwork when they were young from a family member or friend, but then continued to experiment and teach themselves. I love this concept. There is something inherently raw and beautiful in that sense of determination to learn, grow, experiment. Beyond Buckskin's latest artist, Chenoa Williams, demonstrates this through her stunning jewelry. Countless hours, days, and sometimes even months, went into creating her one-of-a-kind pieces.

BB: When and why did you start beading?
CW: I began beading as a girl, but really got into it as a teenager and continued into adulthood. I lived on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation from the age of 4 until 18, during that time I saw beautiful bead art, and saw what some people were doing and it appealed to me. Most families have at least one person who takes to beading, and sticks with it. I happen to be that person in my family.

BB: Can you tell us about the process you go through to create your beaded jewelry?
CW: I find inspiration to bead when an idea comes to me and I usually make a mistake, then it looks all wrong, so I have to cut it down and start over a few times until it looks right. When I get a new hank of beads and hear a good jamming song on the radio, I just want to sit down and bead.

BB: Can you tell us about your most challenging project?
CW: My most challenging projects have been two things: teaching myself how to bead a Paiute collar from books and pictures, and how to bead a clutch in a large purse style that is all hand assembled. Both projects were ones that I have wanted to do for a while, but I first had to build my knowledge of different beading techniques.

BB: What are your goals as an artist?
CW: I would like to make quality bead art. I call it art because it is an expressive medium that is undervalued. I would like people to see my art and buy it because it speaks to them in someway and it holds value to them. I would like to be a full-time working bead artist. Right now, I do have a day job to support my beading habit.

BB: What does Native American fashion mean to you?
CW: Native fashion means clothes and accessories made by Indigenous people for all people to embrace and wear. The items made may or may not reflect the person's tribal affiliation or perspective, it may just be something they feel like creating with no trace of Native influence, or it could be a piece that speaks about the tribe they come from and is historically accurate. I describe my style as 'pan contemporary Native art.' I use and borrow forms from other tribes. I do try to stick with a style that is localized to my own creations. I am aiming for a signature look, and I think my Study of Pyramids is my signature style (for example, see the earrings below, right).

BB: Who are your favorite Native designers?
CW: My favorite Native designers are Marcus Amerman, Teri Greeves, Collette Auguh-Dunn, Roxanne Frazier, Dean Barlese, Cassandra Darrough, Monique Tyndall, Bonnie Parker, Jamie Okuma, and Summer Peters. Roxanne Frazier makes incredible moccasins among other items, Collette Auguh-Dunn makes beautiful one of a kind medallions, and Dean Barlese creates pictorial beaded medallions. Monique Tyndall is known for her exceptional Mohican beadwork and clothes, Jamie Okuma's handbags are exceptionally edgy and inspiring. I first saw Teri Greeves on PBS Craft in America with her beaded shoes, and Marcus Amerman's pictorial beadwork remains unmatched.

BB: Besides beadwork, what else are you passionate about?
CW: I am a mother of two: My son is 9, and my daughter is 3, we homeschool our children and I am passionate about that. I am an avid Game of Thrones fan, love the A Song of Fire and Ice books, and I'm waiting for book 6. I longboard when the weather permits; it's something I learned to do during my first year in college at IAIA with a good friend back in 2002. I also enjoy foreign movies, such as Indian, African, Chinese, Korean, and French movies, among others.

Click here to shop her collection now on Beyond Buckskin.