North America’s Largest Modern Native Bead Exhibit Opens in Regina


An exhibit that organizers say is the largest collection of Indigenous beadwork ever shown in North America, will be on display in Regina over the next four months.

The Radical Stitch exhibit opened at the MacKenzie Art Gallery on Saturday, featuring a range of artwork that reflects Indigenous knowledge, politics, history and present, in the form of small, colorful beads.

Despite a misconception that beadwork was a colonial practice adopted by Indigenous peoples, co-curator Michelle LaVallee said beads have long been an important art material for Indigenous peoples across the continent.

The art form spans “from the first beads that would have been made from, like, shells or seeds… and now [to] computer pixels and different materials are used as beads,” said LaVallee, one of the exhibit’s three curators.

Vancouver resident and beader Bev Koski will feature works like this in the Radical Stitch exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery. (Bev Koski/Aboriginal Arts Centre)

John G. Hampton, Managing Director and CEO of the art gallery, called Aboriginal beadwork “one of our generation’s most exciting movements in contemporary art.”

“We are thrilled to work with the best artists and curators in the field to bring this exhibition to life from diverse Indigenous perspectives,” he said in a statement.

One of the aims of the exhibition is to break stereotypes about beadwork and expand people’s expectations as they browse through it.

“It celebrates innovation, as well as the tactile beauty of pearls,” LaVallee told CBC host Shauna Powers. Saskatchewan Weekend.

She, Sherry Farrell Racette and Cathy Mattes have secured works from artists across North America.

Each of the co-curators has their own ties to the traditional art form, LaVallee said — even though she herself isn’t a beader.

This beaded piece by Kenneth Williams Jr. is called We Carry On His Beautiful Legacy. It is presented as part of the Radical Stitch exhibition. (Kenneth Williams Jr./Museum of the State of New York)

His connection stems from research, curation and an underappreciation of the art form in his childhood.

“I remember a pair of moccasins – which I believe my great-grandmother had produced – and at the time I wouldn’t have appreciated the work and skill that goes into not just the beadwork, but also in the tanning of hides and the sewing of materials,” she said.

Then, she grew to cultivate a deep respect for the medium and made a growing mental list of gems she hoped to present one day.

LISTEN | The co-curator of the largest exhibition of contemporary Native beads in North America shares how she got here:

Saskatchewan Weekend10:11Radical Stitch opens at the MacKenzie Art Gallery

It’s a defining moment at the MacKenzie Gallery in Regina. Radical Stitch opened this weekend and this celebration of Indigenous beadwork is the largest collection of contemporary beadwork ever presented in a North American gallery. Host Shauna Powers chats with co-curator Michelle LaVallee. 10:11

She and the other curators had a total of 100 artists in mind and brought in just under 50 as part of the exhibition.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg of artists working in this medium and examples of craftsmanship,” she said.

The exhibition is scheduled until August 28.