In the early 1800s, Native women from the Indian tribes of the Northeast created a new art form: delicate, intricately beaded purses, hats, and other whimsical objects. Sometimes referred to as “tourist" or "souvenir" art, it played a crucial role in the subsistence of many American Indian families during the nineteenth century. Gifted with a refined sense of design, and sharing a passion for beadworking, they executed a profusion of bright, bold mosaics that included floral, figural, and geometric motifs.
As they worked in a communal setting, the beaders thoughtfully wove stories into their designs, which told of what it meant to be Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) or Wabanaki. This early material has a spiritual quality that is akin to fine art. On the surface, these pieces were the canvas upon which an Indian artist displayed her technical skills and artistic vision. But below the surface, the power inherent in a beautiful object was a central feature of life. Festive dress was a language through which many an artist expressed her deepest beliefs about the universe. We may never know the full extent of their meanings, but imbedded within the designs are stories of a people told in symbols and motifs that spoke of a sacred relationship to the natural world. Many such stories are lost now, but the art survives as a legacy testifying to the inventiveness and sense of beauty of a forgotten people.
Artist, author, collector and independent researcher, Gerry Biron will present a comprehensive survey of the “souvenir” purses that were made by these women during the 19th century. Regarded by many as some of the finest representations of American Indian art, the creators of this work came from diverse cultures and regions – the Haudenosaunee of New York State and Canada and the Wabanaki of northern New England and the Maritime Provinces of Eastern Canada. Mr. Biron’s presentation will focus on the influences that led to the development of these beautiful items.
Gerry Biron, a Vermont artist of Wabanaki descent, has spent over two decades researching this material and his historic portraits of the region’s indigenous people feature pieces from his collection. History and art will merge in a discussion that promises to give greater meaning to this extraordinary form of art. In addition to exploring the historical development of beadworking as an art form and as a subsistence practice for Native women, the presentation will look at beadworking within the context of art, fashion and the tourist economy of the nineteenth century.
The exhibition of Mr. Biron’s collection, titled Made of Thunder, Made of Glass: American Indian Beadwork of the Northeast, was on display at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2006, at Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts in 2007, at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner, NH in 2008 and at the Institute for American Studies in Washington, CT in 2009.
I hope you will consider this presentation for your organization and find a place for it in your schedule.
This is a one-hour PowerPoint Presentation.
Fee: $300 plus travel expenses.
Below are a few of the venues where Gerry has presented this program.
- Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, MA
- Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, Warner, NH
- The Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, CT
- Peterborough Historical Society, Peterborough, NH
- Mill Brook Gallery, Concord, NH
- The New England Bead Society, Lexington, MA
- Dover Public Library, Dover, NH (Through the New Hampshire Humanities Council)
- Akwesasne Museum, Hogansburg, New York
- The Arts Gallery, Lisbon, NH (Through the New Hampshire Humanities Council)
- Mariposa Museum, Peterborough, NH (Through the New Hampshire Humanities Council)