Mary Annette Clause, Cayuga/Tuscarora, Bear Clan

Title: Mary Annette Clause, Cayuga/Tuscarora, Bear Clan
Image size: 29 x 36 inches

Medium: Colored and graphite pencils, acrylic, watercolor and ink

Annette was born in Niagara Falls, New York in 1958. Before she learned to bead, she would observe her mother and grandmother doing their beadwork but was forbidden to do it herself and told to “go and play because that’s what young children are supposed to do.” Even though she promised not to get in the way and only stand and watch, she was still forbidden to participate.  So one day she said, “I went home and snitched beads from my mom’s box and went to my room and started to bead. I taught myself to do it and then I showed my mom what I had done. After that I was allowed to bead with the ladies in my family.” Her mother, Marlene Printup, a remarkable beadworker in her own right, was her first teacher.  Marlene was taught by Annette’s grandmother Doris Hudson and her great grandmother Harriet Pembleton. As a child, Annette was initially taught to do daisy chains, rings and jitterbugs (little people made out of beads) that were strung with beading wire. She would watch her mother and grandmothers bead and as her skills developed, she enrolled in the Tuscarora Indian School where she was taught more complicated techniques like raised beadwork. With her mother, she would travel to fairs where she sold her creations for extra spending money.

As her mother and grandmothers before her, Annette spends a lot of time doing beadwork, continuing a two-centuries old beading tradition. “When my family made beadwork, no one actually kept examples of their work because everything was made to be sold. I remember my aunts and grandmother making lots of beadwork for sale at Prospect Park and the New York State Fair. Everyone did their share of the work.”

Annette has a large collection of old beadwork patterns that were handed down from her family but had no idea how to bead them until she saw examples of antique pieces in museum and private collections. “Then it all came together,” she said.

Annette is one of the foremost raised beadwork artists working today. “I love to do raised beadwork and just go crazy with all the different colors of beads that come out every year.” The creative blending of colors and designs characterize her beadwork. “For the longest time I was staying traditional with opaque beads but now I have expanded my horizon and have even ventured out to use a combination of size 6 to 16 beads, mixing them up in one art piece. I feel like I’m painting when I do my work. I like to use the actual colors of nature and blend a variety of them to bring out the true beauty of the flower.”  Her work has been described as flowers made out of porcelain and they are truly amazing to see.

There are many artists in her family. Her uncle is the famous stone carver, Joseph Jacobs. One of her brothers is a painter and has illustrated a number of books and two other brothers are excellent beadworkers as well. Most of her family has some artistic abilities.

Annette has travelled to many museums, art galleries and other Native communities to study their collections, give workshops and lecture on Iroquois raised beadwork. She is the first among her people to have developed a curriculum to teach both basic and advanced beading techniques and is teaching her daughter, Jacqueline, to do beadwork. Now four generations of her family are involved in this traditional art.

In my portrait of Annette I’ve depicted her merging with the essence of the hawk because this raptor symbolizes an important event in her life. During the memorial service at her son’s funeral there was a group of hawks that were squawking and circling above his gravesite.  Suddenly, one of them broke from the circle and flew straight up until it disappeared from sight. Annette said this was a significant moment for her as she saw the retreating hawk as the spirit of her departed son, leaving the circle of life and becoming one with the spirits. “Whenever I’m outside, I see a hawk nearby and hawks still squawk at me when I visit his gravesite. I feel like this bird is my protector and he always travels with me.”

One of the recent exhibitions that featured Annette’s beadwork, North by Northeast, travelled to several museums including the Abbe Museum in Maine and the Mashanetucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut. Several of her beaded collars were also represented in the Castellani Art Museum’s “Expressions of Iroquois Identity” exhibit.  In her more than thirty five year career as a Native artist Annette has won many first place and other prestigious prizes for her exceptional beadwork, among them First Place at the Seneca Falls Festival Art Show, the Best of Show and the People’s Choice award at a recent International Iroquois National Beadwork Conference, and Best of Show at the Lawrence Indian Art Show.