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Floral journey: Native North American beadwork

Lois Sherr Dubin
University of Washington Press
Publication Date: 

Cloth, 256 pp, $65.00.

Lois Dubin, lecturer, curator and author of a number of books on Native North Americans' artistic traditions, has provided a history of the forces that produced this elaborate beadwork. This beautifully illustrated book was produced in connection with an exhibition at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles. The Introduction illustrates a trail over seven pages of moccasins embroidered with various floral motifs. The change from geometric patterns, which typified earlier artwork, was both a result of European influences in the sixteenth century, as well as a means for these native people to exhibit resistance to the often oppressive measures employed to “civilize” them. Native women became very adept at encoding their cultural knowledge within these floral patterns, thereby allowing their heritage to endure, as well as giving them a source of income. Although many of the motifs were similar from region to region, there were also adaptations unique to a given area. A map on page 17 breaks down the cultural areas of native North American tribes, circa 1500-1850. Dubin discusses the sacred foundations of the Native art and floral imagery, as well as the history, trade and transformation of adornment. She provides examples of what she refers to as “Native expressions” by region. The gorgeous color photographs reveal the beadwork in such detail as to appear almost tactile. There are a number of old photographs of Native North Americans wearing apparel adorned with beadwork. This is a fascinating study of the forces that led to the development of beaded adornment which served a practical purpose, while also making a cultural and aesthetic statement. - Joan Richards, volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden.