Cree mother and son turn graffiti into traditional beading artwork

A Cree woman decided to take her son's graffiti art and turn it into traditional beading. They're in Dawson City this week to teach Yukoners their unique approach.

Spending painstaking time beading graffiti art shows 'how important it really can be,' say Judy Anderson

An example of graffiti beading that Judy and Cruz Anderson work on together. ( Submitted by Curtis Collins)

When a guest graffiti artist came into Cruz Anderson's Grade 5 classroom and taught him and his peers, his mother, Judy Anderson, said she wasn't too happy.

"To be perfectly honest, I wasn't thrilled about it," said Judy, a visual artist who teaches at the University of Calgary. "Because all I could imagine was that there was going to be really bad [graffiti] ... all over the neighbourhood."

Judy and Cruz Anderson are mother and son who practised different forms of art but decided to merge them. (Submitted by Curtis Collins)

But for Cruz, it sparked a love for street art.

"I mostly drew it in my room alone until I got to high school," said Cruz.

"I never really thought I could be associated with [graffiti] until the artist came and showed me kind of what it was about."

But then Judy, who's Cree from the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, participated in a traditional ceremony that changed her perspective.

I think it's brought us together.- Judy Anderson

"Through the ceremony, I was actually told that I needed to honour Cruz, and the best way that I knew how to honour Cruz was through my artwork."

Several years later, mother and son now travel and teach other Canadians how to bead their own graffiti art. They are in Dawson City, Yukon, this week.

Husband said 'I was crazy'

Judy took the young Cruz's graffiti of his name and etched it into an old handmade, fleshed bag.

Cruz Anderson's graffiti on traditional hide. (Submitted by Curtis Collins)

A few years later, Cruz was getting better with his art, "And I said, hey, you know what? I think we need to bead it now."

She took his first ever burner (a larger, elaborate piece of graffiti) and blew it up onto an eight-by-eight-foot traditionally tanned moose hide. She began beading on her huge canvas.

It took Judy six months, eight hours a day to finish.

"My husband kept saying that I was crazy," said Judy, chuckling.

Judy's working on her second piece, and is two-thirds done.

"What you're doing is you're taking this artwork that people today see as something that's not important ... And you're spending all this painstaking time on it and showing how important it really can be."

Mother and son collaboration

Judy said this form of art was her expression of showing Cruz, and the world, how important children are. 

"We think things like graffiti that it's bad. But in reality, I think it's helping to shape who they [children] are," said Judy.

Cruz and Judy Anderson will be at Dawson City's School of Visual Arts to teach a free workshop this Saturday. (Submitted by Curtis Collins)

The two have been collaborating more and travelling to teach together, and say working together has been good for their relationship. 

"She has some initial ideas that we kind of talk about, and I'll give it a little twist and make it kind of funny for the writers who know about graffiti," said Cruz.

"I think it's brought us together," said Judy. "I love that he's become an artist because I have somebody to talk to about art all the time."

Judy and Cruz Anderson will be holding a free workshop at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Yukon School of Visual Arts in Dawson City. Participants will create their own graffiti and then learn how to bead, or quill it.

With files from Dave White