North America's largest Indigenous modern beadwork exhibit opens in Regina

An exhibit of contemporary Indigenous beadwork that organizers say is the largest ever curated in North America will be on display at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery until late August.

Radical Stitch exhibit opens Saturday, continues until late August

Nico Williams' Indian's Frozen Computer is a mix of beadwork, birch bark and porcupine quills. It's featured in the Radical Stitch exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. (Mike Patten/Artist: Nico Williams)

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

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

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

The art form stretches "from the earliest beads that would have been crafted from, like, shell or seeds … and now [to] computer pixels and different materials are being used as beads," said LaVallee, one of the three curators of the exhibit.

This beadwork piece by Dana Claxton, a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation in southwest Saskatchewan and currently a B.C. resident, is showcased as part of the Radical Stitch exhibit at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. (Dana Claxton/Forge Project)

John G. Hampton, executive director and CEO of the art gallery, called Indigenous beading "one of our generation's most exciting movements in contemporary art."

"We are so pleased to be working with the top artists and curators in the field to realize this exhibition from diverse Indigenous perspectives," he said in a news release.

One the aims of the exhibit is to break the stereotypes about beading and broaden people's expectations as they walk through it.

"It celebrates the innovation, as well as the tactile beauty of beads," LaVallee told Shauna Powers, host of CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.

She, Sherry Farrell Racette and Cathy Mattes garnered work from artists across North America.

Each of the co-curators have their own connections to the traditional art form, LaVallee said — though she herself isn't a beader.

This beadwork piece by Kenneth Williams Jr. is called We continue her beautiful legacy. It's featured as part of the Radical Stitch exhibition. (Kenneth Williams Jr./New York State Museum)

Her connection stems from research, curating and an underappreciation of the art form as a child. 

"There's a pair of moccasins that I remember — that 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 the tanning of the hide and the sewing of the materials," she said. 

Then, she grew to foster a deep respect for the medium and drew up a growing mental list of beaders that she hoped to one day present. 

LISTEN | Co-curator of North America's largest contemporary Indigenous beadwork exhibition talks about how she got here:

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

"It's the tip of the iceberg of the artists that are out there working in this media and examples of the craft," she said.

The exhibit is scheduled to run until Aug. 28.

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend