I’ve always been drawn to beadwork — especially pieces constructed with tiny beads — and remember visiting bead stores as a child and just running my hand through bowls full of colorful, shiny beads. If I was lucky, I’d come home with a small pouch full of the teeny treasures, but my skill level could never keep up with my imagination. I longed to have the vision and talent to transform the minuscule baubles into something magnificent.
For Molina Parker, beading has always been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. Her grandmother and mother taught her how to create traditional beadwork from an early age, and today that lifelong cultivation of her Native craft is seen in the mastery and precision of her work.
“I love to make adornment that reflects my love of nature and my people,” Molina shares. “Most of my pieces either represent something that has happened in my life or has cultural significance from either my Oglala Lakota or Northern Cheyenne heritage.”
I spoke with Molina below about how the tradition of Native beadwork has transformed in contemporary ways, the importance of valuing the work and time that goes into Native crafting, and more. Keep an eye out for new works from Molina on her and in Bethany Yellowtail’s . —
About how long does it take you to create one beaded piece? Do you have a process for conceptualizing how things will look?
Depending on the size of the piece and the size beads I’m working with, my jewelry can take anywhere from a few hours to assemble up to a few months. I love making pieces that are relevant today and draw inspiration from my surroundings and culture. I find it a challenge to come up with fresh ideas and new color stories.
How do you feel the tradition of beadwork has changed in more contemporary times?
Traditional beadwork has changed so much. We have access to new materials and colors and our work reflects that! Some people like to recreate things our ancestors did, which is fine, but as an artist, I like to challenge myself and make things that speak to me.
What do you wish more non-Native people understood about Native culture and traditions (like beadwork)?
Beadwork is still a fairly new tradition to our people. Before white settlers and fur traders brought beads to us, we worked primarily with things found in nature. Porcupine quills, animal skins and bones, shells, etc. It’s important that non-Native people see the value in our work and not think of it as something trendy or kitschy. A lot of time and love goes into what we make and needs to be taken seriously.
How do you find strength when you face fear in either your personal life or creative work?
I believe most of my strength comes from my grandmother. She engrained in me how important it was for me to remain level headed and humble. She also made me confident enough in myself to want to push myself in everything that I do.
It’s important that non-Native people see the value in our work and not think of it as something trendy or kitschy.