Gina has Native American ancestry. Her father was a member of the Blackfoot tribe, whose territory is in northern Montana and Canada, around the Glacier Park area. I know she admired some of the things she had seen when looking at the Battle of the Beadsmith entires, particularly Sue Horine's piece, so although bead embroidery is not my usual technique, I decided to try to represent Gina's heritage in my work.
I imagined buying a beautiful animal cabochon from Laura Mears, but I wanted to get the right creature, so I asked Gina if she had a special "spirit animal" or if there was something she specifically wanted me to include in the piece. She responded "feathers, and pictogram horses." I was a lttle stymied. A pictogram horse? I googled "pictogram horse" and found images the reminded me of Lascaux Cave drawings, primitive and stylized. I found a couple cabochons, both agate, as agate is native to Montana, and started a sketch with several pictogram ponies running around the edge of the cab. But I just could not leave the ponies alone. I kept tweaking them.
Gina's mother was an art dealer, and had a huge gallery full of Native American art. Much of the imagery was romantic in my eyes, and after I worked my sketch for a few hours, the pictorgram horses were gone (REALLY, they WERE there to begin with!!!) replaced by a romantically stylized horse, like what I remembered from Gina's mom's gallery, with a few feathers.
I also wanted the piece to be biographical, or at least, a sort of character sketch. But not photoreal or literal. Symbolic and gestural, like the pictogram ponies. SO, new plan.
I hunted for horse fetish beads, and found some I thought had a pictogram quality, as well as looking like Pintos, which seemed right to me. I just didn't think I had drawing pictogram horses in my soul, and wanted to provide the requested animal in a way that hopefully could be meaningful to both me and Gina. I chose a cabochon to represent Gina's heart and spirit, aiming for warm, complex, and rich, a "keeping-the-home-fires-burning" image, with a stable, grounded shape. Then I arranged stacked components like a totem, hoping to create shapes that might represent a dancer's fringed skirt and rising sun,
...a warm red parka with horses on its sleeves, and a thick maybe fur-covered hood.
I wanted the woman's arms to be flung open wide, embracing the sky,
and I also liked that the overall shape had a thunderbird quality.
I found beads to use in my fringe that looked like bone and feathers, so hopefully had included all requested components.
I thought maybe the arms should be fringed, and asked Gina how she felt about that. The piece is already large and the additional fringe would have made it very big and certainly "ceremonial." I imagined that the piece without more fringe MIGHT get more wear, and explained that. But I liked the fringe idea too, made a couple samples, and turned the final decision over to Gina. She decided against the fringe.
About this time noticed a facebook post from my niece about her cousin Jackie Larson Bread, a traditional Blackfoot Bead Artist. who had just had one of her beaded pieces purchased by the Smithsonian Institution. So THAT was what Gina meant with her reference to pictogram horses. Yikes. She has a relative who actually does museum quality Native American beadwork. I'm glad I didn't know this to begin with, as I would likely never have attempted what I did, but it's done, and I hope Gina will enjoy it!
I learned just how challenging symmetry, perfect shapes, and finishing techniques are in the process of embroidering this piece and I salute all Bead Embroiderers for their precision and beauty, and my beady buddy friends who answered endless questions about this work as I finished it.
Thank you Gina. I love you. It will be on it's way tomorrow!