Exhibitions

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Beadwork Adorns the World

Extraordinary how a small glass bead from the island of Murano (Venice, Italy) or the mountains of Bohemia (Czech Republic) can travel around the world, entering into the cultural life of peoples far distant. Glass beads are the ultimate migrants.  Where they start out is seldom where they end up.  No matter where they originate, the locale that uses them makes them into something specific to their own world view.

Beadwork Adorns the World is about what happens to these beads when they arrive at their final destination, whether it be the African continent (Botswana, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa), to Borneo, to Burma, to India, Native North America to Latin America (Mexico, Bolivia to Ecuador).  However this exhibit is not actually about beads.  Rather it is about working beads resulting in beadwork, and what a collective of beads in a garment or an object reveals about the intentions of its makers or users.

In most parts of the world, beads, having value, are used at peak moments in life.  With their luster and sparkle, used as an adornment or surface additive, they help to heighten the effect, the impact, the meaning.  These special moments in the life of the community tend to revolve around:

  • life stages and passages – such as birth, becoming an adult, marriage, and death
  • power, position, or status in the community
  • the high meaning of the occasion – as seen in fine dress, house and animal decoration
  • communication with the spirits

Very few cultures have ever lived in total isolation from other peoples. Contact with others beyond the village allows for new markets and new uses for beadwork, as well as opportunities to survive creatively.

Not all beads used in the beadwork in this exhibit are made of glass. Beads made from metal, cloth, shell, stone, and other materials worked into objects served equally well to distinguish their wearer.

While beadwork has a lengthy history, it is truly a living art. Although the majority of the art works in this exhibit date from the 19th – 21st centuries, there are many 21st century examples.  Beadwork today comes in many forms – it may be a continuation of an unbroken tradition, perhaps with contemporary innovations, or it may be a revival of a lost form or something entirely new.

Beadwork Adorns the World will debut at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe and will be accompanied by a major publication.