Artist Mentors Beadwork Apprentice
Students can learn some artistic techniques in the classroom. But other skills and styles are best learned from an expert. The South Dakota Arts Council has a grant for artists to learn from one another in a year-long apprenticeship. Two well known artists from the Black Hills recently teamed up to work on Native American beadwork.
Molina Parker and Wade Patton unpack their beadwork tools from recent projects. They faun over each other's work and share stories about exciting finds.
Parker: “It’s the largest bead distributor in the world.”
Patton: “Have you been there before?”
Parker: “Yeah I walked in the doors and just started crying”
52 year old Patton grew up in Pine Ridge and now lives in Rapid City. Patton began as a visual artists doing traditional lakota drawings on antique ledger paper. He also creates oil pastel works with a style that is easy to spot. All of his pieces are composed of tiny details--only obvious with a close inspection.
For the past year or so, Patton has been learning new skills and techniques from Molina Parker as part of the state’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. Patton says it’s given him new opportunities.
“I was kind of stalking her, her beadwork and I was like ‘I think I really want to learn beading’. So I just messaged her and I asked her if she wanted to teach me how to bead. So she said sure and then right about that time is when the application deadline came around.”
The two filled out the application together and were selected for the 2017 program. They had taught classes and received multiple residencies, grants and fellowships before. They have sold work at the Santa Fe Indian Market and Native POP Rapid City Show.
But 37 year old Molina Parker says the art apprenticeship was a new experience.
“It was all very natural. I’d never metored anybody before. He picked up on everything so quickly. It’s only been a little over a year and he’s already pushing out pieces like this. These are showpieces. It took me 30 something years to get here.”
Parker learned beadwork from her family. She makes applique beadwork- using a decorative form of stitching. She draws an image on a background then uses different colors of beads to create shapes, patterns, dimension and even shadows. Parker says she can’t get through the day without at least touching her beads.
“Wade and I took a road trip to Santa Fe for Indian Market I just had my beads sitting on my lap and he was driving and he said ‘aren’t you going to work on something?’ And I said ‘I feel okay just having them here. I’m waiting for them to talk to me or something’.”
The two artists have taken several trips together since the apprenticeship ended, sometimes to buy beads and sometimes to sell work at art markets. Parker says Patton is a fast learner. But he still calls his mentor to get tips on projects when he’s stuck.
Patton: “She taught me the most difficult stitch first I believe and then she taught me faster stitches later. So I think that was really beneficial on my part because I think if she would’ve threw this on me towards the end I would’ve been like ‘no I can’t, let me get back to the easier stuff’.”
Parker: “Yeah I felt like you were capable right away. And so now when I do teach you the easier stuff you’re like ‘pshhhh’, you know.”
Patton says their apprenticeship helped expand the way he thinks about his paper art too.
“I draw a lot of clouds so I’m beading clouds and then with this applique beading I’m applying it to my works on paper. So that’s just another form of how our mentoring is evolving to putting my two works together. My works on paper and my beading.”
The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program is designed to help master artists and apprentices keep their cultural art forms alive by passing them down from person to person. Parker and Patton both put their own contemporary spin on traditional Lakota arts.
Patton: “One of our trips down to Sante Fe, she says ‘oh I’m working on these’ and they were a pair of earrings in that box and then I opened them and I just shut the box right away and I’m like ‘I can’t. I can’t look at these right now’ because they were so beautiful and unique. That’s why I’m so inspired by what she does every time.”
Parker: “That’s what I like. We’re both Lakota artists but our work isn’t like what you would see in a museum. This is ours.”
Parker says that contemporary change is natural. She says historically, art from Lakota people changed each time they got a new material. She says that’s how beadwork was incorporated into the culture.
The apprenticeship program provides some important financial support for artists. Josh Chrysler is the Folk and Traditional Arts Coordinator for the Council. He says artists receive up to four thousand dollars for supplies, travel and teaching time.
Chrysler says South Dakota has a huge variety of traditional art forms. In the last two years, the apprenticeship program has supported a wide range of practices.
“Lakota Beadworking, Finish Weaving, Missouri Valley Style Old Time Fiddling, Lakota Hoop Dancing, Norwegian Rosemaling, German Mennonite Basket Making, Lakota Quillwork and Western Saddle Making.”
Eight artists are selected in teams for the program each year. Chrysler says the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program not only helps artists pass down their knowledge for future generations. He says it often sparks new friendships as well.