FORT LAUDERDALE — Coinciding with the celebrations of American Indian Day, the closing reception of the month-long showing of Florida Fashion, an art exhibit of contemporary and traditional skirts and jewelry crafted by South Florida Seminole and Miccosukee women, took place Sept. 27 in Fort Lauderdale City Hall.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino sponsored the exhibit which was a program of the Tribal Arts Project hosted by Upper Room Art Gallery. It highlighted the patchwork skirts of artisans Edna Frank, Ashley Cypress and Krystle Billie and the beadwork of mother and daughter team Tina Marie and Dakota Osceola.
Curator of the exhibit, Robin Haines Merrill, first learned about the art form of patchwork from her friend and Tribe member Houston Cypress when she moved to Florida years ago.
“I wondered why it wasn’t being shared more as a modern art form,” she explained. “Why wasn’t art like this being displayed? Why wasn’t it a part of something like Art Basel?”
Being part of the art community in Fort Lauderdale, she began working on projects to help showcase the artwork of Tribal members — especially patchwork — which originated at Florida trading posts and is unique to the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes. This year’s Florida Fashion was the second exhibit of its kind in Fort Lauderdale City Hall.
Along with being a traditional art form, Merrill said the exhibit shows multiple generations of artisans.
“It is current. [These pieces of patchwork and beading are] all modern and current and that is a real difference with this exhibit,” she said.
Tina Marie Osceola began making jewelry and learning beadwork “as soon as my hands could hold the beads.”
“I come from a generation of making traditional art to help the support the family,” she said. “I was raised within the culture of the vendors and the history and culture of selling traditional art within the Seminole Tribe.”
For the Osceolas, and many members of the Tribe, traditional art is a symbol of not only their culture but also a means of survival.
“You really can’t extract Seminole traditional art from the Seminole identity,” Tina Marie said. “And that’s why it excites me to see some of the younger women [like Krystle Billie and Ashley Cypress] resurrect the art forms and allow them to continue to evolve.”
Billie, whose family has been sewing for generations, has been sewing for 17 years. Some of her creations can be considered the modern evolutions Osceola had mentioned.
Billie was excited about the idea of having more exhibits like Florida Fashion and raising awareness about the art form.
“I’m hoping that more people get involved for the next one and hopefully it can continue to grow,” she said.
Dakota Osceola plans to teach her two-year-old daughter, Mia, beadwork when she’s old enough. As she viewed the exhibit with others at the reception, she noted how the jewelry and skirts seemed to fit together perfectly, although the artisans hadn’t gotten together to plan that, and was grateful that she was able to use her art the way generations before her have.
“We’re really lucky to make our art and it sells,” she said. “People appreciate it and recognize it as an art.”
You can view work by or contact Krystle Billie (@kryss_styles), Tina Marie (@beadworkbytina) and Dakota Osceola (@beadworkbydakota), and Ashley Cypress (@alleykatkreations) on Instagram. You can contact Edna Frank at 954-374-8240 or at the Native American Arts & Craft Store in Davie.