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Beadwork exhibit debuts at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

Carol F. Cypress sits with Sarah McDonald and Virginia P. Tommie during the ‘Rekindled: Contemporary Southeastern Beadwork’ reception Jan. 15 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress Jan. 15. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)

BIG CYPRESS — The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum opened its newest exhibition, “Rekindled: Contemporary Southeastern Beadwork” in the west gallery.

A reception was held for artists and guests Jan. 15 to celebrate the exhibit, which focuses on contemporary beadwork based on traditional styles created in the 1800s. The collection consists of beaded objects, including bandolier bags, baldrics or sashes, and other beaded objects that were once thought to be a lost tradition and style for southeastern tribes, including the Seminoles.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several Native artists, including Roger Ellis Amerman, Martha Berry, Carol Cypress, Jerry Ingram, Jay McGirt, and Brian Zepeda, and later Karen Berry, began their own modernized versions of traditional Southeastern beadwork and today have some of their work displayed in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum as part of the exhibit.

“Brian, Carol, and all of the other native Southeastern artists are rebuilding a foundation that helps their cultures thrive,” said curator Rebecca Fell.

The exhibit not only features the artists’ work, but guests and visitors at the reception were able to participate in crafts that incorporated some of the traditions that were used in the artwork. Guests were able to enjoy finger weaving, coloring bandolier patterns, and creating beadwork to get an idea of what it took to recreate some of the collection. The collection was based on traditional styles and knowledge from Tribal elders. The artists additionally had to research for several years in order to rekindle their crafts, which is where the name of the exhibit comes from.

Carol Cypress, one of the founders responsible for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and involved in the preservation of Seminole culture, expressed what inspired her to make designs and what made her serious about recapturing old customs.

“My ideas came to me in my sleep,” Cypress said. “I’ve been trying to teach someone how to do bandolier beadwork to keep the art form alive.”

Cypress, a former teacher, said she enjoys teaching others the unique skill and how to achieve a design with the right materials. She created four bandolier bags for the exhibit. Two of them were traditional designs and two of them were her own distinctive interpretations; one design based off of nature, fertility, and the next generation and the other design based on the remembrance and extinction of Weeden pottery, which began on the island near Tampa Bay.

“The most difficult part was finding the right material; wool was the best to use,” Cypress said. “Measuring the material was also different because men were smaller back then compared to today.”

Artist Brian Zepeda expressed similar sentiments about how the material used for beadwork today is different from over 100 years ago. His art is made with antique-size 24 micro glass beads that are more than a century old and haven’t been made since the 1900s iron region of Italy.

Curator Rebecca Fell, left, explains the exhibit to visitors during a guided tour at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on Jan.15. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)

In order for Zepeda to complete his work, he has to purchase glass beads online from different manufacturers at a going rate of $80-90 for three grams worth of beads, roughly a little less than the size of a teaspoon.

Zepeda began his art in 1996 when he was asked by Billy L. Cypress, Carol’s husband, to make reproduction items for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. It took him 6 months to make his first bandolier bag.

“I did it over and over again until I was happy with the way it looked; it took me approximately three times to make it and get it right,” he said.

From that point forward, he started making other items such as moccasins, leggings, and panel belts. Inside the exhibit, Zepeda’s art consists of two bandolier bags, one pair of moccasins, and one panel belt, also known as a baldric or sash.

A colorful display of beadwork detail at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. (Beverly Bidney photo)

“I hope that Tribals and non-Tribals have an appreciation for the art when they come to visit; that they’re inspired by the dedication of the artists and the beauty of it; that it inspires them so much that they would actually want to become an artist,” Zepeda said.

“Rekindled: Contemporary Southeastern Beadwork” runs until Nov. 22, 2017 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Reservation.

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