Rosemary Hill is one of three Native American artists featured in the Lewiston Art Festival's "Art Inspired by our Ancestors" exhibit. She'll be exhibiting and teaching traditional Tuscarora beadwork, her lifelong specialty.
Hill grew up on the Tuscarora Reservation in Niagara County, and started doing beadwork when she was 5 years old. "I used to cut off buttons from shirts and use those for necklaces," she said in a phone interview. Hill's beadwork is featured in museums and collections across the world, including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. and the British Museum in London, England.
>What is traditional Tuscarora beadwork?
It's raised beadwork. [Other people] call it embossed beadwork, they call it three-dimensional beadwork, they call it embroidery. We just call it Tuscarora beadwork. We do floral patterns, we do our clan animals, whereas other beadwork artists do their own different kind of beadwork. Ours mostly consists of what we see in nature.
>Environmentalism is the big theme for this year's festival. How do you express that with your own work?
The beadworkers way in the past were always recyclers. [Growing up], we used always discarded items posterboards, paperwork, old advertisements in the mail, cereal boxes, anything that has a kind of firmness to it. Anything that comes our way, we used to make our pieces with it. There's more new materials available today, but we still use cereal boxes, we still use advertisements that we get in the mail.
>What will your exhibit consist of?
People will come, sit down and they'll be able to learn one or two techniques. They'll learn to start a piece, but it would take too long to finish a piece. They'd be there all day doing it. Even one small flower takes six hours for a beginner. So I just teach them a few small techniques, and then they can take [what they create] with them.
>What do you think is the appeal traditional Tuscarora beadwork still has?
It's just a very beautiful artform. It always has been, not just in our culture. We just have our own style of beading. Even though there's other kinds of beadwork, we still have our own.
-- Jason Silverstein