Beadwork artist Myrlande Constant has spent nearly three decades honing the craft of her intricate flag tableaux. Often spanning six or seven feet, the large-scale flags feature religious, historical, and mythological scenes, surrounded by a beaded “frame” of abstract patterns or symbolic objects. Constant hails from from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she continues to live and work. The artist learned the art form her mother, who was a factory worker at a local wedding dress manufacturer that created beaded garments. Apparently, several other women who were employed at the factory also created artwork in the Vodou flag tradition outside of work hours.
Constant was recently commissioned to create a new work, one of her largest to date, for Faena Hotel in Miami, Florida. It will be displayed, along with several of her other flags, during Faena Festival, a free series of events and installation running December 2 – 8, 2019, alongside Miami Art Week. Learn more about Constant’s work in a Huffington Post article by Wesleyan University.
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Artist Ava Roth loves working on collaborative projects. But her studiomates aren’t fellow two-footed friends. Rather, Roth pairs with her backyard honeybees to create mixed media collages combining embroidery, beadwork, fabric, tree bark, and honeycomb. The Toronto-based artist builds artworks inside the comb frames, and the bees complete the pieces by encasing them in organic honeycomb patterns. “This project is a collaboration in the truest sense. It involves careful listening, respecting the bees, and cooperating with them entirely, from the choice of materials, size, timing and scope of design,” Roth tells Colossal. “My intention is to celebrate the extraordinary work of the honeybee and match it with sewings that invoke their delicate and ephemeral comb.”
The artist explains that she had been working in encaustic, a painting technique that incorporates wax, for several years, and decided to start collaborating with her bees as she learned more about Colony Collapse Disorder and sought to uplift and honor the bee’s work.
The threadwork in this collection mirrors the fragility and beauty of the honeycomb in which they are encased. By placing the embroideries in hoops, I am also giving a nod to a tradition of women’s work. Since the working bees are all female – and not making ‘fine art’, the finished pieces are very much in the tradition of marginalized women’s work, and sewing in particular. Because both the bees work and traditional women’s work have been largely functional, their beauty and significance have been easily overlooked.
Roth tells Colossal that it took a great deal of trial and error to solve for the variables like what materials the bees respond to instead of destroying, how long to keep the pieces in the hive before honey is deposited, and conveying to the insects which areas they should or shouldn’t build comb. The artist shares that she worked closely with Master Beekeeper Mylee Nordin on strategizing and implementing the project. Shown here are works from her abstract series; Roth also works in this mode with more representational images, which you can see on her website.
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Margaret Nazon has spent the past decade building intricate beadwork depictions of outer space. The colorful artworks, which balance representational and stylized aesthetics, are set on black fabric backgrounds and depict galaxies, planets, and nebulae. Initially inspired by images taken by the Hubble space telescope, Nazon’s celestial renderings are part of a life-long interest in beading. In an interview with Glenbow, the artist shared that she began beading at age 10, but found the density of traditional beadwork to be tedious.
The abstract nature of celestial images allows Nazon to be more interpretive and incorporate different materials like caribou bones and willow seeds, that have location-specific or cultural significance. Nazon is Tsiigehtchic, part of the Gwich’in community in what is now the Northwest Territories of Canada. The artist explained to Glenbow that because she is retired, she is able to dedicate significant portions of time to beading, and often rises at 4:30 to begin working. Nazon plans to continue experimenting, including merging her abstract beadwork with her seamstress skills to create artfully embellished apparel.
Nazon’s artwork was most recently exhibited at Glenbow in a group show, Cosmos, and A Beaded Universe at Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. You can read more about her in the Glenbow interview, and explore Nazon’s portfolio on her website. (via Brainpickings)
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For the past three decades, Louisiana-based artist Demond Melancon has created highly detailed Mardi Gras Indian suits using millions of hand-sewn small glass beads. Each suit takes several months to create and features custom patches that tell stories about African and American history.
Images of Nyabinghi warriors, Haile Selassie, African nature scenes, and slavery are strung together bead by bead to form decorative costumes that weigh up to 150 pounds and are worn from 9am to 6pm on Mardi Gras. Frills and feathers frame the complex beadwork and sequins to complete the one-of-a-kind single purpose suits.
Melancon tells Colossal that in junior high school his friends “masked Indian” and that he followed them into the craft. He was chosen by the elders to learn sewing techniques as well as the history of Black Masking Culture in New Orleans when he was 14 years old. After masking as a Spy Boy for 15 years with the Seminole Hunters, Melancon earned the distinction of becoming Big Chief to his own tribe. In addition to leading his community and passing on traditions to the next generation, the honor is expressed through the size and intricacy of his suits, which can take over 4,000 hours to complete and are only worn once.
“I study our history and historical narratives to create my pieces [with] many different references,” Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters explained. He added that as a “bead master,” his style involves using the smallest beads available to pack in as much detail as possible.
Melancon’s work has been exhibited in galleries around the world. A new documentary short about his life and art titled “All on a Mardi Gras Day” (dir. Michal Pietrzyk) was the Documentary: Grand Jury Prize Winner at Seattle International Film Festival and has been shown at other festivals across America, Germany, and Denmark. For a list of upcoming screenings and to see more of the Big Chief’s suits, visit his website and Instagram.
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Precisely Calculated Sculptural Embroideries by Devi Vallabhaneni Turn Beads and Sequins into Fields of Flowers
After a successful career in accounting and higher education entrepreneurship, Chicago-based artist Devi Vallabhaneni reconnected with her youthful passion for creativity and working with her hands. Vallabhaneni now brings together her twin interests in fashion and mathematics in her botanical beadwork. Using an algorithm she created in Excel, and working with haute couture materials like French sequins and beads, she creates dense fields of color and texture. “I innovated embroidery to be sculptural expressions that breathe new life into traditional materials, enabling them to live in unexpected spaces,” the artist explains.
Vallabhaneni works within the constraints of squares and rectangles, and more recently has moved away from abstraction and towards realism with her garden series. Inspired by fashion designer and garden enthusiast Hubert de Givenchy, Vallabhaneni situated her recent artworks in the Hollywood Hills, documenting each piece nestled amongst natural plants and flowers.
Over the past several years, the artist has delved into her creative practice with the same fervor she brought to her business career, and has completed coursework in weaving, textiles, embroidery, and apparel construction. Vallabhaneni is in the current cohort of artists in the Center Program at Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Center and is represented by Galerie Bettina von Arnim in Paris. The artist shares new work along with her wide-ranging visual inspirations on Instagram.
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In her series Trading, Saskatchewan-based artist Ruth Cuthand creates a visual metaphor that outlines how early settler/Native relationships influenced First Nation people’s living conditions and wellbeing in Canada. The colorful works are created from beads which were traded by European settlers for furs in the Americas. Although dazzling aesthetically, the work’s content reveals images of deadly viruses passed on by settlers as a result of this trade, such as influenza, bubonic plague, measles, smallpox, typhus, cholera, and scarlet fever.
“Beads are a visual reference to colonization; valuable furs were traded for inexpensive beads,” explains Cuthand, an artist of Plains Cree and Scottish descent, in her statement about the project. “On the plains beads were a valuable trade item, they replaced the method of using porcupine quills. Preparing the quills for decorating clothing was a long process that consisted of sorting the quills, preparing vegetal dyes and flattening the quill to sew down in patterns. Obviously beads were quicker to use, covered large areas and came in a wide variety of colors.”
Trading explores the tragic impact of European disease through the lens of one import. You can see all of the works in the series, and learn more about Cuthand’s practice, by visiting her website. The artist will also be a part of Beading Now!, a group exhibition at La Guilde in Montreal, Canada, which runs from May 16 to July 21, 2019.
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Jim F. Faure, who goes by Jim Skull, introduces his decades-long practice with his pseudonym. The Paris-based sculptor focuses exclusively on human skulls. Using innumerable strands of colorful thread, Murano glass beads, rope, and even porcupine quills, Faure creates an entirely new “skin” for the skeletal forms. Each skull’s covering also trails off into dramatic cascades that shape-shift depending on how the skull is displayed.
Faure transforms the surface of an object that often strikes fear into a visually enticing decorative object, inviting the viewer to study the divots and contours of our shared anatomical structure. In an artist statement, the sculptor cites his upbringing in New Caledonia in the South Pacific, followed by wide-ranging international travels in New Zealand, India, and Hong Kong as informing his fascination with the ritual and cultural aspects of the human experience. You can see more of Faure’s work on his website.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.