Cherokee Indian Art: Beadwork and
      Basketry





      Faced with continuing loss of their lands and
      the decline of hunting and fishing in the 19th
      century, the Cherokee Indian Tribe and their
      relatives, the Iroquois nations of New York
      State and Canada, came up with a successful
      survival strategy: they would sell tourists the
      fancy Indian beadwork, wood carvings, and
      beautiful baskets they had long done for
      themselves. Tourists loved their Indian designs.

      Cherokee Indian beadwork and basketry
      existed before recorded history when beads
      made from shells and bird bones were used
      instead of the tiny glass cylinders first
      brought to North America by European
      explorers in the 16th century.

      They used the teeth, bones, and claws of wild
      animals to decorate their clothing. Dried
      berries and gray Indian corn were also shaped
      into beads.











      Cherokee Native Americans made moccasins,
      bags, pincushions, needle cases, sport caps,
      picture frames, match holders, clothing and
      hanging baskets, which were brilliantly stitched
      with tiny glass beads by women, using tribal
      themes but also adapting to the Victorian
      tastes of their buyers.























      Early native Americans actually used wampum
      designs as "documents" for record keeping in
      the absence of a written Indian language.
      They used local shell, stone, bone, horn, and
      even Venetian glass beads, dating from the
      1580's to the 1630's. This was called wampum.

      Records show that glass beads were first
      supplied to the Mohawks, one of the six
      Iroquois nations, as early as 1616, and by the
      18th century commercial beads were in
      widespread use.

      Before that, quill work, using dyed porcupine
      quills, was a preferred form of decoration.
      The stiffness of the quills made them more
      suitable for geometric design.

      Abundant plant life in the Cherokee  regions
      suggested the use of curvy forms with leaf
      and floral patterns in their beadwork and
      basketry designs.

      Significant tribal symbols relating to the
      Cherokee cosmology are also prevalent in their
      art works.

      Among them is the Sky Dome, a half circle
      resting on two parallel lines, with a pair of
      simplified plant forms springing from the
      dome's top. The dome signifies the arc of the
      sky, the parallel lines the earth. The plant
      forms represent the celestial tree of life
      that stands at the center of the Native
      American world, bearing the sun and the moon
      aloft in its branches.

      Symbols in Cherokee Indian Beadwork
      Symbols enhanced by elaborate scrollwork,
      was often used to adorn women's leggings.
      Other Native American tribal motifs include
      the sun in stylized form, the celestial tree
      as a floral Indian design with fruits, the
      mythological Native American turtle upon
      which the earth was built and other animal
      clan Indian figures.
        Below: Cherokee Native American bead
        moccasins, 1910
        Below: Cherokee Indian beadwork reported to
        be woven by students in 1940 at the Cherokee
        Female Seminary in Park Hill, Oklahoma.
        1920 tobacco bag
        Below: A Native American
        1900 Cherokee vest with
        beadwork designs.
        Cherokee indian beaded shirt
        Cherokee native american beaded moccasins
        Cherokee tobacco bag with beadwork
        Cherokee native american bead pincushion
        Above: Cherokee beaded pincushion, 1890
        The 18th century Indian bead shirt
        (top/right) is an example of the use of
        symbols. Notice the white Indian beads
        on the edges of the garment, and a lacy
        design of stylized flowers springing from
        tiny triangles with a row of beaded
        Indian curves simulating scalloping
        .

        Notice that even today, Cherokee
        beadwork has elements reflective of
        the Victorian influences of the 1800's.

        Their beading became fuller and more
        florid, creating an embossed, bas-relief
        effect and often covering most of the
        background. A wider color range brought
        in more dark and medium tones.

        Examples abound in the form of pouches
        and purses, pincushions, caps and such
        made for tourists. For instance, in late
        1890, they began copying a European
        decorative art form used in creating the
        Tuscarora beaded handbag.

        It was and cut in a perky curvaceous
        shape, and covered with floral elements
        sophisticatedly worked in red, blue,
        white, yellow and other colors, the whole
        framed by a variety of neat white
        borders.

        Pincushions made to hold long hatpins and
        sewing needles were one of the most
        popular items sold by early beading
        fabric were one of their specialties.

        They would frequently use beads to
        form a six-pointed star embroidered in
        white beads with a black center
        containing a white eagle bearing an
        American flag on each wing.

        Headgear took the form of heavily
        beaded caps for sports, for smoking and
        for general use. Of the sports caps,
        reminiscent of the ubiquitous baseball
        toppers that men wear today except
        that they have shorter visors. They
        usually were heavily encrusted with gray
        floral beading on a dark gray ground.


        Many Photos Courtesy of Denver Museum
        Archive and Library of Congress
        Cherokee beaded necklace
          Native American Art Heading
          Photo from the Commons in Wikipedia of beadwork reportedly done at the Cherokee Women's Seminary around 1940.