Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beadwork began to flourish in the 17th century, as more and more trade beads came to North America through the fur trade. Glass beads first enhanced quilled pouches and then supplanted the quills as greater variety and colors of beads arrived. In the 19th century, Haudenosaunee beadwork devolved from a spiritually based activity, with designs guided by dreams, to souvenirs for tourists.
Locations such as Niagara Falls became excellent outlets for items referred to as “whimsies” by Euro-American collectors. Seneca, Tuscarora, and Mohawk craftspeople produced for a market that sought something handmade by a Haudenosaunee vendor. Handbags of great variety were made of cloth with decorative beadwork patterns influenced by nature. Careful selection of woolen cloth, ribbon, and colorful beads made for objects of simple yet elegant beauty.
Today women and some men have taken “raised beadwork,” a tradition of building up layers of beads, to new, Haudenosaunee beadwork heights. Inspired by the past and driven by creative energy, Haudenosaunee beadwork is alive and well in the 21st century.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.