Some patterns form tribal symbols immediately identifying their origins. Others knit into complex designs producing figures and faces. Beads conveyed not only tribal, community and personal identity; they also communicated wealth, status, beauty and spirituality, as well as humor, popular culture and resistance.
“Beads: A Universe of Meaning” opens today in the Klah Gallery of Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, showcasing more than 80 works of art.
The exhibition traces the history of imported glass beads as a medium of currency and cultural expression dating back to Columbus and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Garments, bags, moccasins and articles of adornment shimmer and shine with lustrous embellishment, be they for ceremonial or everyday use. The earliest date to the 19th century.
The show highlights works by Columbia River Plateau artists in Washington and Oregon, famous for their pictorial designs, museum curator Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle said.