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Besotted with beads

Deana Ward’s “Golden Butterfly Medallion.” (Courtesy of the artist)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The art of stringing together microscopic beads into dazzling patterns came late to Deana Ward.

A proud Choctaw from Durant, Oklahoma, she works as a psychologist during the day and beads at night. Ward is one of more than 100 native artists selling her work at the 2020 Virtual Winter Market at swaia.org through Dec. 11. The artwork ranges from jewelry to pottery, ornaments and more.

Today, Ward scatters beads across purses, medallions and earrings.

Consumed with earning her doctoral degree while raising five children, she had long been attracted to beadwork, but failed in her first attempts.

She moved to Albuquerque and everything changed.

At 42, she attended a Sandia Pueblo Resort social event for Choctaw people and discovered an old friend teaching beading.

“It just clicked,” Ward said in a telephone interview from Durant. “I went to a bead store and made these simple loop earrings. I started making beadwork that I liked.”

She took classes locally before moving back to Oklahoma. Sometimes, she draws out the work. At other times, she follows a template.

Her Choctaw friends told her she should start selling her pieces. She entered a beaded purse into a local art market. It didn’t sell, so she turned to local Native markets.

“I got Honorable Mention and that just made my day,” Ward said.

She entered a three-tiered medallion necklace into the Chickasaw market and won second place. The recognition fueled her self-confidence. She attended her first Santa Fe Indian Market.

“I wondered can I compete at that level because it’s the crème de la crème?” she said. “I went specifically to look at beadwork and I felt like I could be there.”

To her astonishment, she was accepted into the market in 2019 after just 5 years of beading.

“It’s like going from playing golf to winning the masters,” she said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Deana Ward’s 4-year-old son Hiloha wears a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle necklace. (Courtesy of the artist)

She created a beaded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle medallion for her son Hiloha’s fourth birthday.

His name “means thunder in Choctaw,” Ward said. “He was born during a thunderstorm.”

A golden butterfly medallion honors her favorite insect, the monarch. Rivulets of gold and bronze micro beads flow across its wings.

“I like things that fly,” she added. “We have a tribal sacred bird, the yellow bellied sapsucker, Biskini. It’s a messenger of good news”

The winged creature also dangles from her 2-year-old granddaughter Mila’s neck while she sports a traditional dress.

Deana Ward’s 2-year-old granddaughter Mila models a butterfly medallion in a traditional Choctaw dress. (Courtesy of the artist)

“My mother gifted her a Choctaw dress,” Ward said. “We needed a regalia set. This got so much attention.”

She beaded a lace collar in traditional Choctaw style as part of a set.

Ward’s fingers turned political for a new piece protesting the actions of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt.

“We have a governor I don’t agree with,” Ward said. “This governor basically went to war with the tribes as soon as he got into office.”

Tribal nations contribute millions of dollars in signed agreements to operate their lucrative casinos, Ward said.

Deana Ward beads an image of the Oklahoma governor as an opossum. The animal is a trickster in Choctaw culture. (Courtesy of the artist)

“He wanted 25%, which is outrageous,” she continued. “The tribes all banded together and said we have a compact through perpetuity.”

Tribal leaders have seen Stitt’s proposal as a continuation of generations of broken agreements between the state and tribal governments. Three tribes filed a federal lawsuit.

“He is such a trickster,” Ward said. “He presented himself as an advocate of the tribes.”

In Choctaw culture, the trickster is an opossum.

“He is a fun character,” Ward said. “So I put the trickster in a three-piece suit.”

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