Several years ago on a trip to Santa Fe I visited the Museum of International Folk Art. There happened to be a huge festival that weekend and I wandered around in awe, blown away by the weaving, paintings, and especially taken by the intricately etched gourds from Peru. But it was in the museum gift shop that I fell in love.
It was the Huichol beaded bowls that stopped me in my tracks. I was instantly smitten with them, mesmerized by the vivid color combinations, the intricacy of the patterns created by hundreds of tiny little beads, a stunning micro-mosaic inside a hollowed out gourd.
I was on a very tight budget at the time, but I couldn’t leave without one. I splurged on one tiny little bowl, about 2” wide. I remember that when I got home I unpacked it gently and held it cupped my hands, wondering who did this? What is the story, the history? The meaning of the design? How is it done? I set it on my windowsill with a few other collected treasures.
Over the years I picked it up often to marvel at it. I became obsessed, wanting to learn this art and translate it into something of my own. A few months ago the bug got so strong I finally sat down to do some research. I read that that Huichol (pronounced wee-chol) Indians of central Mexico create their art as an expression of their spiritual beliefs. A shaman guides them on a yearly pilgrimage ending in a ceremony which induces a visionary state. Their art derives from their visions. Originally the Huichol decorated the hollowed-out gourds with bits of shell, seeds and stones to use as offering bowls to the gods. When glass beads became available, they began using them.
I then went on to read about they were made, coating the gourds with a mixture of beeswax and pine pitch, applying each tiny bead one at a time, by hand. This is my first attempt, a clumsy practice on the lid of a wooden box. I wasn’t trying to create a cohesive design – just playing with different patterns, getting used to the rhythm of applying the beads, experimenting with color.
Then I went on to my own little (wooden) bowl.With just two practice runs under my belt, I decided to create some lamps for my upcoming show at Childhood’s End Gallery this fall. (see post below). These two are made from wooden lamps each of which I decorated with about 4,000 beads . They are about 8 inches tall.
The next one started with a papier-mâché dress form. This one is called Party Girl. She's about 18 inches tall with the shade, and I used over 12,000 beads to create her dress. It took endless hours. I secretly pray no one will buy her…
I am working on another larger bowl now and the ideas haven’t stopped coming. I dream of beading furniture, musical instruments, a birdhouse, shoes, the list gets longer by the day. I can’t stop, I’m in love with the process. It’s very meditative and I can totally see why it’s a spiritual experience for the Huichol. Of course, Peyote is also an important part of their ceremonies. I think I’ll skip that part.