You are here
Home > Arts & Culture > Whimsical wonders and beaded masterpieces

Whimsical wonders and beaded masterpieces

A number of beaded birds made by Caroline Taylor are featured in the “Whimsies” exhibition at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center. (Paxton Phillips, The Eastern Door)
[juiz_sps buttons=”facebook, twitter, mail”]

Hundreds of beaded “whimsies” are on display throughout the hallway of the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center as a part of a new exhibition.

Over a dozen Kahnawa’kehró:non contributed work to the exhibition – either a part of private collections they’ve acquired over the years, passed down from generations, or more recent works on the old tradition.

Some of Chellie Goodleaf’s private collection can be viewed in a large glass display.

Paxton Phillips, The Eastern Door
Paxton Phillips, The Eastern Door

“It’s from a museum – it was an auction of their surplus of their Iroquoian beadwork. These were some of the pieces,” said Goodleaf, pointing various pincushions on display.

The display is just a small part of her collection of traditional beading.

“I have Glengarry caps from 1800, purses from 1840 to 1910, those big beaded pillows – I have seven or eight of them,” said Goodleaf.

Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door
Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door

Goodleaf and fellow historical beadwork enthusiast Caroline Taylor were examining the beadwork while The Eastern Door stopped by the exhibition’s opening on Wednesday evening.

“We’re just trying to identify some of them. We’re looking at the beads. The Tuscarora worked with very small intricate beads, so usually you can tell right away if that’s Tuscarora,” said Goodleaf.

Paxton Phillips, The Eastern Door
Paxton Phillips, The Eastern Door

Goodleaf said the larger pincushion in the shape of a boot with white beads sewn to a purple material, was mostly likely made by a Kanien’kehá:ka.

“We’re known for the boots,” said Goodleaf.

The two examined the pieces looking for specific types of beads that give an indication of when the item was made.

According to Gerry Biron, a Vermont-based artist and independent research of historic beadwork, beaded pincushions and other whimsies became popular during the Victorian period.

Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door
Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door

“Victorians loved to embellish their homes with unique and exotic items and their parlours or living rooms were the perfect setting to display their collections,” Biron wrote on his Historic Iroquois and Wabanki Beadwork blog.

Haudenosaunee and other First Nations in Northeastern Canada and the United States made the fanciful items in abundance between 1890 and 1930.

The “whimsies,” also sometimes called “gee-gaws” or “tourist art,” were often sold around tourist destinations such as Niagara Falls as souvenirs.

Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door

Common shapes of the beaded souvenirs were often pincushions, birds, whiskbroom holders, canoes, slippers, boots, match holders, picture frames, wall pockets, watch holders, and horseshoes.

Many, like the ones displayed at the Cultural Center, are decorated with dates, aphorisms, flowers, or all of the above.

Today, many Kahnawa’kehró:non still carry on the tradition of beading whimsies. KOR’s exhibition features a number of recent work, including a handful of beaded birds by Taylor.

Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door

“The big burgundy bird I did with a course from Pauline Lahache – that was the first one I’ve ever made,” said Taylor.

She also has a star-shaped pincushion with an intricate design on display that she recently completed.

“A group of beadwork girls that I get together with – we do a gift exchange every Christmas and this year, I put a twist on it and said ‘I’m going to give you something to do.’

“So, I gave them all the stuff to make it. So, we all had the same exact thing, but they came out totally different,” said Taylor.

The exhibition runs until April 22 as a part of the fifth annual Cultural Awareness Month.

[email protected]

Dear Readers:

As an essential service that is still open during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Eastern Door is fighting hard to keep news like this flowing, in our print product, though an online subscription at and here, for free, on our website and Facebook.

But when a large portion of our regular revenue has disappeared due to so many other businesses being closed, our circulation being affected by the same issue, and all of our specials canceled until the end of the year, we are looking for alternative ways to keep operations going, staff paid, and the paper out every Friday for you to enjoy.

Please consider a financial contribution to help us keep doing what we do best; telling the stories of our people in a contemporary medium – a solid, continuing archive that documents our cherished, shared history. Your kind donation will go to a newspaper that stands as the historical record, in-depth, informative and award-winning news; colourful stories, and a big boost to the local economy by employing 95 percent local workers.

Also, please consider subscribing to our e-edition, which comes out Thursday night, at today, or pick up your copy Friday morning in Kahnawake, Kanesatake or Chateauguay. Akwesasne delivery has been suspended due to the pandemic and border issues.

We exercise real freedom of the press every single day. Without our reporters fighting for the truth our community would be missing a whole lot of facts, separated from gossip and rumors.

E-transfers are accepted and very much appreciated at: [email protected]