Contemporary Beads

Contemporary beadwork in exhibitions in the north-eastern United States;

incorporated into art or used as art jewellery or art wear;

or interpreted from American-Indian traditions.



The historical, practitioners of beadwork on the North American continent are the American Indians.


We rarely see their contemporary work because we are on the East coast and they, mainly, west of the Mississippi where many eastern clans were forcibly removed in the 1800’s and 1900’s.




Blanket Strip, 1830, tanned leather and glass beads.

Central Plains. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


Museum guidance is that the cross within the circle is a potent design element in Plains art. 

It symbolizes the circle of the world, the four directions and the sacred center.  The strip also conveys wealth and prestige.







Assemblage with Faces, 20th century,

glitter, paint, molded plastic figurines (Star Wars figures, putti, devils), decorative plaques, frames, shells, metal and plastic jewellery, buttons, beads, seeds, glass, stone, plaster, pine cones, and other found objects on wood; artist-made wood frame

Simon Sparrow, 1925-2000, American born West Africa.  Philadelphia Museum of Art


Simon Sparrow was born of Cherokee and West African parents and spent his childhood both in Yoruba territory in West Africa and on a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina.  He was a Christian and his work is steeped in religious iconography.







Beading in art and artisanal work outside of jewellery is rare presumably because the technique is labour-intensive.




Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly, 1978; wood, metallic, nylon, beads, studs, tassels, machine-knitted, appliqued. 

Susannah E. Lewis, American. Philadelphia Art Museum





Africa, c. 1980, glass beads on synthetic thread.

Joyce Scott, American born 1948.  Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC.














Game Fish, 1988, mixed media

Larry Fuente, born 1947, American.  Smithsonian Renwick Museum






Night in the City necklace, 1990, glass and metal beads, PVC, photo and laminated print, synthetic suede, nickel silver on thread, wire and monofilament. 

Joyce J. Scott, American born 1948.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY






Queen’s Closet, 1995, ceramic, wood, and beads.

Richard Cleaver, born 1952, nationality not given.  Delaware Art Museum

A piece full of the history of the six wives of Henry VIII who did not produce a male heir.







Kitchen, 1991-1996, beads, plaster, wood and found objects

Liza Lou, American born 1969.  Whitney Museum of (North) American Art


Every flat surface and three-dimensional object is covered with beads. The work is a comment on the social status of women in mid-20th century North America.





High-Tech War Shirt, 1997-1998, smoked hide, nylon netting, silk suiting, horse hair, metal, shell buttons, bead work with watches and necklace.

James Luna with the Fabric Workshop, Philadelphia. James Luna, 1950-2018, Payómkawichum, Ipi, and Mexican-American performance artist, photographer. 






Shoal (2003); limba and shedua. 

John Grade, American born 1970. Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC


Limba and shedua are West African hardwoods here formed into bead shapes.






Sound Suit #20, 2005, found sequins and hand-beading on fabric.   

Nick Cave, American born 1955.  Private collection


This is one of many such ‘sound suits’, the first having been made following the 1991 violent police beating of Rodney King, a construction worker in Los Angeles. 

Such an outfit, the artist proposes fantastically, would conceal individual identity in the face of institutional and individual aggression.





El Anatsui Between Heaven and Earth 2006 Metropolitan NY-2El Anatsui Between Heaven and Earth 2006 Metropolitan NY-4El Anatsui Between Heaven and Earth 2006 Metropolitan NY-5El Anatsui Between Heaven and Earth 2006 Metropolitan NY-7

Between Heaven and Earth, 2006, alumininium, copper, wire.

  El Anatsui, Ghanaian, born 1944.  Metropolitan Museum, NY.

A type of iconostasis which is itself a veil made of religious icons separating secular from sacred space. 

In this case the iconography relates to the celebrated Akan and Ewe kente cloth, stripwoven textiles, translated into metal.  




Dusasa II, found aluminum, copper wire, plastic disks, 2007.

El Anatsui, Ghanaian born 1944.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY








Din Avec La Main Dans Le Miroir, 2008, acrylic, rhinestones and enamel on wood panel.

Mickalene Thomas, American born 1971.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia






PixCell Deer #24, taxidermied deer with artificial crystal glass, 2011. Kohel Nawa, Japanese born 1975.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


The artist covers found objects including taxidermied animals with glass beads so that the original form is magnified and reflective and somewhat distorted.







Din, une très belle négresse #1 (Din, a very beautiful black woman #1), 2012; rhinestones, acrylic, oil and enamel on wood panel, and detail.

Mickalene Thomas, American born 1971.

Loaned by the Jimenez-Colon Collection, Ponce, Puerto Rico to the Wallach Gallery, Columbia University, NY in 2018/19





If we live through it, She will carry us back, 2014,  paint, paper, lace, wood, beads and collage on vinyl. 

Wangechi Mutu, American born Kenya 1972.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.


A work in the lineage of the utopian Afro-Futurism which posits a future in which black and brown citizens of the world control their own destinies.







Flourish me different in wind and breezes and drift set sale always in motion and mindful adaptation, in not yet settled fertile selection, in open folds and ceaseless creases, in remote reaches this was wrinkled and snagged touched stopped with what nature teaches came to shed peel so these layers as evolution loosens makes us each time, every time this a tiny bit different. 2014

Steel, textiles, beads, pearls, feathers, fans. 

Rina Banjerjee, American born 1963 India. Private collection on loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2019






Plain weave, 2015, punched aluminum and stainless steel rings. 

Alison Schotz, American born 1964.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia





Blue, 2015-16, woven glass beads.

Liza Lou, American born 1969. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC





….doing what they always do…( when they grow up…), 2016; mixed media on hand-cut jacquard woven tapestry with beads, appliques, embellishments, broaches, plastic, glitter, fabric, embellished knapsack, plastic toys, handmade shoes, wall-paper fabric, feathered butterflies, and handcast ballons. 

Ebony G. Patterson, American born 1981.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia


An attempt by the artist to reclaim the childhood of the many African-Americans who have died on the cusp of adulthood.






Songlines: Cosmos, 2017, mixed media. 

Howardena Pindell, American born 1943.  Private loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021




Rachis Two, ink, acrylic paint, glass beads, copper leaf and gold leaf flakes. 2019. 

Ayana Savannah Harris, ndb.  On display at the Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia





Sonic Gate, 2019, Law of 9, powder-coated steel frame, mesh and handles,casters, copper- and nickel-plated bells, and metal rings. 

Hague Yang, Korean born 1971.  Exhibited at MOMA, NY in 2021




Sonic Handles for Head and Heart, powder-coated steel frame, mesh and handles,casters, copper-plated bells, and metal rings.

Hague Yang, Korean born 1971.  Courtesy of the artist and his gallery loaned to MOMA, NY in 2021



Sonic Coop Copper, 2019, powder-coated steel frame, mesh and handles,casters, copper-plated bells, and metal rings.

Hague Yang, Korean born 1971. Courtesy of the artist and his gallery loaned to MOMA, NY in 2021




Sonic Handles – Law of 3 Bodies, 2019, powder-coated steel frame, mesh and handles,casters, silver-plated bells, and metal rings.

Hague Yang, Korean born 1971.  Courtesy of the artist and his gallery loaned to the MOMA, NY in 2021






Birds of a Feather, 2017, glass beads, artificial sinew, wood, acrylic felt, druzy crystal, copper jingles, metal cones, nylon fringe and steel. 

Jeffrey Gibson, American born 1972.  Loaned to the Whitney Museum of (North American Art).





Wopila/Lineage, acrylic, glass bugle beads, synthetic sinew on aluminum panel, 2021.

Dyani White Hawk, Sicangu Lakota born 1976 in Madison, WI and lives now in Shakopee, MN, USA. Whitney Biennial 2022. 


The lineage of this work is the Lakota practice of creating abstract patterns using beading, painting and quill work (embroidery using porcupine quills). 

The artist expressed thanks in the title of this work to her ancestral and living communities.







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