Oral history interview with Martha Berry

OOHRP, Oklahoma State University
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Little Thunder: My name is Julie Pearson-Little Thunder. Today is Saturday, November 17, 2012, and I'm interviewing Cherokee bead artist Martha Berry for the Oklahoma Native Artists Project, sponsored by the Oklahoma [Oral] History Research Program at Oklahoma State University. We're at Martha's home in Tyler, Texas, out in the country. Martha, you were a relative late-comer to beadwork, but you quickly went on to win major awards with your bandolier bags and other cultural items. You've also taught beadwork, and your work has been reproduced in Art of the Cherokee [Prehistory to the Present], among other places. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Berry: Oh, I'm delighted. I'm absolutely delighted.

Little Thunder: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Berry: I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the time, we actually lived in Mounds, which is a tiny little place south of there, and lived there until the summer I turned eight when we moved to Tulsa. My father was with the National Bank of 1:00Tulsa, which later became Bank of Oklahoma. He got high enough in the bank that he couldn't commute and take care of cattle and do his job within the community, so we moved to Tulsa for him.

I finished growing up there, graduated Edison High School, class of 1966. I lived there, I met my husband there, married him, and actually gave birth to our oldest child there before we moved. I married an editor, newspaper editor, and we've moved a lot since then. (Laughter) We've lived a lot of different places, but that's just the way it goes.

Little Thunder: So you explained what your dad did for a living. Was your mom a homemaker, or did she work also?

Berry: No, she was a homemaker. She was the consummate volunteer, though, and she was an executive's wife. To just briefly tell you my upbringing, to tell you 2:00my dad's story, they were very poor after the land allotment and couldn't make a living on the farm. There wasn't enough land, so he came to Tulsa and got a job working nights at what was then the Exchange Bank of Tulsa and going to University of Tulsa all day. Forty-four years later, the bank had become the Bank of Oklahoma, and my dad had gone from working nights to being a senior vice-president.

Little Thunder: Wow, he really worked his way up.

Berry: My life was a banker's daughter, and my mother's life was a banker's wife. She was always very active in our lives and very active in--she was president of the PTA at every school I ever attended, Girl Scout leader, choir leader, all that kind of thing. She didn't work outside the home, but, boy, she worked. She worked.

Little Thunder: Yes. How about your grandparents on either side?

Berry: The only grandparent I ever knew was my mother's mother. They were all 3:00passed before. Actually, her husband was alive, but he died when I was six months old. She's the only one I ever knew, and she lived next door to us when I was a little girl when we lived in Mounds. She's the one that taught me to embroider, to do handwork. She loved to do handwork, needle-and-thread handwork. I wasn't even five years old, and she gave me a darning needle with yarn and sat me in her lap with her arms around me and taught me how to embroider.

I never knew either of my dad's parents. One of the reasons I got into [beading] (really, I mean the reason) was because all my female Cherokee ancestors had died before I was born and I didn't know what Cherokee women were like. I wanted to know things like what their hands looked like, and what tickled them, and 4:00what made them blush and made them laugh, what made them angry, and all those little things that you can't know of the dead.

Because I had this inner fight of "am I non-Indian, or am I Indian?" all my life, not knowing those women really bothered me because I didn't know what it was like. So I thought, "Well, you know what? I had this great bonding experience with my non-Indian grandmother, using a needle and thread. Is it possible that I could do the same work that my Cherokee grandmothers did and make all those little hundreds of decisions along the way when you make a piece, a garment, anything, and maybe find that bond that I just craved so much?"

I'm probably getting ahead of your questions. What I did was I went to the hobby 5:00shop, to Hobby Lobby, and got a stack of how-to books and all these materials and went home to do Native American beadwork, thinking I was doing what my Cherokee grandmothers had done. I, fortunately, continued to do research into Cherokee history and into my family's history, in particular, and I would run across a photograph of an artifact, a beaded artifact.

It would be, generally, a bandolier bag or a sash, sometimes moccasins, or I'd run across a portrait of a Southeastern tribal chief or a powerful person, and they would be wearing beadwork. None of it was like any of the stuff I was doing from the how-to books, and I began to realize that there was a big difference between the beadwork of my ancestors and the Plains beadwork. I have a great respect for Plains beadwork, but it isn't mine.


I wanted to what my grandmothers had done. That was the whole point was doing what my grandmothers had done. I started trying to find information, and there was just nothing there, so I started collecting photographs. That was the only thing I could do was collect photographs. I finally got the courage to write letters to the big museums back East, the Smithsonian, the Peabody, to ask them for photographs of Cherokee beaded artifacts and photographs or images of Cherokees wearing beadwork.

I got a good response. All of the photographs that came back were of artifacts prior to the Removal, and they're all in the Southeastern style. All of the photographs of Cherokees wearing beadwork were post-1922, and they're all wearing Plains beadwork. I thought there was a mystery of what happened because 7:00it's a beautiful art form. I just couldn't understand what had happened. In the Smithsonian envelope was an application for a grant, which allowed me to spend three weeks in Washington examining their artifacts, and it took off from there.

Little Thunder: And that was what year?

Berry: Well, it was 2000 because it was the year before 2001.

Little Thunder: Wow. Okay, great. Those are great research stories, and we'll explore them in a little more depth here. You sort of implied what was going on in terms of growing up around the culture and the language, but maybe you can talk a little more about what was there or not there for you just growing up.

Berry: Absolutely. It was important, I think, because I don't think I'd be here 8:00if I had--I'm not sure if I had been raised steeped in Cherokee stuff and going to stomp dances and all that, Cherokee art and that kind of thing,

I don't think it would've had the meaning to me. It wouldn't have been as precious as it is now. Every morsel of knowledge was a feast for me, and I just couldn't get enough.

My mom, God love her, she was--you can tell I live in the South--bless her heart. (Laughter) I was born in 1948, grew up in the '50s and '60s. It was a very conservative time in this country. It was during the [Senator Joseph] McCarthy era. You didn't want to be different. When we moved to Tulsa we were in the suburbs, and, of course, Dad was climbing up in the bank. There were a whole lot of people like my dad, who had moved from the Cherokee Nation or whatever Nation into Tulsa who could pass, and who did, and, you know, you didn't talk 9:00about your past.

I knew that there was something about me that my dad was very proud of, over which I had no control. I knew that there was something about the same thing about me that my mother was ashamed of and wanted to try to hide and made it very clear. I remember one incident in the second grade when the state of Oklahoma was paying for any Native American (don't get me started on blood quantum) one-quarter or more. The State of Oklahoma would pay the school to educate the child.

They gave us little forms to fill out. If you were Indian, you would take it home. I raised my hand because I knew I was Cherokee. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to do that at that point, second grade. I took this form home, and my mother hit the roof and made it very clear that I was never ever to bring that 10:00up, never to talk about it, never to tell anybody, and if it did come up for some reason, I was specifically told things I should say and ways I should say them to do the least damage, in her mind.

To this day, a vivid image of childhood was standing in our hallway looking at that hardwood floor with my little Mary Janes and my little lacey socks because I couldn't bear to look at her. She was just trying to protect me, but it bred in me this huge curiosity about, "How could it be that my dad is so proud of this and my mom is so ashamed?"

Little Thunder: Right. That's not a fun dynamic to deal with.

Berry: Well, and I think a lot of young people nowadays don't understand what it was like.

Little Thunder: Yes, they don't. So what is your first memory of seeing Native 11:00art or art that you would identify--

Berry: Oh, Willard Stone. My mom's best friend from age four on, her husband was Willard Stone's boss at Spartan Aeronautics or whatever it was where he worked. At Gilcrease back in the '60s (I was, like, maybe junior-high age, I think) he had an exhibit. It was relatively small. It was in a small room, but it was his beautiful work. For those who don't know who Willard Stone is, he was a Cherokee man who carved wood. The lines of his sculptures are--I don't know what he studied or if it came from his ancestors, but you can see in nineteenth-century beadwork the same lines that he sculpted. His work is absolutely breathtaking.


Because Mama knew Aunt Hattie, we were invited to this opening. I had never been to a gallery opening in my life, or a museum opening. They took me, and we went. Gilcrease had always been a favorite place for me. We looked at everything all over the building, but once I hit that room, I couldn't leave. I couldn't get enough. Mom and Dad would come and check on me and then go see something else and come back. Until they shut the place down that night, I couldn't leave that room. I just couldn't get enough. It was like eye candy. That is my first experience of art that was Cherokee that was different, that didn't look like what you normally, you know, all that stuff that we associate with Indian art.

Little Thunder: How about your first memory of making art, any kind of art?


Berry: Of course, embroidery with Grandma, although she drew the little design, drew the little flowers and whatnot. Probably my first experience with beads was as a little girl. We made little Christmas ornaments. We had little round styrofoam balls that had a little pipe cleaner sticking out, and Mama bought sequins and beads, mostly reds and greens for Christmas, and these special little pins. They were only about that long. (Gestures) You could take the pin, put a bead down, put a sequin down, and stick it in the styrofoam and cover these Styrofoam balls with this glittery--I do love me some bling, and it was sparkly! (Laughter) I was probably eight, nine, ten--well, probably about eight, third grade, something like that. I loved them! I don't know what it is about beads. They sound neat. They're heavy. They feel neat. That was my first 14:00experience with beads.

Then also when I got a little older, I had a white felt poodle skirt, which anybody who knows anything about the '50s and '60s, poodle skirt, which is a plain, white skirt. For various holidays we would take the poodle off, (it was just basted on) and we had hearts with sequins and beads for Valentine's Day. I forgot what we had for Christmas, and we had shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day. So on that day of whatever (and I think we had stuff for Halloween) I would wear that to school. A lot of the girls did that in those days. We'd take the old ones off and baste the other ones on. I helped Mama make the little sequined beaded hearts or shamrocks or whatever. I was drawn to those beads. I don't know 15:00what it is.

My daughter, my older one, works with beads sometimes. When she was in junior high, she started that. I think she would purposely spill the beads so she would have to sort them. Honest to God, I think she did. I don't know what it is. There's something about the beads that sucks you in. (Laughter)

I remember one time, one of the stories, when I was making little ornaments with sequins and beads, it's like, probably, hundreds of sequins and hundreds of beads on a particular ornament. You get in a routine where you pick up the pin, you pick up the bead. You had to lick your finger and then touch the sequin to pick them up because you can't pick up a sequin easily. I'm doing this hundreds of times, over and over and over again. I got watching TV, and I got in the wrong order. I licked my finger, I picked up a sequin, and I put it back in my 16:00mouth, and then I swallowed this sequin. I said, "Oh, Mama, Mama, I swallowed a sequin!" She said, "Oh, go eat a piece of bread. You'll be fine." (Laughter) And I was.

Little Thunder: Do any other art experiences stand out for you in middle school or high school?

Berry: The only two teachers who have ever hated me in school and that I did not get along with were my art teacher in elementary school, Mrs. Culp, and my home economics sewing teacher in junior high, Mrs. Whittaker. I don't know why Mrs.--well, I do know why Mrs. Culp hated me: because I would not paint things in order. I don't know. She and I just clashed. Anyway, Mrs. Culp didn't like me, and I didn't do too well in that class. That was in elementary school. Then in junior high, my home ec teacher, which would be the sewing teacher, she 17:00didn't like me because I had been sewing, sewing machine and everything, before I ever took my seventh-grade required home economics class.

Little Thunder: Was it your mom that had--

Berry: Yes, my mom. My grandmother was the handwork person, but my mama could use the sewing machine. She was an artist. She also could--I could point out a photograph of a dress in a fashion magazine, and my mama would make it for me. She made every stitch I wore until I was about eighteen and had taught me. I had started sewing early on with a sewing machine.

So I go to seventh grade, and Mrs. Whittaker said, "Well, this is how you do the hem. This is how--" You know? I thought, "Well, this is not how I do a hem. I'm not doing this. Too much trouble," and so she gave me a D. I got a D, which was unusual. I did get a D in chemistry later because I'm not a chemistry person, but the two classes I struggled the most with were art and sewing, of all 18:00things. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Oh my goodness. Difference in philosophies.

Berry: And a stubborn child. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: You attended Edison High School. Did you meet you husband at Edison?

Berry: Oh, no. He had just come home from--that's kind of a cool story. I was an adult by then. I was twenty-four, and so was he, when we met. I lived in Tulsa in an apartment. I had a roommate. He had just come back from Vietnam. He was a photojournalist in Vietnam and had come back and was ready to settle down and start his life, so he got a job. He's from Kansas, originally, but got a job at, it was Tulsa Tribune at the time (it's no longer there) and had been in Tulsa for about three weeks and was kind of lost and kind of lonesome, well, very lonesome.

He met a girl, not me, but he met a girl and invited her over and was going to 19:00make pizza for her, and she stood him up. Hallelujah. She'll never know what she missed, but she stood him up. So here's this poor, lonely guy, and guys coming back from Vietnam, you know, it was not a good time. He had borrowed the pizza pan from his brother and sister-in-law, who happened to live in the same building I did, but I did not know them. She doesn't show up, so he gets in the car to take the pizza pan back. He pulls in the parking lot, and he sees me coming down the stairs.

I'm going to practice my evening exercise, which is hitting tennis balls up against the school building with no windows. It was a brick wall next to the apartment house. I come down the steps, and I drop my keys. I bend over to pick up my keys, and I drop my tennis racket, and I dropped the can of tennis balls, which go in three different directions. (Laughter) This is his first vision of me: a little klutz, cute but klutz. He pulled in and parked and got out of his 20:00car and comes.

I see this tall drink-of-water gorgeous guy carrying a pizza pan walking toward me. I'm kind of gathering everything up, and I stand up. Here's this gorgeous guy, and I smiled and said, "Hi," which is what you always do. You always smile and greet people. I guess not everybody does that, but I do. He smiled and nodded and went on.

I go over, and I'm hitting tennis balls against the building. Well, I find out later he rushes in my entrance of the building, charges through the building, bangs on his brother's door, and says, "Here's your pizza pan! Got to go!" Gets in his car, drives all the way back to his apartment, gets his tennis shoes and tennis racket and comes back to where he'd seen me go.

I heard a car pull up behind me about a half an hour later. I turned around, and if you've ever seen the movie Gran Torino, it was that car, coolest car ever in 21:001972. Here this six-foot-two-inch guy, tan, just home from Vietnam, unfolds himself from the car, reaches back in, pulls out a tennis racket and says, "Would you like to play tennis with something besides a brick wall?" First words he ever uttered to me. (Laughter)

He wanted to take me to dinner or whatever, a coke or something. I wouldn't get in the car with him because I didn't know who he was, so we sat on the curb. Oh, I also made him practice tennis, and if he was too good, I wasn't going to because I was embarrassed, and he was. I never did learn how to play tennis. (Laughter)

We talked until the sun went down. It was summer, so that was late. It was hours. He was so sweet and spoke so friendly. I wouldn't get in the car with him, so we talked for hours until the sun went down. He was so sweet and spoke so sweetly about his family (he's from a large family) and all about his life. I 22:00guess I was already in love. I finally decided, "This is a safe bet," so I did let him take me for a coke that night. Then our first real date was a couple of days later. Six months to the day after we met, we got married, and it'll be forty years about a month away now, December 24.

Little Thunder: That's a wonderful story. Now, you did attend college a little bit?

Berry: Yes, a little bit. I always had a tug of war with my mama, God love her. She always had outlined to me where I would go to school, what I would major in, what I was going to do. I, again, stubborn child, I was rebellious enough that I wasn't going to do that. I finally decided after years of this all through high school that I would wait and not go to college. So I did.


I started in the working world right out of high school. It was probably, I guess, two years after that that I started taking night class. I took night classes at University of Tulsa, and I did that for two or three years, I think. By that time I had met Dave, and we were married. I got to doing the math and figuring at that rate I'd be forty-two before I graduated. I thought, "I'm not going to do this."

I did, after our youngest started school. At that time we were in Arlington, Texas, and I did go to University of Texas, Arlington, for a few classes again. Those were actually day classes because I had kids in school. That was when I decided, at age fifty-two. I didn't realize that you could start a career in 24:00your forties. (Laughter) Little did I know then that you could do that and have plenty of time to make something of yourself.

Little Thunder: So once you're married and you're raising your children, you're not really doing any handiwork of any kind, necessarily?

Berry: Making Halloween costumes for kids, that's about it, but yes. We started doing--Dave, my husband, got interested in genealogy research, so we were hoping to go back in four directions for the girls, both his parents and both my parents. As it turned out, the easiest genealogy we found was--I didn't think we'd ever find Cherokee genealogy. It turns out people keep records of things like that and way more. We've had to dig for some of the other relatives but, boy, not the Cherokee stuff. We found our Cherokee genealogy. This would be 25:00around 1980 or so, clear back to 1750. That began the interest in reading.

I actually bought a history book one time. We had taken the girls to Gilcrease, had come back up to Oklahoma to visit my parents. By that time, Daddy retired. They had a ranch in Vinita, Oklahoma, and we had wanted the girls to see Gilcrease on our way back through town. We lived in the Gulf Coast of Texas at that time. We bought this history book, and in the car on the road home, Dave said, "Just for giggles, see if any of your Cherokee ancestors are in there." I thought [scoffs]. I opened it up, and they were. There was, like, page after page after page. I'm thinking, "My gosh!" I look up another name, and generation after generation they were in there. I had no idea, no idea that these people 26:00had been influential in their tribe at all, had no idea. So then I was hooked.

Little Thunder: Tell the story quickly about the great-aunt, was it, or the Native woman who got a PhD.

Berry: Oh, yes. This was my grandmother's sister. All of my grandmother's siblings, they all went to Cherokee Seminary, male and female. Her sister, older sister, is Dr. Rachel Caroline Eaton. We always call her Aunt Callie, but it was Dr. Rachel Caroline Eaton. She is, as far as we know, as far as we've been able to find out, the first Oklahoma Indian woman to earn a PhD. She went to the Cherokee Seminary, and then from there, all the kids went to Drury College. Then Callie went on to University of Chicago, which is where she got her PhD.


She became a great educator. Her interests were Cherokee history and education, history in general but particularly Cherokee history. She went back later and taught at the Cherokee Female Seminary where she had gone to school, although it was in a different building by that time, and had a distinguished career as a professor and dean of history and so forth, dean of women at various universities and then later went back to Oklahoma.

Daddy's family came from Sageeyah, which is right outside Claremore, Oklahoma. She went back and became the first female superintendant of schools for Rogers County in Oklahoma. She was a real trailblazer and very much a feminist, actually, in those days. She was married for a brief time and divorced in those days, which was kind of unheard of. She has begun to get some attention the last 28:00few years. People have realized who she is. There's a woman now writing a book who has a chapter about Callie, about women, influential Native women and so forth.

She has written a couple of books. She was a fabulous writer. Her book, John Ross and the Cherokee Indians, the chapter about the Civil War was used as an example in college and university composition courses on a fine example of writing for many years. Up until the 1960s, that book was outside reading for Cherokee history or Native American history classes at University of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma, sorry, I know that's competition. (Laughter) She really was a person that we were all proud of, very proud of. She actually helped my 29:00father. She's the reason my father got to go to college. Do you want me to tell that story?

Little Thunder: Yes, sure.

Berry: Well, he graduated from high school in 1929. It was a terrible time to be looking for work. He managed to get a menial job at a bank in Claremore, Oklahoma, which was near where they lived, and worked there for several months. Finally in the winter of 1930 he, through Aunt Callie, got an interview with the National Bank of Tulsa, which at the time was Exchange Bank. He had this interview set up, and a blizzard came. There was no traffic, and here was this chance to get a job during the Depression and in the Dust Bowl.

The train ran across the back of our allotment property, and my daddy put his 30:00good shoes and his good pants in a bag and put his work pants and boots on, hiked back there and flagged the train down, rode the train into Tulsa, changed his clothes. He walked into the bank and walked into this guy's office, and the first words out of the guy's mouth were, "You're hired. Anybody who would come to this interview today, I want working for me." That is the one and only job interview my father ever had. He never said a word. (Laughter) I don't know how I got off on that, but anyway.

Little Thunder: I love that story. That's a wonderful story. (Laughs) Okay, so you go to Hobby Lobby, fast forward...

Berry: I go to Hobby Lobby.

Little Thunder: --in the 1990s. Is that right?

Berry: Yes, it would've been about '91. I guess about '91.

Little Thunder: You buy these beads and these books, how to bead. What was one of your first projects?


Berry: I want--to show you. I've still got it. This is my inspiration drawer. Whenever I get to feeling discouraged, I get my old, old, old stuff I think it's not something I want to do anymore. I'm not going to show you everything, but I'll show you this. This was one of them. Ta-da!

Little Thunder: Wow! (Laughs)

Berry: All right, we'll put that back. Anyway, so that's a Southeastern design, but it's on Plains beadwork.

Little Thunder: Yes, yes. So you already--

Berry: Yes, so I already knew.

Little Thunder: How did you become familiar with those designs?

Berry: My family had known Anna Mitchell's family for generations. Victoria Mitchell is her daughter. My dad headed the agribusiness department for the bank 32:00and worked with the person who is now Victoria Mitchell's husband, Bruce Vasquez, and had worked with him and the ranch that they now live on forever, I mean, for a long, long time. So we knew them that way, and then when Mother and Dad retired, they moved and bought a ranch just north of Vinita and went to the same church, the Presbyterian Church, where Anna went.

Mom and Dad were real proud of Anna, and they knew I had gotten interested in all this stuff. There was an article in Oklahoma Today about Anna, and it had pictures of her pottery. I was first exposed to those designs that way. Then I don't know when--I can't remember when I found out about the book Sun Circles and Human Hands, but it is a treasure trove of Southeastern, pre-contact art. I 33:00don't remember the order in which things happened, but, anyway, it may be when I went to the library.

I used to go to the library here when I was first doing research on beadwork because I couldn't even ask a research librarian to pull books for me because if you find something it's because you just happened on it. I went to the actual shelves where the Native American books are. I mean the non-fiction. I would pull a book out, look at it, see if there were any pictures of what I had come to know was Southeastern stuff, and I would also look at the bibliographies.

I began to realize there are certain books in every bibliography. That's probably when I figured out that Sun Circles and Human Hands was a must-have. I did that, I mean, you know, book after book after book, trip after trip after trip to the library just to get tiny bits of information. That's when that started.


That's when Anna--one of the reasons that I figured out that maybe this could work was because I knew that Anna Mitchell had started from no knowledge to reviving the art of Southeastern pottery, Cherokee pottery, hand-coiled. I thought, "It can be done. It can be done. Not that I could do it, but it can be done." I thought if I could knock on enough doors and enter enough contests that maybe it could be done.

I have to give a lot of kudos to Tom Mooney, who is the archivist at the Cherokee Heritage Center. At the time, years ago, he was the curator/archivist/the guy that works in the basement. I knew Tom from 35:00toddlerhood. He was born and raised in Mounds, and his daddy and my uncle were best friends growing up. Tom was aware of the differences in beadwork, and so when he found out I was doing this, he was very supportive. That venue has been very good for this work, and the Cherokee Heritage Center has been behind it 100 percent from the beginning. Anyway, I can't remember exactly when everything happened, but you know--.

Little Thunder: At some point you met Anna in person?

Berry: Oh, yes. I actually met Anna and her daughter Victoria at about the same time because the then curator of the Heritage Center, Aaron LeMaster--Vic had come back and started to work with pottery with her mother. Vic, Victoria, had lived in California. She'd lived in Houston, and here I came. We had a real 36:00similar background, and we're both trying to get involved in Cherokee art at the same time. Aaron thought we would be good for each other, which we were. We're best friends now, which is kind of cool to have a best friend that's 350 miles away. Thank God for the internet. (Laughter) Aaron kind of encouraged us to get together, and we did and met.

I would've met Anna much before. I had opportunities. Every time I went to Vinita I had the opportunity. Every time I went to church with Mom and Dad I had the opportunity. I was so in awe of her. I mean, I remember the first time I met her I was a blithering idiot. She kept saying, "I'm not that special. I'm not that special." I was at the foot of a goddess. I think I could've really known her longer and learned more from her had I not been so intimidated by her.


I mean, wow, her talent, her intellect, her wisdom, and her tenacity. I look at her, and I think, "Okay, I do beadwork, and I goof up, and I can rip it out or whatever." Anna makes a pot that she doesn't know how to make, fires it in a way she doesn't know how to fire, and then she takes it out, and it's cracked. I can't even imagine the tenacity it took her to master that. I would've gotten discouraged.

That is one promise I made to myself, though, when I started was that I would never start a project until I'd finished the last one. I'd never leave a project undone because I knew I would wind up with a drawer full of unfinished projects and never get anywhere. I've kept that. One time I had a special thing that had 38:00to be done, and I set something aside and did the other thing and then went back to it. That's the only time I've ever done that. We laugh because--we live out in the country. We have a septic system. I don't have a garbage disposal. We've laughed that's a good thing because usually about two-thirds of the way through a piece of beadwork, I want to run it down the garbage disposal. (Laughter) It's never good enough. I learn from every piece I make, and I hope that never changes. If that ever changes, put me in the ground because then it's time to stop.

Little Thunder: One of the things that you've become well-known for are your bandolier bags. When did you first become aware of bandolier bags? You might tell us what they are, first, and then how they first aroused your interest.

Berry: It's interesting you say that because I remember one of the first photographs I ever had of a bandolier bag. I thought they were the ugliest 39:00things I'd ever seen because they're so different from all these images that I grew up with and that most people to this day grow up with, images of powwow beadwork, because you see so many, of course, at powwow. Here's this thing called a bandolier bag, and I thought, "What is that?" The designs were different, you know, and I thought, "Eww."

A bandolier bag is a pouch that is--the strap is about three or four inches wide. The center of the strap rests on one shoulder, and the strap goes across the chest and across the back, hence the name bandolier. Then there is a pouch on the other end of the strap, which rests on the opposite hip. They are not as intriguing as early nineteenth-century sashes. Those are the most intriguing pieces because there's so much mystery, and if you get me started on that, it'll 40:00be tomorrow night before you get out of here. (Laughter) There is so much mystery about sashes.

Bandolier bags are really the hallmark piece for several reasons. They were beautifully made, exquisitely made, bold color. The only background fabric that they had was either a dark navy blue or scarlet, so all Southeastern beadwork you see is on those backgrounds. The bead colors are just dynamic. They naturally, when displayed with the two sides of the strap and then the pouch here, naturally draw your eye to the center of the flap. If you're trying to make a statement, that's where you want it to be. The cool thing about the flap is that bandolier bags were made all over North America. Even some of the Plains 41:00tribes made bandolier bags for their horse accoutrements that were worn this way instead of in a bandolier fashion. The only bandolier bags, essentially from the very beginning of a really complete, mature art form [that] have this distinctive triangular flap were the bandolier bags in the Southeast.

Now, the reason that's important is prior to contact, we know from the excavations of the mounds, shell carvings, stone carvings, metal incisings, you see human effigies. In most of these, the characters, the humans in them, are wearing a pouch on their side. There is a flap on the pouch that basically comes down like that and comes to a long point, and it's worn on the side.


Now, fast forward several hundred years to beadwork in the early nineteenth century. Here the only people in North America that made bandolier bags that rest on your [side] and come to a point were the descendants of the mound builders. This is one of those things that connects nineteenth century Cherokee with their pre-contact predecessors. There are other things, too, in our beadwork that does that, and one of them--do you want me to talk about sashes--

Little Thunder: Yes.

Berry: --or is this too early?

Little Thunder: No, no, no, that's great.

Berry: Well, the sashes, there are so many things about them that make them so different. I refer to them as ceremonial sashes because it's clear that they were not worn for the same reason as bandolier bags. I mean, people carried stuff in their bandolier bags. They wore moccasins, they wore the leggings, and they wore what they call garters, or the knee bands to hold their leggings together and so forth, all these different pieces of beadwork, but sashes really 43:00stand apart. First of all, the materials are different. In all the other pieces of beadwork, there's bold color, none of this "You can't wear plaids with stripes," kind of thing. I mean, if they had the beads, they used them, and they're gorgeous color palettes.

With rare exception, the pre-Removal sashes from the nineteenth century all use white beads and nothing but white beads, so that's how the materials are different. There is a technique--well, I'll get to that in a minute. There is a design that appears on sashes that goes directly back to pre-contact Southeastern mound-builder pottery, and it is on every single pre-Removal Southeastern beaded sash I have ever seen.


Little Thunder: What's the name of that design?

Berry: Well, it's basically an S curve, but there's a coil within the S. Basically you have this, coming down to this. (Gestures) Okay, well, why is this mysterious, and why is this important? If you've ever been to--I have to be careful when I talk about this because I'm not qualified to talk in depth about stomp dance, but I will say this because it's important that you understand that there's a connection between, in spite of all of our changes, nineteenth-century beadwork--there's a connection directly back to pre-contact, and this is one of them.

If you ever go to a stomp dance, several times during the night there are dances that the dancers are going counterclockwise around the fire. Then at some point the lead dancer, which is a man, takes the hand of the woman behind him, and then all the dancers take hands. Then the lead dancer starts weaving through 45:00those dancers out away from the fire, and he comes down and leads the dancers into another circle someplace else. That is that symbol, and the really cool thing about it is the technique that is used on sashes, that is a stitch that is only used in Southeastern beadwork. It is only used on sashes, and is called a two-bead line stitch or a two-bead flat stitch. It is so elegant. It's brilliant!

The beaders take a horizontal bead and a perpendicular bead, horizontal and perpendicular, to make sort of a lacey look but within the fabric. It's not on the edge, not like two-bead edging. It's within it, and the sashes use this. They do that with one stitch. They do the horizontal and a perpendicular with one stitch. Once I finally figured out how to do it, I thought, "That is the most brilliant thing I've ever seen," once I finally figured it out.


So what looks like two rows of beads, a horizontal and a vertical, is actually one row of beads, but it appears like a little trail, like little footsteps, exactly like the little shuffling footsteps that you do at a stomp dance. That stitch, like I said, was only used on sashes. Sometimes it's used exclusively, and sometimes it's used to outline the other designs on the sash. It's one of those really intriguing things. We know that we have a quote from an elder, Eastern Band elder, saying that they used beadwork designs to teach the old ways under the watchful eyes of the missionary instructors even into the early 1900s. So that is absolute proof that they did that.


Little Thunder: That's wonderful.

Berry: Like I said, I'll go on all day if you get me started! (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Thank you for sharing that. When did you enter your first competitive award with your beadwork, and what kind of a piece was it that you entered?

Berry: Oh, gosh. Actually, I entered what was the Homecoming Art Show way back before I was doing--I was still learning to make bandolier bags and things. I was afraid to show them because I really didn't know if--and sure enough, I was using the wrong materials. I had so much to learn. I was using these big honker beads. I like tiny beads now. (Laughter) Anyway, I call them laddy beads because they are big, fat beads. This was the Cherokee Homecoming Art Show way at the back of the very beginning when there were just a few entries. I'm not sure they even gave awards. It may have been an exhibit at first. I took Plains pipes and 48:00did peyote-stitch illustrations of Cherokee myths, the message being, "What the heck is a perfectly good Southeastern tribe doing on the Plains?" I showed those, two or three of those, I think.

I remember I think the first ribbon I ever won was at the Homecoming Art Show. It would've been later. It was a little purse that was actually an Iroquois raised style. I know it's Haudenosaunee. I know that, but the style of beadwork is called Iroquois raised. I had at least figured out the difference between Woodlands and Plains by that time, and so I was doing those.

I knew that there were little purses like that in the collections of Cherokee descendants. We know now that they got them through trade. We have then, since, 49:00found examples of actual Cherokee purses, which are different and which were the key to teaching this beadwork because they're small projects that a new beader is not intimidated to do, a beader can use, can give as a gift, display in a shadow box, carry with an evening gown, or whatever. That turned out to be the key to teaching this work.

Little Thunder: As you began entering competitive shows, who were some other bead artists you admired?

Berry: Richard Aitson, oh man. (Laughs) We didn't get along well at first because I don't think he liked the fact that here was this upstart coming up with this beadwork that nobody had ever seen before, and I was starting to compete with him for prizes. But I am in awe of him. I've always been in awe of him. Like I said, I love Plains beadwork. It's just that it isn't my work. He is 50:00such an incredible artist! Since then, we've become great friends.

He didn't get to show this last year because he has the same problem I do: he didn't have an inventory, or didn't have enough to make it worthwhile. I always like to sit down with him in his booth at Cherokee Art Market and get caught up. I always worry about him because he has terrible allergy problems, and that's right smack in the middle of fall allergies. He never feels very good, and I feel so bad for him. I got to meet his wife this last time because since he wasn't showing, he came to the show and brought her. She's real sweet. She's cute. He's a really fine man and a distinguished beadwork artist. I really have a lot of admiration for him.

Little Thunder: How did you know how to price some of your early pieces?

Berry: (Laughs) Well, they got a steal, let me tell you. I'll tell you a quick 51:00story about the first--overnight I went from, "I'm never doing this again," to "Oh my God, this is going to work," in one night. It was the year 2000, June, and Tom Mooney had encouraged me to do a show at the Heritage Center. He had said something about it before, and I said, "I don't have enough time." Then he called me and gave me a year, so I couldn't--I was so scared, and I didn't have an excuse.

I beaded like a crazy person for that whole year. I borrowed two pieces, and then I had three other bandolier bags, and I had a belt and--oh, I forgot. There was a couple pairs of moccasins, and I don't remember. I had a number of pieces and did a little corner, did a one-woman show. It opened in June of 2000. It was 52:00all for sale, and it was up for the summer, I guess, until they got ready to hang the exhibit that they were going to show during Cherokee Homecoming. Thousands and thousands of people go through the Heritage Center.

Nothing sold, nothing. Not one thing. I thought, "If I can't sell--" and we have to go back and understand that Cherokees had never seen their own ancestors' beadwork because it stopped being produced by 1840. Most of the artifacts are not in Oklahoma. There's a handful of artifacts in Oklahoma. It was a very persistent belief that Cherokees didn't do beadwork at all, which is ridiculous. I thought, "Gosh, if I can't sell Cherokee beadwork to Cherokees--"

I had this funny feeling, and I call Tom, and I said, "Tom, if you've got room 53:00still for that little corner with this other exhibit coming up and you want to leave it there through [Cherokee] Holiday, I don't care if it sells, but I want to expose people. I want them to see it, get it in front of their faces." He said, "Sure," that they'd have to move it to a small little area, but that he would do that.

As every year, we go to Cherokee Holiday, we went up there on Saturday morning and walked in the door. There was a "sold" sign on one of the bandolier bags. I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. By the way, they were priced at five hundred dollars. Okay, this is in the year 2000. I couldn't believe it. I was so thrilled. We went back and did our Holiday thing and whatnot. We came back on Sunday and walked in there, and they were all sold. Everything was sold. 54:00I asked Mary Ellen Meredith, who has always been active with the Heritage Center, I said, "What happened? Who bought what?" She told me that the first one was bought by Rennard Strickland.

Little Thunder: Wow!

Berry: Wow, I know! My jaw dropped. I was speechless, which as we all know is unusual. Then I found out that the other people were--Wes Studi bought one, and, oh, what was his name? The guy they were honoring that Saturday night, he was president of [ConocoPhillips] oil company at the time. I can't think of his name now. Anyway, they were the ones who bought the three that were for sale.

Apparently there had been a reception that night for the ConocoPhillips Chairman 55:00of the Board, and he was Cherokee. Everybody who was anybody--we were not invited, but everybody who was anybody was invited, and it was at the Heritage Center. I don't know who said what to who, but Rennard Strickland was quite the little bandolier bag salesman. (Laughter)

Anyway, when I went up there for Cherokee Holiday, I thought, "I'm not doing this anymore. I can't sell it," and I came back, and I sold everything. So I really owe a great debt of gratitude, and, actually, that bandolier bag is now in Oklahoma. It's at the Fred Jones Museum collection because Rennard donated his whole collection. So, that's--yes, I went from giving up to "I can do this," in one night.

Little Thunder: That's a great story.

Berry: Anyway, that was five hundred dollars. Then somebody told me, they said, "Decide what you want to pay yourself and keep track of your hours," which, to this day, I keep careful track of the hours that I actually spend sitting down 56:00at the bench on a piece of work. "Multiply that by two," they said, "and that takes care of commissions or whatever and then cost of sale." Well, I don't have much cost of sale because beads are not expensive, terribly expensive.

I started doing that at ten dollars an hour. Now I've gotten to where I do it twenty bucks an hour, which considering there's like maybe a dozen people in the world who are accomplished at this particular kind of-- But anyway, the most expensive bandolier bag I've ever sold was two years ago, and it was for $8,100. So in a decade's time, they went from $500 apiece to $8,100. They've gotten much more elaborate, much smaller beads. I mean, I've improved. Anyway, yes, how do you price art?

Little Thunder: Yes, well, and beadwork's notoriously underpaid.


Berry: Yes. Bill Glass has a great line. When people ask him how long it took to make that, he'll say, "Sixty-two years," or whatever. I said, "Oh, I'm stealing that!" (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Are commissions a big part of your work?

Berry: They were. In fact, I really got in that commission trap. For a while, I was the only person doing this work, and people wanted it. It was less expensive, too, and I was selling it. It was so good to sell it. I was perpetually out of inventory and booked two years in advance. That went on for probably eight years, which meant that the work that I took to shows suffered because you didn't have enough time. The only big show, big show, except for Art 58:00Market that I've ever done is the Heard Show because I never had enough inventory to make it worth traipsing across the country, paying your booth and your hotel and food and all that stuff.

Finally, a couple years ago I thought, "This is killing me." It was just killing me, trying to keep up with getting the inventory done, and I couldn't have enough to go to big shows. So a couple of years ago I stopped taking commission orders, with extremely rare exception. Now I have the student beaders to whom I can give--I've never given a bandolier--I mean, I would give a bandolier bag, but none of them have ever made one yet. That's what I consider to be--if you can master a bandolier bag, you're a master artist. But moccasins and belts and sashes and purses and so forth.

I have this little list of beaders that if I get a request, I send it to them. 59:00I've finally gotten caught up, so now I'm excited again because it's my work. It's not commissioned. It's my color choices. It's my design choice. I'm really excited going into the next decade, that I've learned how to do it pretty well now, and I'm doing the work that I want to do. It's an exciting time.

Little Thunder: Let's talk a bit about when you started getting into making moccasins. It sounds like it was kind of simultaneous with the other types of beadwork.

Berry: Yes, I figured out that the types of beadwork I needed to be creating were bandolier bags, sashes, belts, moccasins, and then purses. I figured you can't be a Southeastern beader if you don't have the entire repertoire. Of course, Southeastern moccasins are real different from Plains moccasins. Their construction is completely different. It's made from--they're called soft-soled, 60:00center-seamed because it's made of one piece of leather as opposed to the heavy, thick buckskin at the bottom and then a lighter-weight leather on top. It's one piece of leather. It comes up around the foot, and there's a seam up the back and a seam up across the toe. It's kind of gathered a little bit so that it fits the curve of your foot.

I did those, and there are actually three styles of Southeastern Woodlands moccasins. There's the turndown cuff that you see, and then there's a high cuff, which is the cuff that's higher, kind of comes up, right at the bottom of the calf and with a leather thong that wraps around the ankle to hold it in place. Then there's an arched-cuff moccasin, which is basically the same moccasin as both cuffs turned down, but the cuffs are standing up, and instead of a point, they make an arch. That's my next moccasin project. I have actually not ever made a pair of those, but many of the artifacts that we find that are 61:00specifically Cherokee have that arched cuff. So that's my next project. I'm real excited about that, to do that. I wrote patterns for people because there's nothing else out there.

Little Thunder: I saw that on your website.

Berry: Yes, and I include all three styles in the moccasin pattern, but I haven't yet made that third style. I'm pretty excited about that. They're also lined. The artifacts are lined, too. It makes them easier to wear. You don't have to wear socks and everything.

Little Thunder: So there weren't any patterns available for those styles of moccasins before you did them.

Berry: No. There are books that talk about how to make a soft-sole, center-seam moccasin but nothing about the beading or anything like that. I've never seen a pattern for the higher ones. I had to figure out how to do that. I'd never seen 62:00one for the arched cuff, either. The turned-down cuff, there's a book about how to make moccasins and from the different geographic areas, (there's different ones) which is an interesting book.

Little Thunder: What was an award that was particularly important to you as you started entering the competitive shows?

Berry: People's Choice, I won one year at the Heritage Center. I won the People's Choice Award. I mean, every time I get a ribbon it's--I get nervous every time I go to a show. I get flabbergasted every time I win a prize. It blows me away. I've been blessed to win Best of Show a couple of times at the Cherokee Homecoming Art Show. The one that I love the most was the one that was for the People's Choice because that's when you know you're reaching people, and 63:00that's when you know the Cherokees are beginning to understand, "This is our beadwork." So bar none, that one, yes.

Little Thunder: Cool. So you have also started teaching beadwork.

Berry: Yes. Well, once it began to appear possible to revive this art form, I knew that there were three things that we had to grow. We had to grow beaders, we had to grow collectors to make it worth their while, and we had to grow brokers in the form of galleries and museums to bring the beaders and the collectors together. It never dawned on me that we would need to grow teachers. I never foresaw a point where I couldn't teach all the classes that anybody wanted. Not that I'm the greatest teacher, it's just that I never thought it 64:00would revive the way it has this quickly.

Tonia Weavel, who's the Director of Education at the Cherokee Heritage Center, who's another very, very dear friend, she's the one that encouraged us to start an advanced class so that I could teach the advanced class for them. Then we would start using other people who had learned to do it to teach the beginning class, which was brilliant because that's exactly what we needed: to train the teachers, too. That's where there's an Anna Mitchell influence. Once I get there, I love my classes. I love the people that are in them. I've met the sweetest people, just the sweetest people and devoted to the art form. I won't just teach the technique. I teach the vision.


I start with a PowerPoint that is a blitz of images of artifacts for an hour, hour and fifteen minutes, and it tells the story of the history of the beadwork. It's called "The Rise, Loss, and Revival of Cherokee Beadwork," because I want them to catch the vision and to see what an amazing art form it was, how dead it was, and to see their part in making history.

Every time I go, I learn from my students, and it's such a rewarding experience. But every time I prepare for class, I hate it. I feel this huge responsibility to do it and do it right, and it's a lot of work. Even though they pay you to do it, still you have to get the materials and you have to put the kits together. 66:00I'm always nervous about it because I want it to go well. Generally, it's a great experience. I've never had anybody be ugly to me in class or anything like that. They're adults; they're well-behaved.

That's one of those things that Anna Mitchell always stressed was if you have a skill that is an ancient Cherokee skill or an old Cherokee skill and you know how to do it, you have an obligation to teach. You don't have a choice. You have an obligation to teach. I took that to heart. It's exciting to know that we're growing teachers now, too. That's really pretty cool, and there's some really good ones. There are some good ones.

Little Thunder: Can you talk a little bit--I saw that there was a specifically titled Cherokee Beadwork Revival Workshop, I guess, that was sponsored around 2007.


Berry: I basically teach the same beginners class everywhere I go. I've taught it many, many times, year after year after year. It's an ongoing thing with the Cherokee Heritage Center. I taught three or four years. I've taught three or four times for the Creek Nation at their museum in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. I've taught it in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in Houston, at Philbrook. I spent a weekend at Philbrook one time in Tulsa. I've lectured. I've done a lecture in the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia and the [Bead] Museum in Glendale, Arizona, which is a part of Phoenix. I've been blessed to do that, to spread the gospel, basically, of Southeastern beadwork, but it's always basically the same 68:00beginning class.

Little Thunder: Okay. And that's what you call it, "The Revival."

Berry: Well, yes, the lecture is "The Rise, Loss, and Revival of Traditional Cherokee Beadwork." That's what the PowerPoint is, and then I usually teach the PowerPoint again for the advanced class. They tell me, "I'm so glad you did that again because I saw things this time I didn't see the time before." The only time I didn't do that was the year that we had the exhibit at the Heritage Center and we had the actual artifacts.

Little Thunder: That was one that you curated, correct?

Berry: I did. I did. That was a stunning experience.

Little Thunder: Tell us about the title and--

Berry: Well, the title was "Beadwork Storytellers: A Visual Language," and that is taken from a quote from Lois Sherr Dubin's book where she quotes an elder of the Eastern Band who talks about the fact that the people in the late 1700s and 69:00early 1800s used beadwork as a way to continue teaching the old ways, even under the watchful eyes of the missionary teachers and so forth. He said that the flowers and the other patterns and the bead colors had meaning, and he said they were messages and telegrams. This is an old quote, "messages and telegrams," and he said that beadwork was a visual language.

I've always considered it to be a visual metaphor for the time in which it was created because Southeastern and Cherokee beadwork and the other tribes, what it is, is all of a sudden they had available to them state-of-the-art materials, these bold, beautiful beads, bold-colored fabrics, and gorgeous silk ribbon and 70:00all kinds of colors. What they did was take their ancient design and construction influences and merge them with what was then state-of-the art materials to create this completely unique art form.

At the same time, they were merging their blood and the way they governed their people and the way they handled familial relationships, their religion. Everything about their life was being merged, and what they were doing was trying to preserve the best of both and discard the not-so-good of each. Beadwork is such a perfect visual example of that. I have no idea how I got off on that. What did you ask me?

Little Thunder: Well, about the exhibit and the title.

Berry: Oh, and so that's the reason we entitled that, was that it was a visual 71:00language. We have a benefactor who is always embarrassed and doesn't like to be identified, so I'm going to give her credit right now: Robin Flint Ballenger. Robin Flint Ballenger. she was and is a great patron of Cherokee beadwork. She got it from the beginning. She has the means to be able to be very generous, and she was very generous, and she wrote a fat check that started that exhibit. They asked me (this is the Cherokee Heritage Center) asked me if I would curate it. I was terrified, but I couldn't turn it down.

I began by amassing a collection of a list of the best beadwork that I knew of, some of which was in Europe. Most of it was in the States, but very little of it in--I think we had two pieces that were in Oklahoma. There was a bag here, and there's a piece here, and there's a piece here, all over the country. I've been 72:00at this twenty years, and I can't afford to make that trip. What we did was we brought the beadwork to the Cherokees. We amassed this collection, and then it came time to contact the curators.

Well, here I am; I never got my college degree. I was terrified, and I had this list of brilliant, talented, famous people. I thought, "Okay, I'm going to pick the one on this list that is the least likely to loan us something and let that be my throw-away first contact because I know I'll screw it up." (Laughter) I contacted Neil Curtis, who at the time was the curator of the Marischal Museum at the University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland. I thought, "There's no way. There isn't any way."

I sent him an email telling the story of what we were trying to do and thinking 73:00I'll never hear back. The next morning he's in my inbox, and I was terrified. I thought, "Oh my God, this is going to be a major rejection!" (Laughter) I opened it up, and he was so excited and so enthusiastic. That proved to be, with rare exception, a couple of exceptions, the attitude of all the curators. They got what we were doing, and they were very generous to loan. We got some exquisite work, exquisite work, and brought it all together.

I'd never seen art packed the way fine-art shippers pack. I mean, a crate for a bandolier bag, which is flat and like this, was hip-high on me and about this wide, thick wood, with it suspended in a little cradle in the middle. It cost a fortune to do the exhibit. It was the most expensive exhibit the Heritage 74:00Center, bless their hearts, has ever done. Mickel [Yantz] said, "Don't worry about the cost. I don't want you to even know. You just work on what you're doing."

Then we also did a book in conjunction with that. It's basically a catalog except that there were many pieces that were important that were not in the exhibit. There was some contemporary pieces, as well, that were not in the exhibit that were in the book. I'd never obtained permission to use a photograph before. Had no idea there's, like, a two- or three-page contract for every photograph. It was obviously a photo-heavy book because it was all about getting the images in front of their faces. I was in charge of all of that.

Then, also, I had two experts: Barbara Duncan, who is with the Eastern Band Museum, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, (she wrote a wonderful piece about 75:00Southeastern beadwork), and also Susan Power, who has written a book about Cherokee art. She wrote a piece, and then I wrote a piece. I don't consider myself a scholar or an expert. I am a student of. I don't have the credentials to be an authority on anything. I just told my story, the things that I had learned as I had learned them. It came out to a nice little book, and it was a really good opportunity for people to take the images home with them.

Little Thunder: And it was up for--

Berry: It was up for six months, 2008 into 2009, over the winter.

Little Thunder: What a wonderful thing.

Berry: Yes, it was great. The class that I taught during that time, instead of having the PowerPoint, actually got to go over and see the stuff that I have in my PowerPoint, the actual thing. It was pretty amazing.

Little Thunder: Talking about your techniques and process a little bit more, how 76:00do you think your beading palette has changed over the years?

Berry: Well, I used to be very conscious of Cherokee colors, which of course vary from clan to clan and time to time. Basically it's east, north, west, south / red, blue, black, white, which is great, but it's boring because there's no yellows, there's no greens, and I'm a color freak. I mean, I have visceral reaction to colors, sometimes good, sometimes not good. The delight of Cherokee beadwork is that it was an explosion of color.

I have become freer with my choice of color. Of course, I have to use navy blue 77:00or scarlet background, have no choice there, to be authentic in materials. I've been a little bit freer with the colors that I choose and worked in pastels and so forth. By using inlay, I can use pastel beads on a fabric inlay. I can use a pastel bead on a navy blue or whatever and have the true color come out.

I think I've become more subtle, and I've got my rainbow wall of beads over here, which is a full color palette that I can pick from. I do still tend to pick either four or seven colors to do because two, four, and seven are important numbers to Cherokee. When I use those numbers, things turn out right, and when I don't, they don't. I don't question it anymore. I just do it that way. I love color, and I feel more comfortable taking an artistic license 78:00knowing that the beads are still glass and they're still European seed beads. I can still, for the most part, use them as authentic materials, but if I want to use a color that is not typical of those beads and I have a specific reason for doing it artistically, then I do it. It doesn't bother me anymore.

Little Thunder: Do you sketch out your designs beforehand?

Berry: Oh gosh, yes. Yes. When you look at the old artifacts, then, as now, there were good beaders and not such good beaders, but it's very clear that the good beaders sketch. There's no way you could've done those things freehand. There's no way because some of them were very meticulous and very tiny beads and beautifully done.

In a bandolier bag, for example, you have three surfaces, shapes. You have a long, thin shape for the strap, then you have a triangle, and then you have a square for the pouch. Designs have to be made to fit, and I do cheat a little 79:00bit. (Laughs) Obviously I use electric lights. I use a steam iron when I'm done. Those are modern. But when it comes to design, if I find a design I like, I use my scanner or copier to shrink it. Then I think, "Okay, this has to be two and a half inches to get it the size that it needs to be." I don't care. I'm not ashamed of that. (Laughter)

I can't draw a stick. If I could draw, I'd be a painter and make big bucks, but I can't. I take basic designs sketched on a piece of paper, and then I figure out how much space I have to fill, which determines within an inch or two the length of the strap and also the size of the pouch. The proportions are extremely important because Delaware and Shawnee bags later came to look more and more like Southeastern bags, but their proportions are very different. 80:00Proportion is real important to maintain the Southeastern look.

I start with sketching, and then I take quarter-inch graph paper, and I draw everything out and erase and draw and move and erase and draw until I have the exact design I want. Then I go over that in a black marker so I can see through fabric. Then I take an unbleached muslin and lay it over that, and I take a Rub-A-Dub [laundry] marker that will not bleed or fade and go over the design on the muslin. Then (I can show you this later, closer) that goes underneath on the hoop, and I draw that. Then I baste along those lines so that the design comes out in thread on the top. I can show you that later. It goes from the muslin 81:00then so that the only thing on top of the red wool is the stitching, the design in stitches, and then bead it from there. Then you put the finishing touches, put the ribbon on.

I'm big on materials because I just love them. I could say, "Oh, because it's authentic," which it is authentic and that's important, but I fell in love with materials. At first, when I started, I thought, "Unless I'm doing moccasins, I won't be beading on leather." Everybody thinks you have to mess with leather if you're Native American. Well, they didn't. The cloth, I've come to love the cloth. I use 100 percent China silk ribbon, which makes beautiful edgings for everything. The lining materials are the cotton calico prints like they used to 82:00use. I'm a stickler for materials.

Little Thunder: And trade cloth, too.

Berry: Yes, I use either stroud cloth. They make it now the way they used to make the stroud cloth, which, by the way, that's kind of a funny story. I kept collecting photographs and learning from books, and they would say, "Glass seed beads on red stroud, blah, blah, blah. Red stroud, blue stroud, stroud, stroud, stroud." I thought, "I have been in fabric stores all my life. I've never heard of stroud." I swallowed my pride, and I went to the fabric store, and I said, "Do you carry stroud?" They looked at me like I was totally crazy. I went through and looked at every label. I knew it was wool, and, of course, I live in a hot climate. Still, there was no wool stroud.

By that time there was enough internet that I could do some research, and I found out that during the time of the American Revolutionary War and then on up through our Removal (and after it, I assume, but we kind of quit using that) 83:00there were copious amounts of this woolen cloth made in Stroud, England, a little town southwest of London on the coast. They shipped it over here, and they also used it to make uniforms. "The Red Coats are coming," well, that was red stroud.

About the time I was getting into this, they began to make stroud cloth for Revolutionary War reenactors the same way that it had been made, exactly the same way. So I get my cloth from Revolutionary War reenactor supply houses, and I get the ribbon from a place called Wooded Hamlet [Designs], which is also a reenactors' supply house. I get the yarn. I've gotten it from all over places, but it's hard to find wool yarn in Texas. It's hot. I get it now from South America, Peru. Then the beads all come through a Native American--like a powwow 84:00supplier, but I'll only use European, German, French, occasionally Italian, and Czech seed beads.

Little Thunder: Great. In terms of research, you've sort of described some of the kinds of research you do, but maybe to pick up with your apprenticeship that you got to do at the Smithsonian briefly, what was the surprise in your research then?

Berry: Well, it was--I got a grant. I'm not sure they even offer it anymore. It was called the Native American Community Scholars Grant. That's for people like me who are not professional scholars but they are working to help revive and study and do accurately their own tribe's work. That's what I got the application for, and it was for three weeks of study. The finest shopping trip I've ever had was the first day I went into the Museum Support Center, which is 85:00in Suitland, Maryland. It's not the museum, itself. This was, by the way, before they built the new National Museum of the American Indian. This was through the National Museum of Natural History.

Anyway, so all three weeks was over in Suitland at the Museum Support Center. It's huge. My sponsor took me the first day with the little carts, and she said, "I'm going to show you all of our beadwork because many pieces that are Southeastern are mislabeled." We looked at every piece of beadwork with the exception of religious and ceremonial because I said, "No, I don't need that. I don't want to do that." Most of those were not my tribe, anyway, so I said, "No." They were in separate cases. I went through every piece of beadwork in the Smithsonian's collection at the time, which was awesome. If I said I wanted to 86:00examine it closer, she let me.

I also got some pre-contact pottery because I knew at the time the connection between mound-builder or pre-contact pottery and nineteenth-century beadwork in designs. I did take some pottery pieces, too, and worked with those and measured things and that kind of thing. It was really neat because they had a section of work space that was about, maybe, six feet long and about three feet across, and it said, "Reserved for fellow," which was me! It was so cool! (Laughter) Anyway, it was right outside of the office of Felicia Pickering, who's one of the--I don't know what her title is, anyway, but there at the Smithsonian at the Museum Support Center.

I remember when I was looking at sashes--I hadn't discovered this little stitch 87:00that I told you about, perpendicular and everything. I hadn't discovered that yet because sometimes you can't see things in photos. I was looking at a sash one day, and she's around--there's not a door to her office. It's when you go around a thing, she's back there, so she was within earshot. I must've, out loud, said, (Gasps) "Oh my God!" because I'd discovered how this was done! Boy, she was out there like that! (Snaps) I think she thought I broke something. (Laughter) She was out there like that! I said, "Look at this. I never noticed this before from the photographs." She was so pleased and excited that I was so excited. She said, "I think there may be some more of those," in with the things that I had looked at before that were religious or ceremonial.

She and I went back up--she was not my sponsor, but she kind of babysat me 88:00because that's where--. She took me back up then, and we found two or three more sashes, and they all had that. Then I knew what to look for, and then I could spot it in the photo. It's like once you see something in a painting, then you can't miss it the next time.

The really cool thing about that trip and that study is that maybe a couple years later, I was teaching a class at the Heritage Center, and I happened to have a pretty good collection of beadwork accumulated, which is very rare. I took it up there to show people, and I laid it out that morning on a table so it looked good color-wise, you know, kind of looked pretty. I didn't pay any attention to what was what. Just laid it out for color. About halfway through the day I was at the back of the room. The students were practicing, and I was going from one to the other. I looked up at that table, and I realized that I 89:00had laid them out in chronological order without realizing it, and you could see where I went to the Smithsonian. You could see it in my work. I thought, "That was a trip well made."

Little Thunder: That is very cool. One of the things that I saw in some of the pieces you've been doing is the use of--you'll have a Cherokee word, like the word for butterfly in the syllabary. That's a cool idea. How did you get that idea?

Berry: Well, I have friends. (Laughter) The first time I used the syllabary characters was on a commission piece. The Cherokee Phoenix commissioned me to do a bag to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Cherokee Free Press Act, and that was just a couple of years ago, the tenth anniversary. We wanted 90:00iconography that represented Cherokee visual communication from before contact and into the future.

I had the Phoenix logo, which is the phoenix bird rising out of the flames. That was in bold color on the flap of the bag with a fire circle under that, and then the flames coming up and the bird rising out of that, so this is in the center. What you're going to be looking at is counterclockwise. Here's the flap in the center, and then here up one side of the strap, over the shoulder, back down the other side, and then the pouch. Counterclockwise. That's important.

Then up this one side, the first side, were pre-contact fire symbols because the phoenix burned in the fire and so forth. Those were fire symbols. Then across the top I had an image that I designed years ago and I've used several times for DNA, with the drop of blood and DNA, DNA, DNA, and another drop of blood 91:00indicating the time when we were being influenced by the written language for the first time. Then down the other side of the strap were the Cherokee characters for the Cherokee phoenix. That's the first time I ever used those. Then down at the bottom of the pouch were the internet iconography for wireless and play. So we took it from pre-contact, in counterclockwise order, all the way around to the future. That's the first time we ever used them, and I liked the way they looked.

I was nervous because I don't speak, read, or write Cherokee. In the process of doing a design and then transferring it over, it's really easy to get it backwards. I thought, "Wouldn't that be horrible to spend 200 hours, plus, and find out you got it backwards?" I sent pictures and drawings of the quarter, of the mock up, back and forth to Brian Pollard "Look at this. Look at this." Then 92:00I got my Cherokee Phoenix out, and I looked at that to make sure I had it right.

Then came more internet experience and Facebook, and I became a part of a private group on Facebook, which is a group of Cherokee artists. Oh my God, I've learned so much. We teach each other and have developed these rich relationships. God, I love the internet! The greatest tool to the revival of Cherokee beadwork has been the internet. I think that is so cool. Anyway, several people that are involved in that, who are Cherokee artists, they're employees of the tribe and involved in the revival of the language. I became more interested in that, and we call them the Tsalageeks. (Laughter) Tsalagi being Cherokee, they're Tsalageeks.

I thought to honor them and to kind of do my part to remind people and get that 93:00image in front of their faces, put the images in front of their faces, that I would do a bandolier bag that was titled Butterfly, but it had no English. Well, actually it had phonetic English on it. The strap has the Cherokee syllabary characters for "butterfly," which is kamama, the ka character and the two ma characters. The ma character happens to be my favorite. It's a long story, but anyway.

I started at the top of the strap with a flower. Inside the flower is hidden (but you can see it hidden in plain sight) the ka character and then the phonetic ka in the English letters. Then the next one down was a butterfly going one direction with a ma character in its wings, and then the ma, and then a 94:00butterfly going the other direction with the ma character in its wings, and then the ma under that.

Then kind of the same thing on the other side. Then across the bottom of the pouch in larger characters is kamama and then the Cherokee characters underneath it. Then in the flap, which is the central focus of any bandolier bag, was this big giant butterfly. So without saying the word "butterfly," people would walk away from that bag, if they really looked at it, and have learned at least one Cherokee word and that it's not so intimidating after all.

Another time that I beaded a Cherokee character was kind of fun. The Heritage Center did an exhibit called Generations, and they gave to Cherokees, families, an assignment basically: a seven-by-seven-inch piece of art. It could be any art form, anything you want, and involve the people in your family. So my daughter 95:00who now is carving gourds and does incredible prize-winning Cherokee art, she was not doing that then.

My other daughter is the photographer, and so she did a photograph of the Cherokee seminary. She did a photograph of the Cherokee seminary because it has so much meaning to us. Then we picked the ma character because we just liked the look of it. The word kamama is important, (and that's a long story to me anyway) which is Cherokee for "butterfly." When I write the girls, I always sign it "Mama," M-A-M-A, so we picked ma. She did the photograph in the background, and I did the ma character beaded in front of that on a seven-by-seven-inch piece. That's actually the first time I ever beaded a character, a Cherokee character, 96:00was the ma character.

Little Thunder: Cool. Well, we are going to wrap up here and take a look at your work, but I wanted to ask, you've described People's Choice as being a really high moment for you. What about a low point when you embarked on this journey?

Berry: Oh, I think it would be--well. Oh, boy. Some of that gets kind of personal. Do you mind?

Little Thunder: No.

Berry: I think there were two times or two things. One was the fact that we went up there and I hadn't sold anything, and then suddenly that had turned into one of the highest high points. That was kind of a neat story. I think the other one is it's been really an upstream swim with some people to convince them Cherokees did beadwork. I'm thinking, not only do we have all the artifacts, but they'd 97:00have to have been the only Native American tribe, "Uh, I don't want to play with those beautiful things!" These were people who had influence, whose opinions were taken seriously, and who got a little ugly sometimes. Here's this light-skinned, mixed-blood from Texas, oh my God, who's trying to tell these people something that they just don't need to know.

Honestly, I don't know why I stuck with it. I guess it's that stubborn child again. (Laughter) I believed in it, and I thought, "Once you see that work and you see how beautiful it was and you know the soul that people put into that, 98:00like any piece of art, how can you turn your back on that?" I'd hear these things. Nobody ever said anything to me, but I heard many, many, many things. I would think, "I hope your own great-great-great-great-grandmother wasn't a beader. How crappy would that be?" That's probably the hardest thing was I had such an uphill climb to be accepted and then to have the work accepted.

Now, to be such a part of things, I didn't think this would ever, ever, ever happen. To have so many--I mean, my best, best, bestest, bestest friends are Cherokee artists. Now my daughter is doing--she and I share a booth at Art Market. My other daughter, she does the All Things Cherokee website, and she's 99:00involved. She knows all these people. We're so well accepted. I didn't think that would ever happen, so it's been the worst thing and now the best. Same thing with the not selling anything and suddenly selling. It's like, "Whoa!" It's funny because balance is the bedrock principle of Cherokee thought. When you can get to the point that that finally happens, it's like, "Yes!" It feels so good!

Little Thunder: Well, that's great.

Berry: This is a bandolier bag. The working title is Legacy. I wanted to do a piece that was very authentic to the time period, and so I found a photograph of a bandolier bag that is circa 1830 and that is definitely Southeastern and is 100:00probably Cherokee. It's classic. The images on both sides are slightly different, but they always use the same colors throughout the bag, and then an image down here on the pouch and then on the fully-beaded flap--or this isn't fully beaded, but anyway, on the flap. This is the inspiration for the bandolier bag entitled Legacy.

Then I did a rough sketch, and then I wound up with this for the pouch. This is quarter-inch graph paper. This is going to be the strap, so it's basically the same design. I changed it somewhat because I don't believe in copying anybody's design, old or new, and so I changed the design on the pouch a little bit, but the flap design is very much like the one on the old bag. Then I used the same 101:00elements on the strap as in the old bag, but I used them a little differently, and then I used spacers in between.

So it starts out with the image, and then I drew a sketch, and then I drew everything in detail on the quarter-inch graph paper until I get it the way I like it. Then I trace the design onto muslin. This is unbleached muslin that you can lay right down on that and see through it and trace it perfectly. This will be the pouch when it's done. I'm starting out with the strap. This is the strap, which I traced it onto the muslin, and you can see the design back here. Then I sewed through, all the way around the design, so that when you turn it over, all 102:00you see is the thread. Can you see that? See the thread in there?

Little Thunder: Yes.

Berry: So that's the design that I have on the front. You can see here, the design, and then you start beading it. I don't know (and I'm kind of glad I don't know) what colors were on the original because that leaves me freedom to do my favorite thing, which is pick colors. I will eventually pull up a color photo of this, but I've never seen a color photo of this. We'll see how close I get when I'm done.

Little Thunder: That will be interesting.

Berry: Yes. That's called Legacy. At least I think that's what we'll call it. And that's how you start them out.

Little Thunder: That's wonderful. Okay, would you like to tell us about these pieces?

Berry: Sure. These are purses, small purses. It took a while to do enough research to find authentic examples of Cherokee purses created prior to the Removal. These are made along the same lines as those. They are a little bit 103:00more ornate than those were. I like a little bling, so they're a little more ornate. (Laughter) This one is called Ember. It illustrates the story of the origin of fire where the little water spider brought one ember from a fire on an island in a lake and brought it back in a little bowl that she wove from her own silk on her back and brought the fire back to the people. We see the fire circle on the back of the spider, and then at the bottom of each of these little curls of smoke (I don't know if you can see that sparkle) is one little ember.

Little Thunder: Oh, right.

Berry: Same thing on the flap, too. That's what that one's all about. This one is called In the Garden, and it's a floral. The Southeastern beaders, Cherokee beaders, really loved floral images, and so this one is floral. The flowers are 104:00fully beaded. Both of these have this little twisted bead handle which is another one we know from an artifact from of 1826 that had the same kind of handle. Then they all have this distinctive, or many of them have this looped fringe, which is a very Cherokee purse kind of thing to do. This one is basically pretty. It doesn't have a lot of meaning. It's meant to be pretty and colorful, and I do love my colors.

Little Thunder: Beautiful. All right. We're looking at your--

Berry: This is a bandolier bag, and this is a very simple bag compared to what I'm doing now, normally. It's called Freedom of Movement, and it is dedicated to the people who kept our stomp dances alive when they weren't free to do so and 105:00when they had to do it in secret.

It is purposefully done not elaborately, not a lot of sparkle, not a lot of glitz. It's real simple, and these are the designs. In fact, the strap is made just like a Southeastern ceremonial sash would've been made. This is the little stitch that we talked about, the two-bead line stitch or the two-bead flat stitch that is unique not only to the Southeast, now, not on the edge. A lot of nations did that, but when you see this design within the design on the fabric, that's unique to the Southeast, and it is unique to ceremonial sashes, but I borrowed it to use for a bandolier bag because that's who I'm honoring in the bandolier bag.

The colors are the colors that are important to the Cherokee. White is the color of peace, and red is the color of new life. Blue is the color of cold and 106:00trouble. I did not put any black on this because black represents death. So that's Freedom of Movement.

Little Thunder: That's beautiful.

Berry: Thank you.

Little Thunder: All right, well, thank you so much for your time today.

Berry: Oh, you're welcome! This has been great fun!

------- End of interview -------