7.9 C
Niagara Falls
Thursday, April 18, 2024
Arts: Indigenous artist’s exhibition extended at RiverBrink
Indigenous artist Samuel Thomas' exhibition of beaded artwork has been extended until the end of April. SUPPLIED

Debra Antoncic
Special to The Lake Report

A wonderful burst of colour awaits visitors in the exhibition “Samuel Thomas: New Beginnings,” which has been extended until April 27 at the RiverBrink Art Museum in Queenston.

The beaded artworks by celebrated Haudenosaunee artist Samuel Thomas give a welcome lift in these grey late-winter days.

The exhibition brings together examples of the Niagara Falls artist’s new work, alongside selections from earlier creations.

Framed as a statement of renewed purpose and a fresh start, the exhibition explores themes of continuity and innovation, community collaboration and Indigenous storytelling. 

The exhibition is a showcase for the many beaded objects crafted in vibrant colours and compelling forms. Thomas has created freestanding sculptures and beaded boxes, moccasins, birds, trees and bags.

Among the most stunning are the beaded trees, along with a series on the four seasons.

Spring, summer, fall and winter are each rendered in colourful designs that evoke the experience of the seasons, from the soft pastels of spring, to the rich tones of summer and deep auburn of fall, to the sparkling white and clear beads of a frosty winter.  

Thomas is a member of the Lower Cayuga Band of the Haudenosaunee Nation. For more than 40 years, he has worked to resurrect beadwork styles from the 18th and 19th centuries.

He is largely self-taught, informed by extensive study of museum/collector pieces, books and illustrations, and additional training with noted tanner Juliette Meness-Ferguson, bead worker Faye DuBuc and Royal Ontario Museum curator Dr. Trudy Nicks.

Drawing on historic roots and customs, Thomas’ work acknowledges and celebrates beading as a traditional Indigenous practice. In his hands the beads tell stories – of resilience and community, but also of Indigenous cosmology.

Through beading, the natural world appears in symbolic form, evident in such details as the recurring motifs of strawberries, birds and flowers.

Beads tell the stories of the Stone Giant, of the Four Seasons, and the Sky Woman. These are not merely embellished surfaces, but expressions of Indigenous beliefs, values and world view.

Another important theme he explores is community collaboration. Thomas has worked with many communities, sharing his knowledge and advocating for peace and healing in collaborative beading workshops.

In 2016, Thomas led a reconciliation-focused series for residential school survivors, their descendants and members of the public to learn beadwork techniques, which they then applied to doors salvaged from former residential schools.

The exhibition features one item from the series: “Classroom Door,” 2016 (MacKay Indian Residential School, Dauphin Manitoba), a collaboration with artist Shelley Niro. 

While his beadwork is rooted in traditional Haudenosaunee practices, Thomas brings a contemporary sensibility and strong community awareness to his work.

Debra Antoncic is director and curator of the RiverBrink Art Museum in Queenston.


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