By Morgan Taylor, Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma- Today, many people wear and have items displaying Native American culture, which has become trendy and high fashion.
Local Muscogee (Creek) citizen, Riley Berry keeps it traditional by using skills someone taught him.
“I bead, mainly wrap bead style. I also am starting a clothing line with a couple of my buddies,” Berry said. “I first started beading in high school, with a loom; then, I picked it up again once I attended the College of the Muscogee Nation from my friend Millie Wilson, my mvhayv (teacher).”
Beading is a commonly practiced craft between all tribes of Native American descent. Modern beading includes using decorative beads of various types and colors to create a patterned accessory or jewelry. Some make bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, key chains, etc.
In history, stones, shells quills, and carved bones were used in beading. Although techniques and styles have changed over the centuries, beading is still an important aspect of the culture.
Berry says he picked up the skill rather quickly but still finds himself learning something new each time.
“Man, it didn’t take me long too learn,” Berry said. “I picked it up pretty quickly, mainly because I had a good teacher. I have been beading for about two years now, and I haven’t mastered beading yet, but every time I make a new piece I get better.”
In beading, each piece is made by hand by weaving tiny colored beads together using a thread and needle. Each piece is different than the next, allowing room for artist expression in beading.
Berry has four main items he creates as well as taking custom orders for his customers.
“I have four main items I make: wristlets ($25) bracelets ($20) necklaces ($45) lanyards ($60), along with apple watch bands, vans, hat bands, wrapped earrings. I do take custom orders, mainly from friends or people that have seen my work.” Berry said. “Becoming a beader, you are an artist. Creating designs is what distinguishes you, and allows you to have your own unique style.”
What Berry enjoys most about beading is the connection it brings him and what it teaches him each time he creates a piece.
“I am a civil engineer, so building, creating something is my favorite thing to do. Beading lets me do exactly that, but within a cultural setting,” Berry said. “I like how it teaches. It teaches me to have patience, it teaches me to be tedious-that every detail matters, it connects me with all kinds of new people, people from our tribe, people from across the country. I also like beading because it gives me some peace. If I have a lot going on I like to bead. Just go to my desk, turn on the office and bead. It’s relaxing, and then I poke my finger or break my needle and then I’m not so relaxed anymore.”
Patience is one of the most important aspects of beading according to Berry. Beading has taught him how to be patient while allowing him to reconnect himself with Native American culture.
“If you want to learn beading you have to have patience. Seems like every time your moving right along on a project your thread knots up, your needle breaks, you drop beads, you can’t rethread your needle, you run out of a certain color,” Berry said. “Having patience is the biggest thing if you want to learn how to bead, if you don’t have it when you start you will after. For someone that wants to reconnect to our culture or wants to learn more, beading is a great way to do so. Also, Facebook has different Native American Beadwork groups for selling, tips, and inspiration you can add. The people on there are very helpful if you have any questions. Beading is Indigenous resistance and continuity.”
Being original is how to be distinguished as an artist. Each person will find different ways to draw inspiration in their artwork. Berry elaborates on some of the different ways he stays inspired in his artwork that helps him to continue creating original pieces.
“The best advice I would give to someone beading is to not steal designs from other artists. You can look at other beadwork for inspiration, new colorways, different technique, just don’t copy what their artwork. Beading for me, I get into different moods,” Berry said. “Some days I work with mainly fire colors, then others I will use different shades of one color. Colorways are the hardest part about being (along with creating a design that is symmetrical). Picking out colors what go good with each other, I often look at sports teams and their colorways or just guess and go with it. When creating a brand-new design that I haven’t beaded before, I just go for it. I start beading and don’t worry about whether or not it will be symmetrical so that I can be most creative.”
Those who are interested in seeing more of Berry’s work or seeking him out for more information can add him as friend on Facebook at Riley Berry. The Mvskoke Market located inside the Solomon-McComb Building on the MCN tribal complex also sells pieces of Berry’s work.