Tlingit Women, Beadwork, and the Art of Resilience
- PUBLISHED: July 2021
- SUBJECT LISTING: Art History / Native American and Indigenous Art, Pacific Northwest / Art and Culture, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 240 Pages, 7 x 10 in, 78 color illus., 15 b&w illus., 1 map
- SERIES: Native Art of the Pacific Northwest: A Bill Holm Center Series
- ISBN: 9780295748948
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
For over 150 years, Tlingit women artists have beaded colorful, intricately beautiful designs on moccasins, dolls, octopus bags, tunics, and other garments. Painful Beauty suggests that at a time when Indigenous cultural practices were actively being repressed, beading supported cultural continuity, demonstrating Tlingit women’s resilience, strength, and power. Beadwork served many uses, from the ceremonial to the economic, as women created beaded pieces for community use and to sell to tourists. Like other Tlingit art, beadwork reflects rich artistic visions with deep connections to the environment, clan histories, and Tlingit worldviews. Contemporary Tlingit artists Alison Bremner, Chloe French, Shgen Doo Tan George, Lily Hudson Hope, Tanis S’eiltin, and Larry McNeil foreground the significance of historical beading practices in their diverse, boundary-pushing artworks.
Working with museum collection materials, photographs, archives, and interviews with artists and elders, Megan Smetzer reframes this often overlooked artform as a site of historical negotiations and contemporary inspirations. She shows how beading gave Tlingit women the freedom to innovate aesthetically, assert their clan crests and identities, support tribal sovereignty, and pass on cultural knowledge. Painful Beauty is the first dedicated study of Tlingit beadwork and contributes to the expanding literature addressing women’s artistic expressions on the Northwest Coast.
Authors & Contributors
Megan A. Smetzer is lecturer of art history at Capilano University.
[A] comprehensive resource on Tlingit history in the Northwest.- Real Change
Smetzer meticulously documents how bead workers living in painful colonialized situations supported their communities. Smetzer aims to prioritize the idea that multivocal art...effectively challenges the continuing effect of historical trauma through creating beauty that restores balance.- Choice
[A] superb and compelling study.- American Indian Culture & Research Journal
Past, present, and future are carefully woven together in Megan Smetzer’s Painful Beauty, a thoughtful and accessible analysis of Tlingit women’s adaptations of beadwork into new forms of cultural production…[The book] sheds new light on previously undervalued forms of cultural practice, making a significant contribution to existing scholarship.- Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art
Succinctly captures the double-edged sword of this subject: the beauty of beadwork by Tlingit women artists as well as the painful histories of settler colonialism in which it is entangled.- Emily L. Moore, author of Proud Raven, Panting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal Totem Parks
Megan Smetzer advances Northwest Coast scholarship in several ways: it is the first art book I've read which centers Indigenous perspectives ("Tlingit aesthetics," she writes); she deconstructs biases which privilege the pristine formline but overlook the brilliance of the textiles; and she researches and celebrates important Native American women artists who have been previously overlooked in the scholarship.- Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (Tlingit, Inupiaq)