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Terrill Hooper O'Brien - February 2000

The Highlight of the Month program at The Indian Craft Shop focuses on a particular craft area, region or artist family/group. Our aim is to illustrate the diversity of tribal groups and the wide variety of artistic expressions and traditions in the country today.


A contemporary beadworker, Terry O'Brien was born in 1943 on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, the oldest of eight children. She was married in 1966 and left Northern New York with her husband, whose career in the U.S. Army led them to Japan and eleven different states, the latest of which is Virginia, where they currently reside. Terry makes her living as a paralegal, and does beadwork in her spare time as a meditative exercise and for the love of the art.

While the style of Terry's beadwork is not traditionally Iroquois (the Mohawk are a member nation of the Iroquois Confederacy) she nevertheless draws on her heritage and history for inspiration and guidance in her work. Traditional Northeastern beadwork involves a technique known as "raised" beadwork by which the beaded motif is raised off of the surface of the piece. This type of beadwork is sewn onto fabric to embellish clothing or accessories. Instead, Terry makes necklaces and pouches entirely from beads that are stitched together with no fabric backing. She uses a flat gourd stitch, commonly known as a "peyote stitch" because it is used to decorate the ritual paraphernalia of the Native American Church. The beads are sewn one row at a time and stitched into every other bead on the preceding row. This allows the beads to stack up like bricks, fitting smoothly together to create an even, supple layer of beads. This technique allows for very complex geometric motifs, often involving alternating diagonal lines. While Terry is quite adept at geometric patterns, she is also able to incorporate pictorial motifs, such as lizards, into her pieces. The necklace portion of a beaded pouch is not made separately or attached, but rather sewn as a continuous piece from the pouch.

Terry O'Brien and her work demonstrate that Native American art need not be "traditional" to be beautiful, relevant, and collectible.

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