Mary Young Bear

Meet Native Arts Artist-in-Residence Mary Young Bear

Mary Young Bear will have open studio hours in the Powwow Regalia Studio from 10 am2 pm, ThursdaysSundays, June 9–19.

Nicole Laurin: What genre of dance is your piece connected to and what’s your relationship/history to it?

Mary Young Bear: The genre is Great Lakes Woodland Style and my relationship to it was that I started dancing in powwows when I was 10. I never knew what a powwow was until we started going to them in Denver. I just fell in love with it. When I was 12, I started making my own outfits and I had to figure it out on my own how to make it.

NL: Can you share a little history of how this art form came about?

MYB: The Great Lakes region tribes are inspired by the environment around them. They use trees, leaves, vines, berries, and animals in their designs. Their abstracted ideas come from what’s around them and sometimes their designs could be mythical as well. Before we got beads, they would use dyed porcupine quills and animal fur. When we got beads, the designs became more colorful. But, everything goes back to nature. Most pieces are for ceremonial use and some designs or colors can be associated with certain families.

NL: What drew you to this form of art?

MYB: At first, I didn’t think of it as an art form and as I got older I began to see how it is art. I was drawn to the Woodland Style because of my tribal history and I wanted people to see my work as honoring my tribe. It gives me pride that my children and grandchildren are interested in keeping beadwork alive, and it’ll just keep getting better and better as time goes by and we keep passing this tradition along. Also, this beadwork is distinct and I want people to see it and know instantly that it is Meskwaki.

Regalia by Mary Young Bear. Photo courtesy of Mary Young Bear.

NL: What can visitors expect during your time at the DAM?

MYB: I am making a beaded applique vest for myself. Women used to wear them all the time, but it has somehow gotten lost and I want to bring it back.

NL: What’s one thing you’d like to tell people about your art?

MYB: That it is art; it is not a craft or a hobby.

NL: Tell us about your creative process.

MYB: I create a template on paper with the colors and designs I’d like to use and then transfer that to canvas with gesso, which is the material I prefer to bead on.

NL: What inspires/motivates you?

MYB: My history and my tribe and the work that my grandmothers did. The younger people that are going to make it even better and elevate this art form, too. I also feel compelled to do it. I have a passion for this work.

NL: How did you learn to create this kind of art? Was it passed down or did you learn on your own?

MYB: I began beading when I was eight. My grandmother showed me a stitch and then I was hooked. After that, it was really trial and error and I taught myself. I never had a mentor guiding me. I was also an art student of painting and printmaking, but I never stopped beading. It actually helped me get my current job in the Meskwaki Cultural Center and Museum, because they needed someone who knew this kind of material and beadwork.

Nicole Laurin is the special project assistant for the Native Arts Artist-in-Residence program in the learning and engagement department at the Denver Art Museum. Nicole has been at the DAM since 2014 and her favorite artwork that has been on view here is Autumn, Peupliers, Éragny (Autumn, Poplars, Éragny) by Camille Pissarro.