Philbrook Museum of Art

Tulsa, OK

800-324-7941 918-749-7941

Front of Museum, photo by John Hazeltine

Museum Gardens, photo by John Hazeltine


Pure Vision: American Bead Artists

David Chatt, Ivory Tower, 1993, 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, glass beads sewn over hand blown glass vessel.

An exhibition of contemporary beadwork opens Jan. 31, 1999 at The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Pure Vision: American Bead Artists showcases 28 artists in 60 works ranging from intimate, visually and technically stunning necklace and bracelet forms to large-scale sculptures, wall constructions and shrines. This exhibition will be shown in conjunction with an exhibition of beadwork from The Philbrook Museum of Art, Beads: A Cross-Cultural Medium.

The recent resurgence in the use of beads by contemporary American artists speaks to the versatility and rich history of the medium as a vehicle for cultural expression, personal adornment, and surprisingly, social criticism. This interest is fueled by the broad range of creative options the medium provides. The use of beads also enshrines the spiritual: our modern English word, bead, is derived from the Middle English word, bede, meaning "prayer."

While many of the examples in Philbrook's exhibition draw from or enlarge upon the bead's historical context, others use traditional forms as a point of departure to address narrative and figurative concerns.Whether creating elaborate jewelry or abstract sculptured forms, the artists represented in Pure Vision demonstrate that beads are a versatile medium capable of conveying powerful and provocative ideas. Subject matter embraces personal and social issues as well as compelling abstract forms.

Typical of the versatility and skill of the artists featured in the exhibition is Joyce Scott, who uses traditional beadwork for sculptural neckpieces which tell stories of "the endless chain of life and death." Among the other artists are Ed Derwent, who creates large, loomed, beaded paintings composed of literally millions of tiny seed beads, and Judy Onofrio, whose fanciful sculptures and large wall constructions are encrusted in an exotic mosaic of beads and other contrasting combinations of collected vintage jewelry, buttons, shells, and sequin-embellished flea market items. Joyce Scott and Judy Onofrio bead the entire body or figure in their works, accentuating their physical presence in the real world rather than using them as abrupt symbolic idols. Scott's art has long had social references to the lives of African Americans, while Onofrio's art creates a fantasy world of carnivals, garage sales and private imaginings.

Other artists in the exhibition include Sherry Markovitz, Jennie McDade, Nick Cave, Mary Ann Hickey, Chris Allen-Wickler and Lindsay Obermeyer. McDade's Sacred Vision (1990) is a schematic figure, reduced to the basics of seeing (the eyes) and feeling (the heart). Like a Nepalese sacred painting, its eyes are connected to an unfolding lotus or symbol of enlightenment in the upper area, Hickey plays off Haitian ceremonial and celebratory banners, Her Untitled Banner (1994) celebrates young flower girls at a wedding or first communion.

Stunning bracelets and necklaces are also featured Together with intricate baskets, eccentric sculptures and shimmering tapestries, the exhibition challenges conventional notions of beadwork and reveals a wealth of creative possibilities contained within this seemingly simple medium.

The Tulsa showing ofPure Vision: American Bead Artists is coordinated by Christine Knop Kallenberger, Philbrook's director of exhibitions and collections and is made possible by the Contemporary Consortium. The exhibition is toured nationally by ExhibitsUSA and was curated by Sherry Leedy, director, Leedy Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri and B.J. Shigaki, director, Rochester Arts Center, Rochester, Minnesota.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1999 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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