Beadwork with a story: "Along the Way"

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A woman who lives on the tabletop of Red Shirt Table, a scenic rock formation south of Rapid City, creates art one tiny bead at a time.
She's an artist whose main focus is beadworking.
Much of what she makes tells a story...tonight we tell hers.
So what is her work all about, and why does she do it? We find the answers, as we go "Along the Way" to Red Shirt, South Dakota.

Down a one lane gravel road, just along the inner edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation, lives a bead worker whose art is not only beautiful but meaningful.

Beadworker Molina Parker says, "It reflects who I am. A lot of my pieces have my name in there, my Lakota name which is Wanahca Wast'e Win. So Wanahca is flowers, so I usually use a lot of flowers and I come from the Two Bulls family which is Tatanka Nunpa, two buffaloes. So I like to put buffaloes, buffalo tracks in my work."

36 year old Molina Parker says she grew up and went through school in Rapid City. But a couple years ago, she and her family moved out to her grandfather's land, within eyeshot of Badlands National Park . Beading is an intricate craft she learned in large part from her mother and grandmother.

Parker says: "I love jewelry. I have a lot of jewelry myself so I love making earrings and bracelets and necklaces."

She says she's been beading since she was about 4 or 5 years old. Her work is dazzling to the eye, handcrafted, with quality in mind.

"I've always done it but it wasn't until about 10 years ago I started taking it really seriously and started to want to do art shows and bigger pieces and really express who I am more than re-creating cultural pieces," Parker says.

Those bigger pieces can take a month to make, and represent more than pretty colors and precision bead work.

She says: "When I bead something I like to bead something that pertains to me, my family, where I live, where I come from, and you know a huge part of my identity is being Lakota so a lot of my inspiration comes from our culture."

But beads haven't always been part of their culture. Before beads they used porcupine quills.

Parker says: "When white settlers started to come down here especially French fur traders and people from Europe came over we traded with them and we traded beads. and beads are so much more accessible and easier to use than doing quill work. They're already colored for you, the shapes are all nice and even."

Preparing porcupine quills is very labor intensive.

"You have to sanitize them, dye them, dry them, sort them out by size, cut the tips off," Parker says.

Molina and others still do quill work, but her main focus is beading. She says this neckpiece she's working on for an upcoming art show has already taken at least 40 hours.

Parker says, "And this is like the joining of my husband's and I's houses and then it'll come up and this'll be, somehow I want it to represent my daughter."

She says a lot of her beads are either glass or metal. This piece, already sold, was inspired by a lilac bush she saw on a spring day past, a much warmer day than this one.

Parker says, "I heard this noise and it kind of intrigued me so I went closer and closer to the lilac bush and I didn't realize there was a whole ecosystem in there you know. There were butterflies, and moths, and flies, and bees in the flowers."

Precision, inspiration, and tradition: leading to unique creations preserved in beads.

Parker says, "Beading is my therapy. It's my way of tuning everything out and just creating something I really like, you know, something that makes me happy. And that's what beading is for me.

Molina says she hasn't been teaching her 3 year old daughter but her daughter is already picking it up on her own...so who knows, beautiful beadwork may extend yet another generation in her family.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call or e-mail us to let us know.