Beadwork Then and Now

One of the really fun parts of my job is when I get to interact with other researchers and assist them with their projects as they use the collection.  One of these lovely individuals is Monique Olivier, Assistant to Heritage and Education Programs at Festival du Voyageur.

Monique has been learning how to do beadwork, and she asked if she could use one of the dog blankets in the HBC collection for inspiration in a reproduction.  Today she came in with the finished piece and we laid them side-by-side, it’s pretty incredible!

Monique's new blanket on the left, the original on the right.

Monique’s new blanket on the left, the original on the right.

I asked Monique why she chose to work on a dog blanket, since we all know there are thousands of beautiful beaded things she could have selected.  Her response?  Of all the material culture of the fur trade, dog blankets are some of the most whimsical and unique pieces.  I couldn’t agree more, and I think we both just stood there smiling at the thought of dogs all dressed up in their gorgeous blankets.  (Shameless self-promotion: check out the April-May 2016 edition of Canada’s History Magazine for a little blurb I wrote on dog blankets!).

I’m sure you’re all wondering how she went from looking at an original museum piece to completing her own, so here’s how she tackled it:

  • First, she takes close-up images of each section and measures the size of the motifs as well as the overall piece;
  • The pictures are printed to scale, and she uses carbon paper to trace the pattern eventually transferring to brown paper bags;
  • Then she begins the actual beadwork, ripping off the paper pattern at the end
Beaded tea cozy made by Monique

Beaded tea cozy made by Monique.

When I show off the beaded works in our collection people always ask me how long it would take, so I threw that question back to Monique.  This project took her about 70 hours, including drafting the pattern.   The biggest challenge?  Finding the right bead colours, especially pinks and oranges.  Some of the colours we have on pieces in our collections are no longer available, much to the dismay of contemporary beaders!  Monique added that she owes a lot of her success to Jennine Krauchi for helping her improve and hone her skills (for recent news on Jennine’s incredible work check out this CBC article).

The artist herself, Monique Olivier.

The artist herself, Monique Olivier.

If you’d like to see more of Monique’s work you’re in luck!  Drop the Beads: Big Challenges & Small Victories in Contemporary Beadwork is a showcase of her work opening on Tuesday, April 5th at the Tiger Hills Arts Centre in Holland, Manitoba (about 1 hour, 40 min southwest of Winnipeg and you can see the centre right from the highway!).  The show features both traditional pieces, like this beautiful dog blanket, and contemporary ones that reflect her interests in sci-fi, and runs until the end of the month. Monique will be there for the Open House on Friday, April 8th at 7pm so be sure to stop by!



Amelia Fay

Curator of HBC Collection

See Full Biography

Amelia Fay joined The Manitoba Museum in September 2013. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, an MA in Archaeology from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), and is currently finishing her Doctoral degree from MUN. Amelia’s research has focused on Inuit-European contact along the Labrador coast, and her interests are continually expanding to explore Aboriginal-European contact throughout Canada during the fur trade era.

Amelia’s job as Curator of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection involves building the collection, responding to public inquiries, preparing exhibits, and conducting her own research. Her research interests centre on the interactions between Europeans (including HBC employees) and Aboriginal peoples as they negotiated space, material culture, and their daily activities. Amelia’s goal is to showcase this amazing collection, and highlight the important role that Aboriginal people played in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company.