What started as a response to pandemic boredom has grown into a collaborative mosaic of beadwork that promotes Indigenous artists across Canada and the United States.
Since March, dozens of Indigenous artists had been taking up a challenge to bead their states and provinces. Their hard work, diversity in beading styles, techniques, and cultural influences can be seen in a final map that was recently unveiled of both countries.
"The sense of community that has been created across North America has been incredible," said Rena Laboucan.
"It's going to benefit so many people who want to bead but are not sure how to start."
Laboucan, who is from the Driftpile Cree Nation in Northern Alberta and currently lives in Calgary, volunteered to bead Nunavut when the deadline approached without any submissions done for the territory. She completed the piece within 12 hours, minutes before the deadline.
She said the final map reflects the diversity of Indigenous cultures.
"You can kind of pick out which Indigenous cultures people come from because there's so many," said Laboucan.
"You can see which traditions were put into the beadwork, and now that I know more about each piece, it was just fun to learn when most people were home in isolation. I can't wait to see more."
The callout for beadwork came from CeeJay Johnson, the Dakota and Tlingit artist behind Kooteen Creations, in March as a way to encourage beadwork amid the pandemic and promote Indigenous artists' work. Dozens of works were submitted up until the Aug. 5 deadline.
Provinces and states with multiple submissions were voted on over Facebook. Lita Sheldon is a Tulalip/Paiute artist in Washington State who ended up with the most pieces in the final map.
She said she was laid off for four months as a result of the pandemic, and the challenge was a solution to the boredom she faced at home.
"I'm so glad that CeeJay did this, trying to publicize the work of beaders and beadworkers, and also encouraging people to sell their work at reasonable prices," said Sheldon.
"I love the idea," said Didi Grandjambe, a Cree artist who submitted multiple provinces and territories.
Grandjambe was raised in Fort McMurray, Alta., and her piece for Alberta received the most votes to be included in the map. The design features northern lights, the Athabasca River, a black oil drop to represent the oil sands, mountains, and the provincial flower, the wild rose.
"We're all doing this not only our own sake but it's become this worldwide thing that is bringing more awareness," she said.
Denver-based graphic designer Justin Romero volunteered his time to put the map together.
"It ended up being a lot more work than I expected but it's definitely been so cool and so fun to see everybody else's styles and cultures, especially to watch it thread together as one big team to accomplish this really cool project," said Romero.
"I'm just honoured to have been there to volunteer for it."
Johnson said the final map will be available on merchandise, with proceeds being donated to Indigenous beading programs in the U.S. and Canada.