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Two Centuries of Iroquois Beadwork

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To the 16th-century Iroquois living in what is now central New York state, European glass trade beads were something special; they were believed to have had magical and spiritual meaning. To this day, the Iroquois have a special relationship with glass beads. Iroquois artists began creating three-dimensional beaded items in the late 18th century. The first beaded pincushions and wall pockets were small, but they increased in size and quantity during the 19th century. Two centers of beadwork making arose: one around Niagara Falls in western New York and southern Ontario, and the other around Montreal in southern Quebec and the adjoining parts of eastern Ontario and northern New York. By the end of the 19th century, large brightly colored pincushions, wall hangings, purses, and other items were made for an active tourist market. Recently these art forms have become highly collectable by individuals and museums. Over 60 forms of beadwork were developed. As in the 19th and 20th centuries, many Haudenosaunee artists continue to create colorful beadwork in the 21st century.

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The Society of Bead Researchers is a non-profit scientific-educational corporation founded in 1981 to foster historical, archaeological, and material cultural research on beads and beadwork of all materials and periods, and to expedite the dissemination of the resultant knowledge. Membership is open to all persons involved in the study of beads, as well as those interested in keeping abreast of current trends in bead research.

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