Artist Spotlight: Beadwork by Molina Parker

by Kelli Kehler

I’ve always been drawn to beadwork — especially pieces constructed with tiny beads — and remember visiting bead stores as a child and just running my hand through bowls full of colorful, shiny beads. If I was lucky, I’d come home with a small pouch full of the teeny treasures, but my skill level could never keep up with my imagination. I longed to have the vision and talent to transform the minuscule baubles into something magnificent.

For Molina Parker, beading has always been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. Her grandmother and mother taught her how to create traditional beadwork from an early age, and today that lifelong cultivation of her Native craft is seen in the mastery and precision of her work.

“I love to make adornment that reflects my love of nature and my people,” Molina shares. “Most of my pieces either represent something that has happened in my life or has cultural significance from either my Oglala Lakota or Northern Cheyenne heritage.”

I spoke with Molina below about how the tradition of Native beadwork has transformed in contemporary ways, the importance of valuing the work and time that goes into Native crafting, and more. Keep an eye out for new works from Molina on her Instagram account and in Bethany Yellowtail’s Collective. —Kelli



About how long does it take you to create one beaded piece? Do you have a process for conceptualizing how things will look?

Depending on the size of the piece and the size beads I’m working with, my jewelry can take anywhere from a few hours to assemble up to a few months. I love making pieces that are relevant today and draw inspiration from my surroundings and culture. I find it a challenge to come up with fresh ideas and new color stories.

How do you feel the tradition of beadwork has changed in more contemporary times?

Traditional beadwork has changed so much. We have access to new materials and colors and our work reflects that! Some people like to recreate things our ancestors did, which is fine, but as an artist, I like to challenge myself and make things that speak to me.

What do you wish more non-Native people understood about Native culture and traditions (like beadwork)?

Beadwork is still a fairly new tradition to our people. Before white settlers and fur traders brought beads to us, we worked primarily with things found in nature. Porcupine quills, animal skins and bones, shells, etc. It’s important that non-Native people see the value in our work and not think of it as something trendy or kitschy. A lot of time and love goes into what we make and needs to be taken seriously.

How do you find strength when you face fear in either your personal life or creative work?

I believe most of my strength comes from my grandmother. She engrained in me how important it was for me to remain level headed and humble. She also made me confident enough in myself to want to push myself in everything that I do.

It’s important that non-Native people see the value in our work and not think of it as something trendy or kitschy.

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  • this work is SO beautiful. I really, really love it. I have to ask (and hope this is a safe space). As a non Native American…I should NOT wear this though, right?? I’m so terrified of offending someone, I’d avoid it. BUT, i really really love these pieces. Especially the asymmetrical floral necklace. What’s the right thing to do??? I’d love to support these artists, but is it more just admiration from afar without participating? I’d love to hear your thoughts / insights on this.

    • Hi Kiki, yes this is a safe space and that’s a great question to ask. We had lots of readers ask the same thing when we interviewed Bethany Yellowtail, who sells Molina’s work on her website since Molina is in her Collective of artists. Here is what Bethany said about non-Native people wearing pieces like these:

      “Believe it or not this is one of the most common questions we get asked. For us (b.yellowtail and team) it’s simple, yes we want people from all walks of life to wear and support our work.

      We thoughtfully design our products as a form of culture sharing & to celebrate indigenous resiliency & continuity. We are happy to share carefully curated messages through our clothing & accessories, as long as they are worn respectfully. We do not & will not sell items such as ceremonial regalia or sacred items. Those things would be deemed inappropriate for non-native people to use, buy or sell at anytime.

      It’s also important to note that if you are buying “native american inspired” clothing/accessories or items from non-native makers, they would not understand “culturally” what would be appropriate. Some designs in our communities, depending on the tribe, are only for certain leadership or designated people. I can safely say that each artists that sells on byellowtail.com including myself, wholeheartedly takes deep pride, understanding and consideration of this before we create and sell our own goods. That is the difference.

      By wearing B.YELLOWTAIL & items from THE COLLECTIVE, not only are you helping us authentically share our stories through creative expression that has been passed down to us, but you are also supporting a Native owned business. We deeply care for our communities and as B.YELLOWTAIL grows, so does the opportunity to employ & empower our Tribal nations.

      Next time if you find yourself in the gray area and not wanting to offend… Ask yourself how the purchase or design is actually impacting the community it originates from. If you’re a conscious consumer, ask yourself if the purchase truly supports the community. Does the purchase amplify the voices of indigenous people and the artists/designers involved?

      If the answer is Yes, then go for it!”

      Hope that helps,