Interview of Carilyn Sue Branham Elliott
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Elliott: I got started in doing beads, I actually was a painter. I enjoy painting landscapes and such, and about fourteen years ago I got involved in craft class that was held with George Whitewolf, and he showed us how to do different chokers, and different styles of earrings, and from there I actually went out and bought tapes, Native American tapes that showed different styles of beadwork and kinda self-taught myself how to make certain items that I wanted. I have a son that’s a grass dancer, and he wanted beadwork of course on all of his stuff, so that sorta got me practicing (laughs) real early, and I really enjoy working with it. I like to draw, so it’s real easy for me to draw out something and then go back and add the beads to it. And then it makes it my very own, instead of something that, you know, I copied from a pattern or something.
Wood: So you design it and then you go ahead and do the beadwork on the material. How do you feel about transferring this skill to the next generation?
Elliott: I really think it’s important that any skill that we have, as far as any type crafting, that we pass on, because in time, if we don’t, then it’s all lost, and we’ve lost so much already as native people that I hate to see that part of us be lost as well. I had taught my children how to do some beadwork. Of course, you know, they’re not doing it on a regular basis, but at least they got the actual general idea down, so they can go on and make things if they want to in the future.
Wood: What are the things that you kind of specialize in, what are the items that you like to make the most?
Elliott: I really like doing animals, because I like drawing them, so I really like doing that. One of the things that I tend to do that a lot of native beaders don’t, is that I leave a lot of the background empty and actually do just the outer edges of things and leave the color in the background, and I think that comes from painting. It’s that every painter needs that background and then they build from that. I tend to leave a lot of the background empty and fill in with the beads in the areas that are important. So it makes it a little different from a lot of the native beaders today, and one of the things that I really like—I like making earrings. I like wearing them, so therefore I like making them (laughs). It’s a whole lot cheaper than having to buy them.