Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hunting the Beaded Medallion

Mom at Crater Lake 1954 (yes, before I was born!)
Moccasin Necklace
When I was a girl I took a trip to Crater Lake with my Grandma, mom and sister. I still remember that deep blue of the lake and the island that sits out in the middle. It is beautiful, and I'd never seen anything like it before. I was in awe and remember the trip to this day. Crater Lake is the deepest in the US and formed somewhere around 4680 BC when Mt Mazama in the Cascade range blew its top. The plumes are thought to have been some 30 miles high and the wind carried ash to Southern Canada. There are no water tributaries in or out of the lake, which makes the water some of the most pristine which preserve its clear aquamarine color.

Rim of Crater Lake
On our way out of the park, we stopped by the gift shop and my Grandma let my sister and I pick one item. We both decided to pick beaded necklaces, as did my mom. My sister picked one of an Indian doll, mine was a pair of moccasins and my mom's was a beaded medallion. My sister's necklace and mine are long gone. We wore them until they fell apart. But years ago my mom gave me her medallion necklace. Which I tucked away in a box, until a few years ago when I rediscovered it. I put it out on the bead table and proceeded to push it around the table for years thinking I would try to recreate the pattern. I finally did this past week and have been playing with the colors. I wanted to keep the stitching and the pattern true, which any of you who know me, know that I am really, really bad with following directions when I bead. But this one needed to be the same.

Mom's necklace on the right
I started my initial research on the origin of the medallion with the Klamath Indian tribe since Crater Lake is a sacred site for them. Their legend goes back to the origin of the lake and the spirit, Chief Llao, that they believed lived within Mt Mazama. The story tells of a battle between Llao, the Chief of the underworld, and Skell, the Chief of the world above. Skell had been called on by the local Klamath tribe to defend the Chief's beautiful daughter, Loha. Llao had seen Loha and fallen in love with her, but when she rejected him he threatened to destroy the tribe with the curse of fire. The tribe escaped to Mt Shasta and prayed to Skell to help fight Llao.

A horrific battle ensued with the gods hurling red hot rocks back and forth between Mt Shasta and Mt Mazama. A terrible darkness spread over the area for days, and in an attempt to calm the gods two medicine men offered themselves as a sacrifice and jumped into the spewing volcano of Mt Mazama. Skell was impressed and sent a final blow that collapsed the top of Mt Mazama pushing Llao deep within imprisoning him forever. Explorers are able to identify the existence of the Klamath tribe during the explosion as dozens of sandals were discovered under the ash thought to be from the explosion of Mt Mazama. The lake became a place to seek visions but only by those with considerable powers, like shaman and chiefs. Spirit quests would often take place at night with the seeker swimming underwater to encounter the spirits lurking in the depths of the lake.

There is so much symbolism in Native design that I didn't want to screw around with that. The first thing I did was look for the symbol, but mistakenly I thought that the pattern was a flower. The more I looked for it, the more I realized that the pattern was a star and that it was a prevalent symbol for many tribes. I found the pattern in designs for the Cherokee, Sioux and the Mochilla tribes, but then I found its perfect match; Apache. The pattern was the exact same stitching and bead count in this link from Missouri State University. It noted that there are four key identifiers for interpreting Native American beaded rosettes. In order of importance start with the symbol. The circular design depict protective spirits such as the four directions. The symbols can tell stories about the person's ancestry or the spirits that are important to the family.

Next in importance are the colors and typically provide the key to the tribe origin. For example the Lakota use black to represent the west wind, autumn and the dream world while red means the sunrise, birth and the east wind. Looking at my pattern it seems I used the Lakota colors. So I did apparently screw around with the significance of the original design. Sigh. I apparently just do not seem to be able to color within the lines. So I stopped trying and decided to finish each medallion in my own way.

The third identifier is the repetition of the pattern. Typically a pattern repeats in sets of four, seven or twelve which refer to the directions of specific spirits. Well at least here I had followed the repetition in the pattern using nine points to the star rosette. The last identifier is whether the design is something that can be described as personal or if it is significant to the tribe. 

Even with all these indicators to help trace the origin of the design it has over time become less reliable with the tribes intermixing and exchanging ideas. Perhaps that is why I found an Apache design at the site of the most sacred place of the Klamath.


  1. Amazing job! You have really done the native design justice. It is interesting learning the symbolism of the patterns and colors. I love the vintage photos of your mom.

  2. Amazing bead work. I have always wanted to go to Crater Lake since I can remember. My mom use to talk about taking a trip up there, but it never came to be. One day.

  3. So much to love, the photos of your mom are amazing! and I'm a girl who always loves some good history lessons so thanks for all this interesting background on Crater Lake and the tribes.

    You did a terrific job with your designs, the finished pieces are excellent.

  4. The photos from the 50s look well preserved! I've always enjoyed reading about Native American art and culture. Thank you for sharing the background story to these medallions. Your pieces look stunning!

  5. You must have been so excited to find the Apache flower beaded rosette. You made me hunt for a Native American medallion I've had for years, which turned out to be a Lakota thunderbird. Your variation on the theme is perfect. You lift it out of the past with gentle grace, add a Cynthia Twist, and offered it to the world so we can see the past through new eyes. Wonderful!!!

  6. I love the photos! Having your mom's necklace is so special! The other necklaces you created are breath taking! Beading was always in your blood! Very interesting hearing about the legend!!
    Here's to a great 2018!!! Happy New Year! Big Hugs!

  7. A fascinating post! Your recreated beadwork is beautiful!

    Happy New Year to you!

  8. Very interesting post, I love Native American art and your pieces are so beautiful!

  9. I truly could not leave a more eloquent comment than what Liz wrote.

  10. Really beautiful! I really love the green necklace and it's neat that you put so much thought/research into the design. I think I saw Crater Lake briefly when I was about 5 years old, but I haven't been back since (event hough I have several family members nearby).

  11. Absolutely stunning beadwork! Loved your stories too. I've been to Crater Lake twice and it certainly is a sacred place.

  12. Very interesting post, I love Native American art and your pieces are so beautiful!

  13. Hii

    Very interesting post, I love Native American art and your pieces are so beautiful!


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