I’ve done a lot of beadwork over the years, especially dance gear, but the objects I am most proud of are the baby cradles.
When my friends started families – we talked about the beauty of cradles. We’d all admired the cradleboards and cradlebags we’d seen growing up, knew of children who’d been carried in them, and understood they were treasured items passed down in families for multiple generations. We desperately wanted cradles for our own babies.
Cradle-making traditions are not lost arts, but information can be darned difficult to find. This is especially true for tribes about which less documentation exists. Even families who currently make cradles sometimes have difficulty describing the process over the phone, and traveling extensive distances to remote locales isn’t always a possibility. Not to mention there can be language and translation problems.
There are other considerations too, to do it right and make a cradle in a good way. That’s important because it’ll be holding a baby and we only want positive things around the munchkin. Collecting the necessary materials and gathering them in the right way, from the correct place, is something of a challenge (this can vary widely depending on the tribal origin and cradle style).
When a friend announced Baby #1 was on the way, I was asked to make the cradle. It was time to quit talking and start planning. Over the years I’ve made cradles in the style that is appropriate for the tribal background of the children and that meant learning a lot about techniques I was unfamiliar with. I talked to elders at powwows and gatherings, studied old photographs, read books, visited museum collections, interrogated people who were kind enough to let me see their heirlooms, haunted corresponded with curators, and tracked down obscure information I thought might help.
My first cradle was a doll-sized affair and is the only one I still have. The rest were made for my nephews and will be passed down in their respective families. They will carry generations of babies into the future and I can’t think of anything better when it comes to creating a legacy that goes beyond one’s own family.
To be honest, making a cradle is not all that difficult. Some styles are more labor intensive than others, but I’ve only made a few different types. The beadwork is the time-consuming part and none of mine are fully beaded. With all the demands of modern life it’s difficult to find enough hours to cover the entire surface – how women did that in the old days without the modern conveniences of artificial light and readily available supplies just demonstrates the exquisite importance those old pieces represented.
Every person draws their history from rich cultural traditions, no matter how distant or far removed that may feel. I’ll share something with you – it only takes one person to make a difference. You can revive a declining art. You can keep a tradition alive. What will you share?
#1 by Tammy on December 11, 2013 - 8:28 am
I’ve seen only bits of your work and it’s exquisite! As always I learned something from your post. I had no idea of the care and planning that went into a cradle. I knew the design and beadwork were important and at times, difficult, but I didn’t realize the import of how the materials were gathered. It’s true, a child should be surrounded with positivity, but my thoughts had not extended to the effect of how things were made. Once again, an excellent post.
#2 by Lesann Berry on December 11, 2013 - 4:40 pm
I made a beaded dance belt for a friend’s husband – it was a big project – took about 18 months. Okay, so I didn’t work on it every day but the beads were small and the belt big. Anyways, I left it laid out on the coffee table and would work on it while I listened to movies. This was back when The Mummy had first come out and I must have listened to that movie a dozen times while beading. It came to be something of a joke – worrying that he might start lurching around the dance arena. *snicker* Every so I often I run across a picture of him in a magazine or on a website and he’s wearing the belt – my 10 seconds of fame! lol