Inspired by the path-breaking beadwork artistry of Gahano (Caroline Parker Mt. Pleasant, Tonawanda Seneca), Ken Williams Jr.’s hand stitched silk and beaded bag pays tribute to the artistry of Seneca and Haudenosaunee beadwork in every detail. From the shape and construction of the bag, the tiny size 22 beads that define Gahano’s face, and the incorporation of the Celestial Tree design on the right side of the bag, embellished with Swarovski crystals and referencing Haudenosaunee histories and teachings, Ken’s artwork dazzles.
This new addition to the NYSM Contemporary Native Art Collection (2019-2020) is meaningful for several reasons, not least of which is that Gahano’s seminal outfit (that she designed, sewed, and beaded herself c. 1847) and featured on Ken’s bag is part of the NYSM Ethnographic collections. On the opposite side of the beadwork panel featuring Gahano, is a wool panel with beadwork echoing the designs along the edges of Gahano’s skirt and a burst of stars created with meticulous stitches of silk thread. Ken’s partner, Diné fashion designer Orlando Dugi created a special carrying bag for Ken’s work to travel in once it was completed (pictured above, it is a quilted silk lined wool zippered bag emblazoned with four pink crystals). Ken’s work can be found in the museum collections of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Heard Museum, Montclair Art Museum, Utah Museum of Natural History, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC), the National Museum of Scotland, and the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. NYSM has the honor of being the first museum in New York to include Ken’s work in permanent collections.