Tyler woman reviving a lost art

Tyler woman reviving a lost art

TYLER (KYTX) - An East Texas woman is working to preserve history and revive a lost art form one small piece of glass at a time.

"I grew up at a time when it was not trendy to be Native American, which it kind of is now. It was, in fact, something that you hid."

Growing up in Oklahoma, Martha Berry always had a curiosity about her Cherokee heritage.

"What made them laugh, and what made them angry, what made them cry, and what their hands looked like. And, just all those things that you can't know of people who've already passed."

She knew beadworking was a way of life for Cherokees, so she set out to teach herself the art, in hopes of finding a deeper connection with her ancestors. And, it wasn't easy.

"There were no books, there were no how-to instructions. There were no classes being taught in it. It was before the Internet was up and running."

Berry says she learned the art by studying old pictures of Cherokee beaded artifacts and Cherokees wearing beadwork.

"And then, you have another needle that comes up through the fabric, and over that thread, and down again."

It's an intricate process that requires a lot of time and patience. Some pieces take Berry 300 hours or more to create.

"This beadwork was the product of a highly elevated culture at peace." she says.
But by 1840, Berry says Cherokee beadwork started to disappear. That was the year of the Indian Removal or Trail of Tears, where thousands of Southeastern tribes were forced out of their homes and moved to Oklahoma. Berry says they lost almost everything.

"I think we just kept thinking, if we appear more and more Western, more and more Anglo, you know, incorporate all of their clothing and accoutrements, and not wear this old Cherokee stuff, anymore that we will be left alone."

The Cherokees abandoned their beaded art, but through the work of artists like Martha Berry, it's slowly starting to return and become popular again.

"It really has been very rewarding in terms of making that connection and becoming a real part of the Cherokee community."

A community Berry is proud to call her own

She has won many awards and prizes through her beadwork. Most recently, she was designated a Cherokee National Living Treasure. It's a special honor awarded to people who have worked to preserve and perpetuate Cherokee artwork for at least 10 years.

Berry is a registered tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She currently lives outside the Nation in Tyler with her husband.


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