By Kelly Anne Smith
MANITOWANING – The fingers of artist Sarah Williams go into fast motion when she sits down to her bead work.
She is part of the mother and daughter team of hand-crafting jewellers from Wawatay Quay. They are from Manitowaning and citizens of Sheguiandah First Nation.
Janine’s other daughter, Emma Chokomoolin, is taking a break from jingle dancing and working on her beading as well. Father Michael Chokomoolin is an artist with a brush originally from Attawapiskat.
Handcrafts are an art form shaped by territory, clan and family. Mother Janine Williams says the talented family crafts in the winter months and enjoy the summer travelling to different parts of the province to pow wows to sell their wares.
They are filling a niche for Indigenous jewellery and culture. Women and girls are drawn to their displays of colourful jewellery. They put their fingers behind the earrings perhaps to imagine what they would look like on their ears. One teenager holds the earrings up to her ears and says to her mom, “What do you think?”
Sarah learned from the school of Mom and Dad. Now mother Janine says Sarah is much faster than her. Her mom calls her fast, very fast. “She teaches me the older stuff and the simpler, because she is so much faster. I’m like a slow turtle.”
At 29 years old, Sarah has been serious about beading since she was a little girl. “See the triangle earrings with the tassels; I could do those at seven.” She kept up with lessons learned from an Elder in Timmins. Janine adds the Elder is originally from Moosonee. Sarah progressed to crafting Dream Catchers, still at an early age.
For many years she treated beading as a hobby. Sarah is now sought out for her art. “For the last five years I’ve really learned the more intricate adding and subtracting brick stitch. And it’s gone on from there.”
Janine is proud of her daughter’s accomplishments speaking of her custom orders that keep Sarah busy.
“I’ve done crowns. I’ve done headbands and cuffs, and hair ties.” Even though the work is done by hand and is very time consuming, Sarah says her pricing is reasonable.
Janine says she passed on the talent. “When she was young, I used to go to craft. We used to have a crafting day every week where a bunch of us would gather. So I guess I gave her the spark.”
Janine and now Sarah pass along the enthusiasm for beading. They make it a point to bead while the booth is open for sales. “We’re trying to revive the beadwork. Women are interested and they see that we are actually doing the work ourselves. Our positive energy goes into our work. That’s important too.”
The crafting family attended the Maamwi – Kindaaswin in North Bay in June and the Munsee-Delaware Nation pow wow – Lunaapeewiin – a celebration of the Lunaape language and heritage in July. They just returned from spending the weekend on Bear Island near Temagami. That pow wow is special for Janine to see her granddaughter and to be called “Kookum.” Janine said the festival goers were enthused too. “It was great!”
Janine hopes to attend the Nipissing First Nation Pow Wow at Jocko Point in September. “There is a woman in North Bay who keeps inviting us. “You’ve got to come.”