[KELP JOURNAL] Tommey, I am excited for this interview as you are the first beadwork artist to be featured on The Wave! So please, tell me about your craft. How do these pieces come about?
[TOMMEY JODIE] I’m also so excited! Most of my pieces are inspired by my life experiences, my favorite artists, and the Arizona desert. I don’t usually do any preparation for my earrings; I tend to build on the design as I go. It’s a very cathartic process for me, and I am able to expel all the fairy dust, warmth, and love from within into the pieces I make. But when I do have a solid idea or vision for my next big piece, I do my best to sketch it out and gather color pallets for it. One of my most recent projects I’ve done is the “Time Ain’t Accidental” hat that was inspired by Jess Williamson’s new album cover. I am inspired by so many things, but the inspiration I get from my favorite musical artists seem to be my best and favorite ones!
[KJ] I have so many questions like: How long do they take to make? And do the colors or images have any significance? Tell us all about what goes into to these beautiful pieces and products.
[TJ] Beadwork is a very tedious craft, depending on the size of the piece and/or size of the beads, for me, it can take over an hour to complete a pair or it can span over days. The butterfly pair that I am constantly reinventing takes about ten hours total just for a medium size (2x3 inches). Which is why beadwork is so expensive, we are making beautiful things out of beads and stiff felt. But once you get comfortable with a needle and thread, the time goes by so fast. All of the colors and the images you see in my pieces mostly only have great significance to me. But I love hearing when people find a part of themselves in my pieces. Which is why I take my time when I bead, a lot of bead workers will tell you that they only work on a piece when they’re sound of mind or else it will affect the wearer. When I bead, I gravitate towards pastels and colors that resemble the ideas of a specific scene in my head. Pink and purple toned hues are taking up my entire bead collection because I dream in them so much. All in all, so much thought and love go into my pieces. I always want to put out work that I genuinely love and would wear because it makes my work feel even more authentic.
[KJ] It is so amazing to me, that you as a young person have a successful business already. Tell us when did you begin bead-working? What’s your origin story?
[TJ] I had never done anything so intricate in my life before doing beadwork. I come from a long line of cowboys and cowgirls, both sides of my family compete in rodeo, and so did I, until I was a junior in high school. I had so much fun competing, but I felt much more compelled to create art in this medium. Which is why I began beading in early 2020, I was a senior in high school, and I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram when I spotted a beaded pair of rainbow earrings made by Rainbow Mountain Beadwork. They became my first pair of beaded earrings. I was so in awe of the bright and eclectic design. That moment I knew I wanted to collect more earrings, and coming from a low-income household, I couldn’t afford to buy earrings on a consistent basis. Which is why I began to learn how to bead through YouTube tutorials. I have an uncle who does silversmith work, but other than that, nobody in my family knew how to bead. This craft fulfilled my need to create art, I had so many ideas and was so eager to create things for others. From then, all my family did was encourage me.
[KJ] I understand that beadwork is a Diné tradition, can you share more about that?
[TJ] Beadwork is so huge in Diné communities, our own ancestors even believed that our thoughts and knowledge came from colors. The beadwork we make is often an extension of ourselves and representation of a prime example of how Native people have always been innovators, artists, and academics. For many of us, it is a commonly known link to our way of life and to our ancestors. Some of us are taught by our relatives, mentors, or are self-taught, but through this art form, we have the ability to restore connections to generations before us and plant seeds for brighter futures. Which makes it so precious and valuable to Native people.
[KJ] It seems to me that there is a distinction between beadwork on pieces as art (like wall hangings) and beadwork as wearable art (like earrings and hats). What made you choose one over the other?
[TJ] When I first began doing beadwork, I knew I wanted to make wearable art because it was what I initially wanted and what I saw in demand at the time. Additionally, it was also the only thing I knew how to make, and I was too scared to make anything else and getting it wrong. Over the years, I allowed myself to explore the different distinctions of beadwork. I saw so many of my artist friends doing the same thing as well, which helped me get out of my head. So, I like to think that I’m currently in-between and creating both forms of art, it’s fun making wearable art and art to adorn.
[KJ] I see that you are a poet, storyteller, and an activist, too, how do those aspects intersect with your art?
[TJ] All of those aspects deeply impact my art and the way I envision and execute new concepts. Especially since I think that most of my pieces can be considered as wearable poetry, because a lot of them are inspired by songs and poems that I felt connected to or wrote myself. With beadwork, I am a storyteller, especially with my more complicated pieces (art to adorn). The activist part in the process is my business pushing the boundaries and expanding the definition of what is considered Native art. Non-native people tend to put Native art and jewelry in this convenient and safe stereotype box. This box allows non-native people to contradict what our art is and isn’t, such as the current “southwestern aesthetics” trend. But my work and the pieces I create are living resistance to these non-native standards.
[KJ] Finally, I am wondering how can readers support you and other Diné artists?
[TJ] You can support me and other Native artists by following us on our socials and sharing our posts! Being vocal with your support and sharing our work with others helps Native art become more visual. It really is one of the best ways to ensure Native artists can keep creating the work that you and they enjoy. Additionally, being an informed buyer genuinely helps the artist as well as our communities. Educating yourself about the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 and respecting cultural boundaries between you and the artist is very important if you wish to support or buy their work. Ask questions, be curious, be respectful and do your own research.
Tommey Jodie is the owner and maker of Butterflies and Azee'. Northern Arizona born and raised, Tommey created B&A in 2020 and never looked back. Tommey is a current senior at the University of Arizona studying Nutrition and Food Systems & Food Studies with a concentration in Community Organizing. She is also a poet/food (in)justice activist/storyteller.
Yá’át’ééh shik’éí dóó shidine’é, shí éí Tommey Jodie yinishyé. Tótsohnii nishłį́, Tó'aheedlíinii bashishchiin, Áshįįhi dashicheii, Ma’ii Deeshgiizhnii éí dashinalí, Ákót’éego éí diné asdzáán nishłi.
Butterflies and Azee’ officially blossomed in 2020 amidst the pandemic by Tommey Jodie (Diné) from a longtime adoration of beadwork and its endless possibilities to showcase emotion. B&A is homeland to Tommey’s heart and focuses on bold and bright handmade beaded earrings, necklaces, and hats. All of her creations are a labor of love. Therefore, are created because of things she loves. Akin to moments in time, Tommey’s pieces symbolize the desire to capture our most beautiful moments from life and freeze them in time so as to never lose them so you can pass them down to your next generation.
AM Larks’ writing has appeared in NiftyLit, Scoundrel Time, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Five on the Fifth, Charge Magazine, and the Zyzzyva and Ploughshares blogs. She has served as a judge for the Loud Krama Productions Emerging Female and Nonbinary Playwriting Award and has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, CA. She is the managing editor and blog editor at Kelp Journal. She is the former the former fiction editor at Please See Me, the former blog editor of The Coachella Review, as well as the former photography editor at Kelp Journal. AM Larks earned an MFA in Creative Writing from U.C. Riverside, Palm Desert, a J.D., and B.A. in English Literature.