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Northern Arapaho beadworker brings his creative process to the public at the Wyoming State Museum

Northern Arapaho beadworker Marcus Dewey in his handmade beadworking creations. The war bonnet and pipe bag belonged to his father.
Marcus Dewey
Northern Arapaho beadworker Marcus Dewey in his handmade beadworking creations. The war bonnet and pipe bag belonged to his father.

For Northern Arapaho artist Marcus Dewey, beadwork is much more than a craft – it’s his way of communicating traditions, dreams, and values. Dewey, who was born and raised in Hot Springs County, began picking up the skill by watching his mother, grandmother, and great-aunt. He has been beading full-time since 1990 and received a Visual Arts Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2022.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Monday, Oct. 9th, Dewey will pull back the curtain on his intricate creative process at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne from 10am-3pm. Throughout the day, Dewey will answer questions about his art and work on his latest project, a full-size beaded dress that he said will be titled “The Murdered and Missing Woman of the World.”

“I think this current project I'm working on is going to touch a lot of hearts and get people thinking, because [the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons’ Crisis] is a big problem,” he said.

The idea for the dress came to Dewey in a dream based on real-life marches that take place in Riverton. The marches raise awareness about the rates of violence that disproportionately harm Native people in Wyoming and throughout the world.

The artist currently has pieces on display in the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the MorDo Collection in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dewey also regularly participates in the Wyoming Arts Council’s Folk Art Mentoring Program, where he is able to share his knowledge and skills with the next generation of beadworkers.

“I mentor every other year, just to teach what I know and keep the tradition of beadwork alive so it's not lost,” he said.

Dewey said many cultures around the world have created beadwork throughout history and believes that the medium can help educate and connect many different people.

“Through art, we can touch a lot of people, because art is for everybody. Everybody's an artist, I think,” he said.

At the Wyoming State Museum, Dewey will be joined by four of his family members, who will dance, sing, and share about some of the history and significance of their performances throughout the day.

Melisa McChesney is the curator of community engagement at the Wyoming State Museum. She said the event is an opportunity for people to dive deeper into contemporary Indigenous art practices.

“Our goal with the event is to get people to think out of their normal box and learn about culture and history that they maybe don't always get exposure to in school or in their day-to-day life,” she said.

McChesney also said that the medium of beadworking can help open up the conversation to talk about so much more.

“I think it’s an easy entry point for people to come and earn more, like ‘What do the patterns mean? Why did beadworking become a tradition in the first place? Why is it important that people still continue to practice these traditional artistic practices?’,” she said.

In 2021 and 2022, the museum hosted similar events with Eastern Shoshone beadworker DaleRae Green and Jemez Pueblo potter Rose Pecos-SunRhodes. The event is free and open to the public.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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