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Local Indigenous women share traditional beaded capes as part of MJMAG exhibition

The Cape Project is a stunning collection of handcrafted, traditional beadwork capes created by women in the Moose Jaw area, to express the parts of their history that are important to them

“This work took fifty years to mature and come forth, and it arises out of our matriarchs, whose role has not been celebrated. It’s to honour womanhood and most of all, Indigenous women and the role they play in the home.”

These were the opening remarks from curator and Cree traditional artist Barb Frazer, as she welcomed the crowd to the opening of the Women’s Cape Project exhibition at the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery. 

The Cape Project features eight handcrafted capes made by local Indigenous women, each one decorated in traditional beadwork that represents the artist’s family or history in some way. 

Each piece began as part of a nine-week beadwork class with Frazer, organized by Lori Deets, chair of the Wakamow Aboriginal Community Association, with 13 women embarking on the beadwork project. 

The intricate beadwork on each piece took much longer than nine weeks to complete, but the class planted the seed and the project blossomed.

The beaded cape is traditionally a ceremonial item in most Indigenous cultures, worn at the highest ceremonies, and the knowledge of craft is something that is passed down from woman to woman. 

For Frazer, watching these women work on their beadwork and have their capes come together was a dream she had always hoped to accomplish. 

“I was gifted a cape as a child and it was ancient, and I always knew that one day I would recreate that,” said Frazer. “And by teaching others is how I actually got to make a dream come true.”

For mother and daughter artists Karen and Ashley Young, the chance to work on their beadwork together and then see their pieces displayed together in the exhibition is an incredible moment for them.

Their capes are actually displayed in the same case, laying side by side in a nod towards the intimate connection between the two artists. 

“I feel like we've always been really close to each other, but the beading kind of draws us even closer,” said Ashley. “It's just so special to have our work together and be able to go through this journey together.”

“And to get our hard work recognized too,” added Karen. “I never thought that this would happen, I just thought we'd bead and then would keep on them and wear them whenever.”

The Tree of Life and colourful leaves adorning Ashley’s cape represent her own personal journey, and the flowers on Karen’s cape represent her family — tulips for her daughters and grandsons, and forget-me-nots for herself. 

Ashley estimated her cape took over 50 hours to complete, and Karen worked on her cape for several months. 

The two have participated in previous classes held by Frazer and WACA, and agree that beading has a special place in their lives. 

“Beadwork teaches you so many things. It teaches you patience, it teaches you compassion, it teaches you a way to communicate with others and just to open yourself up to the people,” said Ashley.

“It's also very soothing to the mind and soul because you're concentrating on nothing else but what you're doing,” said Karen. “It's good for your brain to just clear everything away and just focus.”

The Cape Project also features beadwork from artists Karen Anderson, Wonda Alton, Bernice La Rose, Mavis Olson, Maryanne Machiskinic, and Jazenta Saultier.

The exhibition is available to the public to view at any time the art gallery is open and will remain at the MJMAG until May 3.