It took Brenda Mahan nearly two years to complete this Athabascan firebag. It is 9.5” x 10” with a 60” wool yarn strap which hangs approximately 30”. Brenda says, “It is beaded on both sides and lined with cotton fabric. I utilized size 11 Japanese seed beads and it is edged with size 6 Japanese seed beads. I utilized black wool broadcloth to create the piece. On each side, there is a main flower in the center. These flowers are old patterns that I attempted to re-create. Although the overall design is my original, I referenced Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan to design my piece and to determine what was used to create a firebag.” Courtesy photo
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Brenda Mahan – Athabascan Beader

Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan with her latest pieces of beadwork include a firebag, wall hanging and moose hide octopus bag. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan with her latest pieces of beadwork include a firebag, wall hanging and moose hide octopus bag. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I have been admiring beadwork by Brenda Mahan for the past few years. She is Koyukon Athabascan with roots from Galena, Alaska and now lives in Nevada. Brenda was raised in Cordova, Alaska and is a shareholder of Chugach Alaska Corporation. Although she has a day job as a child support supervisor, she spends her free time beading. I consider her a master artist in beading.

Brenda’s adoptive parents are Pete and Marlene Laplante. Her birth grandparents were Johnson and Lilly Henry from Galena, Alaska. Brenda’s birth mother is Madeline Henry. Madeline is a beader, and collaborated with her late mother, Lilly Henry, to make several large coasters for the Governor’s Awards in Alaska in the 1982. Madeline and late Lilly also have a piece featured in Kate C. Duncan’s book, Some Warmer Tone Alaska Athabascan Bead Embroidery.

Brenda says, “Being adopted, I learned bead embroidery from books.” One such book was, Ann’s Creations: Designs & Instructions for Making Your Own Athabascan Beadwork by Ann Goessel, where she learned some of the basics to beading. In 2001, she ventured to make her first beaded barrette. In 2004, Brenda took a beading class taught by Athabascan bead artist, Delores Sloan, held at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. In 2009, Brenda decided to create floral beadwork with moose hide with a goal to sell it at Alaska Native Medical Center’s Gift Shop in Anchorage, Alaska. The ANMC Gift Shop is known for selling high quality traditional Alaska Native arts and crafts. Brenda said, “This was an honor for me to have my items accepted in this gift shop as it meant that my beadwork had met a high standard.”

Angela Gonzalez and Brenda Mahan meet in Anchorage
Angela Gonzalez and Brenda Mahan meet in Anchorage

Brenda was always drawn to beadwork and sewing and especially loves floral beadwork. She finds inspiration from nature. She grew up enjoying the wonders of Alaska, like beach combing, berry picking, hiking, skiing, snow machining, trapping, hunting and fishing. Brenda’s preferred materials include size 11 Japanese seed beads, nymo thread, porcupine quills, moose hide, dentallium shells and Ultra suede. Brenda uses the two-needle method which she believes makes her lines straighter and more controlled curves. This method came naturally to her, but designing has been more of a challenge.

“I love to work with the soft moose hide and the smell of smoked hide conjures up many feelings of happiness for me. There are not many people who bead on moose hide anymore due to the rising cost.” Brenda Mahan, Koyukon Athabascan

Beadwork brings Brenda closer to her Athabascan and Alaska Native people. She often shares her beadwork on a Facebook group, called Athabascan Showcase. Brenda enjoys connecting with people, and has even discovered some are distant relatives.

Brenda was honored to receive with several pages of floral patterns and a zipper pull mukluk pattern (signature piece) from Madeline. Brenda wishes she lived closer to Madeline so they could bead together. Brenda only met her late grandmother, Lilly Henry, once and treasures looking at pictures of her beadwork. Brenda adds an edge technique to some of her beadwork in honor of Lilly’s style of beadwork.

Brenda Mahan has spent over 100 hours making this moose hide octopus bag. She says, “Currently, the top is done and I am preparing to put it all together. The strap is done and I am lining that with hide using picot-edge beading. I plan to assemble the top in a similar manner. The tentacles will be lined separately from the bag so that eight tentacles hang down from the main bag. The bag will also be lined using picot-edge beading. I've add more details to the bag, little flowers all over.” Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
Athabacan Artist Brenda Mahan has spent over 100 hours making this moose hide octopus bag. She says, “Currently, the top is done and I am preparing to put it all together. The strap is done and I am lining that with hide using picot-edge beading. I plan to assemble the top in a similar manner. The tentacles will be lined separately from the bag so that eight tentacles hang down from the main bag. The bag will also be lined using picot-edge beading. I’ve add more details to the bag, little flowers all over.” Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
A close up view of Brenda Mahan's beadwork. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
A close up view of Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan’s beadwork. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Although, I am no expert at beading or determining if someone is a master bead artist, I feel Brenda’s artwork is exemplary. Her work reflects her extensive research on the style and technique of Athabascan beadwork. One of Brenda’s latest projects is a moose hide octopus bag. It is approximately 11” x 15” with beadwork on one side. Her center flower is her attempted to re-create using an older book called, Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan. Brenda says, “Sometimes I feel like I am connecting to that person when I try to re-create their old flower pattern. The patterns are more difficult than ones that I’ve done in the past. I’ve learned about color and contrast working with these more difficult patterns. I feel like the past speaks to me through my beadwork.”

Brenda studied several octopus bags in museums. However, she has never been able to handle one. The bag is going to be lined. The shape of the bag with the tentacles fascinates her, and she has enjoyed making it. Brenda has been careful in planning and creating the bag using old traditional flower patterns and moose hide throughout.

Angela Gonzalez wears earrings made by Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan
Angela Gonzalez wears earrings made by Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan

Brenda sells some of her beadwork at the Alaska Native Medical Center gift shop in Anchorage, Alaska and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe Fox Peak in Fallon, Nevada. You can view some of Brenda’s work on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Brenda is grateful to friends and mentors, like Emma Forsberg and Glenda McKay, for assistance during the process of learning to bead. Brenda’s dream is to bead an Athabascan baby belt. Although, she knows it will be a large, costly and time-consuming project, she’s looking forward to creating one with full moose hide. One day, Brenda also like to create moccasins, mittens and different types of traditional Athabascan bags. She would love to make these items with moose hide and in the traditional manner as it seems to be becoming a lost tradition (creating them entirely out of moose hide).

I recently met her in Anchorage. Her face lights up when she talks about her work and the process. If I know one thing about artists, it is the fact that they love discussing process. She brought three pieces of artwork with her, and I enjoyed seeing the detail of her work. Brenda’s beadwork almost looks 3D, and I thought some beads were raised. She assured me that it was not raised.

As you can see, Brenda is very talented Athabascan bead working and artist. I admire how much she invests into the planning and creation of each of her pieces. Ana basee’ Brenda for sharing your work and passion!

It took Brenda Mahan nearly two years to complete this Athabascan firebag. It is 9.5” x 10” with a 60” wool yarn strap which hangs approximately 30”. Brenda says, “It is beaded on both sides and lined with cotton fabric. I utilized size 11 Japanese seed beads and it is edged with size 6 Japanese seed beads. I utilized black wool broadcloth to create the piece. On each side, there is a main flower in the center. These flowers are old patterns that I attempted to re-create. Although the overall design is my original, I referenced Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan to design my piece and to determine what was used to create a firebag.” Courtesy photo
It took Brenda Mahan, an Athabascan artist, nearly two years to complete this Athabascan firebag. It is 9.5” x 10” with a 60” wool yarn strap which hangs approximately 30”. Brenda says, “It is beaded on both sides and lined with cotton fabric. I utilized size 11 Japanese seed beads and it is edged with size 6 Japanese seed beads. I utilized black wool broadcloth to create the piece. On each side, there is a main flower in the center. These flowers are old patterns that I attempted to re-create. Although the overall design is my original, I referenced Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan to design my piece and to determine what was used to create a firebag.” Courtesy photo

 

Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan made this wall hanging, entitled Alaskan Angel. It is made of moose hide and is 10.5"x12". Brenda says, “Alaskan Angels flies high above the Northern Lights (which is the fringe) so that she can have the best view, constantly watching and guarding over everything. Her dog is her constant companion, watching over Alaskan Angel; pure love and always together. Just like her dog, Alaskan Angel will be loyal to you, watch over you and love you unconditionally. Believe in Angels.” Brenda donated it to the Friends of Pets Quilt Auction, which will take place on October 7, 2017, 11 am-2 pm at the University Center Mall in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan made this wall hanging, entitled Alaskan Angel. It is made of moose hide and is 10.5″x12″. Brenda says, “Alaskan Angels flies high above the Northern Lights (which is the fringe) so that she can have the best view, constantly watching and guarding over everything. Her dog is her constant companion, watching over Alaskan Angel; pure love and always together. Just like her dog, Alaskan Angel will be loyal to you, watch over you and love you unconditionally. Believe in Angels.” Brenda donated it to the Friends of Pets Quilt Auction, which will take place on October 7, 2017, 11 am-2 pm at the University Center Mall in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
Moose Calling along the Dietrich River, an oil painting by Rose Albert. Courtesy image
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Rose Albert – Athabascan Painter and Artist

Rose Albert. Courtesy photo
Rose Albert. Courtesy photo

I have admired Rose Albert’s painting for years. Rose is Koyukon Athabascan originally from Ruby, Alaska. She is a talented artist and also a former Iditarod sled dog musher. She is owner of Nowitna River Studios and resides in Anchorage.

Rose always wanted to become an artist since she was two years old. She remembers playing under the blankets with my siblings and being fascinated by static electricity. The streaks of light looked like little angels to her and her siblings. At the age of five, Rose’s first three drawings were of angels with wings.

Another vivid memory is when Rose was mesmerized by midnight blue glass beads shining at an old dump site. The color blue spoke to her and in second grade, she drew rivers, streams and mountains and colored them blue. Rose says, “After school as dusk fell upon us, I would stand one place outside and watch as the atmosphere turned blue.” She remembers getting cold outside but couldn’t resist watching how the blue faded into darkness. Rose realized later, she was a winter person.

“I went through grade sixth to eighth drawing women in the latest fashions. I gave them away and my classmates seemed to like them. My first oil painting was of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Later in eighth grade I did an oil painting of Zeus who was the sky and thunder God in ancient Greek religion as a class project. The next one and many afterwards were of wild life. One of a bull moose and cow and one with wolves running. Throughout high school, I painted outdoor winter scenes and wildlife and best of all dogs racing down the trail, all along trying to capture that blue atmosphere that cold weather seems to bring on. During high school I took art classes by Don Decker. Though I may have been good at composition, he instructed me on how to work with light and the direction it was coming from and when to use shadows and colors.” – Rose Albert, Koyukon Athabascan

Rose worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System after high school. She painted on her free time on commission from pipeline workers from the Lower 48 who were missing loved ones. Using small snapshots of their wives, she painted 16×20 oil paintings. After that job ended, she was lost afterwards until a school teacher from Ruby told her I should go down to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1981, Rose earned an associate’s degree in two-dimensional art specializing in painting from IAIA. She says, “I still obsessed about blue and brought to life Alaska themes with rich northern colors in cold but romantic settings on the Iditarod race or trapline.”

Rose Albert attending a 2015 Fur Rondy event honoring late George Attle Jr. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Rose Albert attending a 2015 Fur Rondy event honoring late George Attle Jr. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

After Rose returned to Alaska, she got in the Iditarod race and finished in 32nd place. She was the first Alaska Native woman to get into the Iditarod. She says, “It was cold and blue out there and I loved it.” Rose continues to refine her painting techniques depicting wildlife and beautiful Alaska scenes, and loves painting Iditarod scenes. She also specializes in painting portraits.

In 1998, Rose began building Alaska Yellow Cedar boxes and carving wildlife, totemic art and Iditarod images of people and their dogs in the Iditarod. One of her favorite things to do is to design boxes to the appropriate shape or size. Then she pays a woodworker to build finger joint boxes so they will never lose their shape. At one point, Rose had to hire someone to build them because it took too much of her time to build them.

Rose has always loved beads. Ten years ago, she began making costume jewelry, especially with glass beads. The jewelry was a hit, and Rose began adding Swarovski crystals, stone, ceramic, bone and silver beads. Later, she worked with moose antlers by inlaying beautiful natural stones in the antler after slicing them into oval or round buttons. She searched for the best bone or stone beads to go with her pendants. Rose loves all Alaskan stones, like jasper, Malachite, quartz and garnets, but she also likes Labradorite.

Like many Alaska Native artists, Rose is multi-talented and is not afraid to experiment with new art forms. She is also an inspiration for women who want to run in the Iditarod. Follow Rose Albert on the Nowitna River Studios Facebook page or email her at lbrt_rs@yahoo.com. Rose shared a photo of her most recent painting, entitled “Moose Calling along the Dietrich River” on her Facebook page. It took four about four months to paint in five phases. This oil painting depicts a bull moose calling as it walks along the Dietrich river on a brisk autumn day during the rut.

Moose Calling along the Dietrich River, an oil painting by Rose Albert. Courtesy image
“Moose Calling along the Dietrich River”, an oil painting by Rose Albert. Courtesy image