James Little Wounded: Learning from Grandma & Grandpa

Rose and I chatted with artist James Little Wounded other day and learned all about where he learned his signature technique, some of the symbolism behind his animal imagery, and his love of color while he entertained us with stories from his childhood.

Wow! What an amazing man.

In this snippet, Jim talks about learning how to make things by watching his grandparents work…and (once he was pretty good and pretty fast), challenging his grandma to a beading race.

[Rose] So, was it your grandparents who first taught you how to do beadwork, quillwork, carving, and painting?

[James Little Wounded] I used to watch them when I was younger. Grandma used sinew instead of a needle and thread to do her beadwork. All the beads she didn't use, she would sting them up on a piece of sinew…it kept her very busy.

With Grandpa, we would go get pipe stems or I'd watch him make pipes or whatever he was making. He used to make these pipe tampers that had a little cage on the end with little balls in it.

He had a little pocket knife, too. He used to sharpen it, whistling, singing, and humming. He was in the church choir and he had a deep, base (big boomin' voice). He would sharpen up the knives and carve for a couple 2-3 hours everyday.

I had a [beading] race with grandma one time.

[Rose] Did you win?

[James] Yeah (he says this as he chuckles). We were at Mom's house. I was laying on the couch visiting with her and Grandma was sitting there (almost asleep). Mommom went by and asked, "Why are you just laying around? You should be doing something. Bead or something," she said.

So, Grandma got up, went into the bedroom, and got her big ol' bundle [of beading supplies] she had tied up in a white dishcloth (all her beads and sinew were in an old dishpan inside the bundle).

She brought that out and untied it. Then she asked me, "Are you going to bead, or what are you going to do?" I told her I was working on a pipebag, so I brought that out. "Grandma, let's race".

She laughed. "What are we going to race for?" she said.
"I don't know".

So, she reached in her apron pocket and pulled out some hard candy and put them down (three pieces). "That'll be the prize", she said.

"Okay, we'll start. Let's see how far we get in an hour."
"Okay", she said.
"Okay, go!"

She started and had her tongue out working as fast as she could stringing her beads (on sinew). She was making moccasins. Here I am with a needle and thread and (worked pretty fast) picking up my beads.

To her 2 rows (probably about an inch), I did about 2 or 3 inches in that hour (I did about 4 rows about 10 inches long and her 2 rows were about 4 inches long, but she was doing it the old way).

Smiling, Jim says, "So, I won candy that day".