Lakota Beadwork Artist Kevin Fast Horse: Know the Beads

Take #2 of our (Rose and my) visit to Kevin's studio - here he shares with us his love of Italian glass beads - their unique beauty and also the challenges involved when working with these very peculiar gems.

The title of this segment is Get to Know the Beads (and Kevin definitely knows what he's talking about here). Wow!

[Rose] What a great studio, Kev!
[Kevin] I like it down here. It's roomy, I have connection with the outside world (I got a radio and TV), and a window (I gotta have a window, I gotta have daylight).

[Rose] Plus, it's so organized. Your arrangement of beads by mix…
[Kevin]…and by size. All my 10s are over here, my 10/0s and all my 12/0s are over here. I also have my mixes (color combinations that I like)…and I keep my background colors separate.

Working with handcut Italian glass beads
[Kevin] You have to know the beads. You have to work with them for a long time…and I just know them.
[Rose] And there's a certain mastery with working with hand cut beads, like you said…you have to roll them around and spin them around and make them lay down nice…its not like a uniform Czech cut glass bead, when you can just pick them up and sew them down.
[Kevin] They all look good when they're Czechs, but when you use Italians…
When I first started it didn't look like this [referring to the perfect rows of beadwork he's known for]…some rows were wider and some parts were narrower. But, after a few years of doing this, you learn the beads and you get them to lay down together in uniform straight rows.

[Kevin] It's not easy…the most difficult beads to work with are the white hearts.
[Rose] Why?
[Kevin] The way they are cut (some are cut bigger, some are cut more narrow). To get them in a perfect half inch just gotta work at it.
[Rose] So sometimes 7 beads doesn't work [referring to the lazy stitch technique of sewing down 7 beads at a time]. Sometimes it has to be 8 or sometimes it can be 6 really fat ones.
[Kevin] Yes. [for example] I have a yellow white heart (those are the hardest ones to work with). I did a bear robe with those and it took me almost 3 months to finish it (I can usually do a bear robe in about half that time, so it seemed like it took forever).

Time depends on beads & design
[Rose] So every project has its own timetable based on how those beads are cut, how elaborate the design is…
[Kevin] Yes, it all depends on what beads you use and what design you use. You want each piece to be unique and one-of-a-kind, so you gotta change it up all the time. You could easily make a quick dollar by doing the same thing over and over again, but that's not what I'm trying to do here. I want to be quality and unique and different.

Respect for the art, the craft, and the collector
[Rose] So not only do you respect the art, but you also respect the person who collects it because…
[Kevin] They are getting a really nice piece that was made from the heart, from the very beginning to the end, and its different from what anyone else has. It won't be a duplicate, it's not mass produced, it's not something you're going to find in any other gallery. It's different.

[Kevin] I'm addicted to doing this [referring to beadwork]…I have to do this everyday.

Italian glass beads: The beauty, the unique challenges
The Italian beads…there's something about them. They're attractive and a challenge to work with. I like the challenge (I don't know if that's still the kid in me, but I like that).

I like the translucent colors. The owner of Prairie Edge, Ray, he encouraged me to learn to use these translucent colors. I like the opaques, too, but, they're hard to mix [Italian translucent with opaques] - you can't do a background and then just use any bead with it, because sometimes the beads are small, sometimes they're bigger...but they're all labeled the same size. Some have round holes in the center, but some are square (and that's weird)…it just depends on what beads you get.

Some of the red translucent beads and the purples…they have square holes. They look round, but when you look at them really close, they have a square in them.

There's a red bead…I don't mix it with anything else. The ends are sharp. The way they're cut, if you pull your row too tight on them, they'll cut your thread!

[Kevin shows us a few of the most unique beads in his collection]