By RENEE FITE
Weaving beads into tiny patterns to make jewelry is as challenging and rewarding as any artistic expression.
For two decades, Nancy Thomas Oosahwe has been working in beads, and her current passion is adorning hats.
“I love to see the finished items. I challenge myself to keep trying different things. That is how I came to do the hats,” Oosahwe said. “I found one at an antique mall and could already see how I wanted it to look.”
Once she figured our a technique, she began to work with designs and colors. It takes 30 to 40 hours to complete a hat.
“I make art because of the satisfaction I feel when I see the completed projects,” Oosahwe said. “And I would say I enjoy the reaction of those people who look at my art and those who choose to buy it.”
Reading and watching older artists taught Oosahwe how to bead.
“The technique for most beadwork can be found in books. What is important are the colors and patterns you decide to use,” she said. “I enjoy using basic traditional colors.”
She prefers to work with glass-cut beads.
“When I first started beading, most beads came from Czechoslovakia. That was before the iron curtain came down and beads were much more expensive back then. Now there are many sources for supplies,” she said.
Right now, Oosahwe chooses to work with beads and leather, but in the past, she learned wood-carving from Thomas Muskrat and Nancy Prickett. Oosahwe also took classes with other area teachers.
“I took a pottery class with Jane Osti, a graphic arts class at one point. I was mediocre at everything,” she said.
Her art has been influenced by Thomas Muskrat more than anyone else, she said.
“He would hand me something and tell me, ‘See if you can bead this.’ Then when I was finished, he would often tell me he liked it, but then he would give me constructive criticism. Not always easy to listen to, but I always learned and worked hard to improve.”
A graduate of Northeastern State University, Oosahwe has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Elementary Education. She was once a third-grade teacher at Shady Grove School, and eventually retired as superintendent of Bell School.
“Those were the most stressful and traumatic years of my adult life,” she said. “Titles aren’t that important. It is all about the kids to me.”
Future endeavors in art include “a leather jacket to put beadwork on, and a man in Missouri sent me a beaver jaw to put beadwork on.”
She’s married to Jess Oosahwe, and they live in the Shady Grove community. They have a son and a daughter, and 10 grandchildren.
“I like to powwow, read, sew, crochet, and of course, beadwork,” she said. “My husband, Jess, has also become noted for his art with beads and leather. He has created many traditional items.”
They set up at Arts on the Avenue in June, Cherokee Holiday in September, and the Keetoowah Celebration in October, all here in Tahlequah.
Anyone wanting to learn beadwork could start with Light Eyes Shop, where the owner is capable of getting anyone started, Oosahwe said.