Melissa Smith

Nation/Clan: Tonawanda Seneca/Snipe Clan
WPA Indian Arts Project Ancestor: Melinda Skye (grandmother)

Artist Statement
I have been a beader most of my life. My art is most important to me because it gives me a connection to my grandmother, my mother, and my creator. My grandmother wasn’t with me very long, but she was a very great bead worker.

My art gives me a connection to our time-honored ways. I love creating things because when I’m making it I have a ‘good mind.’ If I have any negative thoughts about people, or events that have happened, that has to be laid aside in order for my beadwork to come out correctly.

My art gives me enjoyment in many ways. The first is in the creation of it. It also gives me satisfaction when someone whom I have never met before, likes something of mine. It makes me happy to know my work will live on, out in the world somewhere.

Yesterday Inspires Today
Lewis Henry Morgan described and illustrated a shoulder ornament similar to one displayed here that he acquired for the New York State Collection from an Oneida woman on Grand River in Canada. It likely influenced the shoulder ornament created by Melinda Skye and Inez Blackchief for the WPA Indian Arts Project in 1935, which, in turn, inspired the work of contemporary beadwork artist Melissa Smith.

“I don’t think my mom or my aunt who I grew up with ever really knew of how great my grandmother’s beadwork was. I think people of that generation were supposed to assimilate into proper white society. Plus
I don’t think my grandmother talked a lot about her beadwork when she got home. I think maybe she didn’t talk about it because she wanted a better life than she had for her daughters. After my mom passed away,
my aunt came with me to all my craft shows, pow wow’s, etc. I know she was proud of me when I would make a sale of something I beaded.”

“My grandmother, Melinda Skye Parker is my connection to the WPA Project. She lived on one end of the reservation and would walk everyday (it was her only job M-F) across the reservation to her job where she would bead and quill some of the beautiful objects that are in the RMSC Collection now. Her grass shoulder ornament necklace is one connection I have.”

“I love to look at other’s beadwork. Looking at theirs, I wonder how or if I could make something like that. My grandmother used to do beadwork, her husband Everett Parker owned a little gift store back in the day. It was there she created a lot of beadwork to earn a little of her own money. I wish to be as good a beader as her. I’m still attempting to do that.”