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By Jim Cornelius
News Editor 

Fireside to feature Warm Springs artist

 

Last updated 2/14/2023 at Noon

JIM CORNELIUS

Three Sisters Historical Society, led by Diane Prescott (center), is hosting Warm Springs artist Aurolyn Stwyer (right), for a Fireside Story Evening on February 21. Stwyer is joined by her apprentice Shirley Allen (left).

Aurolyn Stwyer is renowned for her beadwork and for her traditional dancing. The Warm Springs artist will bring her deep knowledge of the cultural heritage of her Celilo people to Sisters on February 21, in a Fireside Story Evening at FivePine Lodge and Conference Center on February 21.

Stwyer learned beading in the traditional way — from her grandmother.

“I would sit and watch, and finally my grandmother pulled out some beads and some needle and thread, she told me how to do it from beginning to end,” she recalled.

She gave her first piece of beadwork to her grandmother.

“In our way, the first one you make, you have to give it away,” she said. “That is our value system.”

Stwyer is an entrepreneur as well as an artist, with a master’s of business administration in strategic management from University of Minnesota. Her entrepreneurial streak showed up early.

When she was 11, she was a softball player.

“They couldn’t strike me out,” she said with a smile,” because I had a small (strike) zone.”

It cost money to travel for games, and she quickly found a way to make some: She sold beadwork to a local store proprietor. And a career was born.

Stwyer is a teacher for the Museum of Warm Springs, teaching beading, jewelry, working with animal-derived textiles, and visual arts. She dances at major powwows across the country, and has been awarded championships at the Julyamsh Powwow, Pi-Ume-Sha Powwow, Yakama Treaty Days, and the Pendleton Round-Up.

One of her signatures is magnificent beaded horse regalia. She watched her mother and father put together traditional 19th century Plateau saddles — which resemble old-school Mexican saddles, and decided to do it herself. She researched the tradition at the High Desert Museum.

“The High Desert Museum has 30,000 items back-of-the-house,” she said. “They just turned me loose.”

Stwyer doesn’t claim to be an ace horsewoman — but her sister is: Eliza Greene Redhouse is a hall-of-fame jockey at the Pendleton Round-up.

Another ace horsewoman is in her orbit. Stwyer traveled to Sisters last week with Shirley Allen, who is apprenticing in beadwork with Stwyer. Allen’s family are cowboys and prominent in rodeo.

At the Fireside Story Evening, Stwyer will explain the traditions of Plateau beadwork and what sets it apart from other native styles, including those from the Great Plains and the Southwest.

Teaching about the craft traditions of her people is a passion for Stwyer. She is also passionate about activism around the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Across North America, native women have been killed or have gone missing at a disproportionate rate — a matter that is garnering attention now after being overlooked for many years. The issue is complicated by lack of investigative resources and jurisdictional conflicts between state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement.

The issue strikes right in the heart for Stwyer. Another sister is among the missing.

She is working on a traditional shell dress in red, to honor and raise awareness of the missing and murdered.

“Red symbolizes the missing and murdered,” she said. “This dress is my way of grieving, my way of healing.”

The Three Sisters Historical Society Fireside Story Evening is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21, at FivePine Lodge and Conference Center, 1021 E. Desperado Trail in Sisters. Tickets are $10 at the door (free to Historical Society members). To make reservations, call 541-610-6323.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit www.frontierpartisans.com.

 

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