PEMBROKE — Seed jewelry making and soapstone carving, laced with stories of history and tradition, are just a sample of the creative treasure trove Mardella Lowery will share this year with workshop students at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Museum of Southeast Native American Indian.
When Lowery is approached by class organizers about sharing some of her skills, she comes to the table with about 30 possibilities, depending on the age of the students. But whether it’s seed jewelry or soapstone carving, Lowery plans for every student to leave her workshops with a finished project.
Born and raised in Robeson County, Lowery is a member of the Lumbee tribe. She moved to Philadelphia where she became involved in the United American Indians of Delaware Valley and began her teaching and art career. She focuses in the areas of bead and leather work, quilting, wood, bone and soapstone carving and storytelling.
Lowery has been the featured artist at hundreds of festivals, powwows, schools and libraries and recently appeared at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. She was the only American Indian among 152 artists accepted for Pennsylvania’s Artists in Education program.
She learned much of her craft from her family, but it was during one of her storytelling presentations years ago that she met her soapstone carving mentor, Old Bear Grinning. With his encouragement, she discovered a talent and love of carving, and learned to never leave work unfinished.
“He told me to never go into a class, or sit down to a piece of work, if you can’t finish it,” she said.
Lowery has the same expectation for her workshop students.
While it took her four nights to complete a turtle for Old Bear Grinning, workshop participants will have only two and a half hours to create their pieces. To make sure they can successfully complete their work, Lowery times how long it takes her to finish a potential workshop project, and then allows an extra 20 to 30 minutes for a student to be able to complete the same project.
Seed jewelry workshops are tentatively planned for Sept. 6 and 16, and she hopes to have soapstone carving workshops scheduled soon.
If a soapstone carving workshop is scheduled, students will be provided a 4-inch-by-5-inch piece of soapstone, a nail, a file and three weights of sandpaper. The cost of this class will depend on the weight and cost of the soapstone.
Seed jewelry students may choose from North Carolina and Navajo corn, three types of pumpkin, two kinds of cantaloupe or watermelon, or chinaberries. Seeds, beads, No. 8 needle and thread will be provided and the cost is $30 per person. If a child attends this workshop, the adult companion is responsible for ensuring both projects are complete with the allotted workshop time, or they can make one together.
Participants who want to bring a child to one of Lowery’s workshops should call Alisha Locklear Monroe, museum assistant, at 910-521-6282, to confirm age appropriateness of proposed projects. Lowery said if a project is shared, the cost for the child won’t be for the full amount.
The museum is located in Old Main on the campus of UNCP. For information call 910-521-6282 or visit uncp.edu/nativemuseum.
Reach Juanita Lagrone at [email protected] or call 910-416-5865.