Wari: Meet Project Tunic Contestant Victoria Johnson-Parratt

Victoria Johnson-Parratt’s passion for bead work began with a $15, single-day class taught in 2000 at the Cuyahoga Weavers Guild. The class was on peyote stitch bead weaving, a technique that is found in works from Ancient Egypt as well as in many Native American cultures. Johnson-Paratt admits that she was ill-prepared for this endeavor and struggled at first. She notes, “I did not get close to finishing, and
I was truly the most pitiful participant of the day.”

Despite her initial struggle, she continued to practice the technique at home, gradually moving beyond ten-row creations to more elaborate configurations. Fate intervened when she found a small bead store that was going out of business and she was able to purchase a number of Delica beads at a discounted price. She began creating bracelets that were sold at local galleries and commissioned by family and friends. Johnson-Parratt says, “I prefer knowing who will wear my work while I am making it.” Her practice has now expanded to include belts and detachable straps for dresses.

Her most ambitious project thus far was her “Lightning Dance” purse, named for its intricate design which, according to Johnson-Parratt, resembles “a dance of two lightning bolts.” She had recently become the volunteer librarian for the Cuyahoga Weavers Guild and had the opportunity to indulge her curiosity by reading books about weaving in the library’s collection. The design for the purse was inspired by a textile found in a Pre-Inca Peruvian graveyard. Johnson-Parratt explains, “I was drawn to the dimensionality of the pattern. I had to widen the design and add color to create a similar effect in beadwork.” She has been reluctant to sell this work, noting that, “I couldn’t put a reasonable value on it. It would take three months of 8-hour days to make another like it. I find peace knowing that it is complete, and probably destined to be the only one of its kind.”

Her previous design experience has prepared her well for the Project Tunic challenge. Project Tunic will be on January 4,  2013 as part of MIX: Runway at the museum. She will be creating beaded accessories for a little black dress. She will produce a belt and straps in a twenty-one row pattern worked in Delica beads and finished with twenty-four carat gold and silver. This work will showcase a new skill she has perfected—working with an odd count of beads. Her beaded design is inspired by several works in the Wari exhibition, including Tapestry Tunic and Four Cornered Hat and Bag with Human Face. She calls her version of the design "Hugs and Kisses."

Johnson-Parratt enjoys trying new things and learning new techniques, but she continually goes back to the peyote stitch technique. She says, “I am just not finished studying the subject. I may have what could arguably be the largest personal peyote stitch jewelry collection in the world, but there's always room for more.”

-    Courtney Ruffalo-Miller, Education Intern


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