Visiting with us from her home in Montana, Jackie Larson Bread (Blackfeet) is a renowned beadwork artist known for her detailed portraiture and geometric abstraction rendered with a gorgeous and nuanced palette of glass seed beads. She won Best of Show at the 2019 Santa Fe Indian Market (after previously winning in 2013). Her winning piece—a beaded naturalistic portrait of Bread’s great-aunt that highlights Blackfeet geometric designs on her great-aunt’s buckskin dress—followed the 2019 SWAIA theme “Rise and Remember: Honoring the Resilience of Native Women.”
How have things changed from you since the COVID-19 pandemic began?
Life has been complicated this past year. My work had ground to a halt because for the past three and a half years I cared for my granddaughter. I abbreviated everything I did professionally, and we just had a big bunch of fun. Then, things changed, and I had her part of the time. It was good that I had to get back to work by virtue of the C. M. Russell Museum art auction in Great Falls [Montana]. Even though it got canceled this week. I’ve been productive and working. It’s still my absolute best place to be, my happy spot, to be doing my artwork.
You were taking care of your granddaughter full time while you were creating the 2019 Santa Fe Indian Market’s Best of Show work?
People talk about doing some of your best work when you are under the most emotional stress and I believe it. I had many people tell me at Indian Market, “You know it’s beautiful, but it’s the feeling in this piece that makes it so amazing.” And I responded, “Well, I had a lot of emotions going through me at the time I created it, and it translated into my artwork.”
Have things changed in your community since a national emergency was called?
Not drastically. For the Great Falls show, everyone had been preparing since last year except me. We have so many artists dependent on the show in this area because it’s a major venue. It’s now being rescheduled for the summer or fall. In the meantime, I see artists offering their work via social media and their websites who haven’t done that before. That’s one good thing coming out of the pandemic.
Also, I look at it as people who are home with their families now that things have shut down. They are getting back to basics, and that’s also a good thing. There are some bright moments during these trying times. I grew up on a ranch with parents who grew up in the Great Depression; they were older parents. We had an entirely different way of thinking and living. I’ve been fighting to return to that pace all my life. It is a quiet, peaceful place. I feel peaceful right now. I could be more worried, but I really feel peaceful right now.
I’ll visit with people on the phone, but in person, basically my family. My son, my daughter, my granddaughter, my husband, and my granddaughter’s father and his girlfriend. and that is my circle right now. That’s good too.
Has anything else changed for you since the pandemic began?
Not so much. As artists, we really tend to isolate, for lack of a better word. We spend a lot of time with ourselves on a regular basis. For me, things have not changed a whole lot in that respect. I’m very comfortable being by myself and just doing my thing.
Why do you think it’s important to keep making things right now despite gallery, museum, and show closings?
I think it’s important for our own personal souls to keep creating beauty. That will translate to other people. First and foremost, though, it is important for us to keep ourselves centered. Creating art is my happy spot. I’m building a little bit of an inventory, which I never had, and that’s awesome too!
What impact do you think this period will have in the art world in the years to come?
It will be profound. Some people who weren’t 100 percent professional, practicing artists will find this time as an open door to explore and find their calling. It will be a wonderful gift for the art world in the years to come.