Creating During a Planetary Pandemic | Hollis Chitto

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Hollis Chitto

Beaded medallion, 13° cut seed beads, shell, pearls, Chinese crystal, antique sequins.

By Staci Golar

Beadwork first captured the imagination of Hollis Chitto (Mississippi Choctaw/Laguna and Isleta Pueblos) when he was a young child. Maynard White Owl Lavadour (Cayuse/Nez Perce), a Plateau artist revered for his beautiful, beaded creations, was a family friend and Chitto says he “fell in love” with Lavadour’s work. Not long after, Chitto taught himself how to bead by studying illustrations in a book and experimenting until he got it right.

Now it is Chitto’s beadwork that is catching the attention of collectors, galleries, museums, and publications like Vogue magazine. Visually satisfying and dazzling all at the same time, the work is infused with sophisticated designs and color palettes. Each piece exhibits impressive precision.

Hollis Chitto

Hollis Chitto (Mississippi Choctaw/Laguna and Isleta Pueblos), beadwork artist.

While all of Chitto’s work can stand on beauty alone, many of his pieces also incorporate conceptual elements that communicate everything from concerns around the health and well-being of Native communities (specifically the impact of HIV) to how the Santa Fe–based artist sees himself walking through the world.

Here Hollis shares a snippet of life during this time of surreal, mandatory shutdowns and self-isolation.

What are you currently working on and why?

Currently, I’m working on staying sane! Beadwork-wise I’m finishing up a couple of orders that I’ve had on the back burner for a while. I have also been completing some smaller wearable items for a lower price point for the gallery Hecho a Mano [a gallery in Santa Fe]that will soon be on their website for sale. After that, though, I’m going back to a larger project that I started three years ago. I’m hoping all this time will give me a good chance at finishing that up this year.

Hollis Chitto

Beaded bag with chain on antique purse frame.

Who or what are you most inspired by right now?

Right now I’m inspired by anyone who has the self-discipline to make structure in their day. Before this, I was working at a bead store, Beadweaver, and that gave me a schedule. I’m so much more productive at night, so I would bead after coming home from work, and knowing I had to get up early the next day would give me a stopping point. Right now I can feel myself slowly becoming more and more nocturnal.

As news of the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, so do humorous memes that express how little shelter-in-place orders will change an artist’s day-to-day life (since many already work alone). On a more serious note, do you think this period in time has the potential to change your work if it hasn’t already?

Miniature beaded bag with tassels.

I think it’s definitely going to change a lot of people’s work. As far as mine, I would say I’m starting to take into consideration different price points to my work — something my dad had always gotten after me for. Beyond anything, I love working on large-scale projects but unfortunately, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for affordable options for people. Now I’m having to think of more wearable work that I would enjoy making. Along with that, I’m experimenting a lot more than I have. I’m exploring new techniques that I could incorporate into my work like pearl knotting, wire wrapping, stuff like that. I’m pretty excited to see what that looks like in the future.

What I hope doesn’t happen is for the economic impact of this to discourage new artists. It’s going to be difficult after all of this for established artists to bounce back. I can’t imagine how those just starting out will fare. I hope they all stick with it and face the difficulty with the confidence that it will be worth it down the line. We need new art in the world.

Hollis Chitto

“Resplendent Quetzal,” women’s cornmeal bag with antique micro beads.

What role do you think art can play in a time of crisis?

Catharsis. All art is a form of release in some way, both for the artist and for the appreciator. Art allows us to express whatever emotion we need to express. What I’m saying is that there will be art expressing the struggle but I think more than that there will be art that expresses the beauty and thankfulness that we need in the world right now. That’s what people will want to see. That’s all I can do with my art at this time.

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You can see more of Hollis Chitto’s wearable art jewelry at:

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