Wampum is a traditional and contemporary coastal Algonquian artform from the longer Wampanoag term wampumpeak -meaning ‘shell beads.’ Carved from thick, slow-growing ocean bivalves called the quahog, striking purple and white contrasts affords the ability to sculpt abstract geometrics and animal effigy forms and beads in a variety of sizes.
(Above: The artist using a pump drill to make long wampum tube beads.)
A quahog shell next to wampum beads and some ropey, hand-spun milkweed fiber.
European colonists were impressed by Wampanoag* leaders’ regal attire and there are numerous accounts of the wampum belts and rich purple and white wampum applique on deerskin and trade cloth clothing. The shell is considered wholesome because the material comes out of the Atlantic ocean, from which Wampanoags continue to derive sustenance and identity.
The artist shapes unique jewelry from local quahog shells by eye using a combination of modern and traditional methods, and weaves wampum belts, bracelets and alliance collars on deerskin or handspun milkweed and Indian hemp. *Wampanoag homelands comprise eastern Massachusetts including Cape Cod and the Islands, and Eastern Rhode Island including Tiverton to Barrington, East Providence and Cumberland.
Sources of traditional spinning fiber:
Indian hemp, butterfly weed, milkweed in the artists garden.