Young Santee Artist Grows Hobby into Income

Shaylana Lewis, a proud member of the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, first learned to bead at the tender age of 11 by Donelle La Pointe, her Dakota language teacher from Marty, South Dakota.

Now 19 years old, Lewis is still beading. She says beading brings her to a calm and positive state. Lewis beads jewelry such as earrings, necklaces, rings, headbands and does custom orders. But what originally started out as a hobby has now turned into a lucrative opportunity to make a small income on the side. 

Shaylana recently started displaying and selling her work at the Santee Sioux Unci Maka (GrandMother Earth) Public Market held every Saturday from 11am to 4pm at the Ohiya Casino and Resort located in Niobrara on the Santee Sioux Reservation.

Do you have a support system?
I receive a lot of support from my family and friends. Family members gift me with beads and other beading materials to encourage me to keep creating. I like using rainbow colors the best since it matches everything. But, my artwork is evolving... I’m moving from beaded gem earrings to Santee’s floral beaded design. This design is more intricate and detailed. As I improve upon mastering this technique, I would like to bead more apparel and jewelry for dancers and others at powwows.
Who are your customers? 
Currently I’m selling mostly only to my village and immediate family members and friends ... but I’m exploring selling my bead work outside the village. As more artists take on beading, unique designs and a diverse marketing plan are increasingly important.

My plan in achieving this, along with doing more beadwork for powwows, is branching out and selling my artwork across the United States. I plan on using social media more to spread the word about my art.

Although I’d like to expand my reach, the GrandMother Earth Public Market has been a great starting point and has provided for a great opportunity for me to build a stronger customer base.

The GrandMother Earth Public Market is a great place for an artist to get some initial exposure and then expand from there.

Any advice for other beaders?
My advice for other beaders is to keep it original, if it keeps you happy, just keep doing it!

You can learn more about the Unci Maka (GrandMother Earth) Public Market here

Thanks to Tracy Sheridan for the photos, Center for Rural Affairs Community Food Specialist Veronica Erenberg for the interview.