Traditional Cherokee Ladies Purse

Title: Olivia's Purse

Materials: Glass seed beads on leather, cotton calico lining

Size: Approx. 6 1/2" H x 6" W by 1/2" D

This little purse was created as a gift to the daughter of a very dear friend of mine, on the occasion of her first communion. The design and colors represent a blending of cultures, just as the early Cherokee beaders created beadwork that blended old and new Cherokee culture.

The materials are European glass seed beads; the background material is leather. There are some important numbers in the work, too. There are four bead colors, and four is a very important number in Cherokee tradition. In all but one of the motifs, there are two rows of beads. Two is another very important number, as it indicates balance, the most basic and important principle of Cherokee tradition.

I have also selected the colors carefully. According to James Mooney and other scholars, white is the Cherokee color for the south, and blue is the Cherokee color for the north. Olivia’s Mama is the very first close friend I have ever had from the northern part of the United States. I suspect that I am one of only a few of her friends born and raised in the south. I could not resist using this visual metaphor of our friendship.

The double blue line around the edge of the purse represents Olivia’s trail in life. It is long, it is in balance, and it is smooth, as her life shall be. The coil motifs, just inside the blue line, are an ancient Cherokee design. This design goes far back in time, before the Cherokee were even called that. Then they were called the Mississippian people, or the Mound Builders. It is a variation of my very favorite ancient Cherokee symbol.

Next in, we have a stylized four-leaf clover. Olivia has Celtic roots, so I thought this four-leaf clover might bring her luck.

The central motif is the most important design on the purse. It is an equal-arm cross. The Mound Builders used this symbol very often, so they must have thought it important. It represents both the sun and the four winds or the four directions: east, north, west and south.

It also represents the Christian cross. Since this purse was a gift to commemorate Olivia’s first communion, I thought this symbol was important as the centerpiece of her purse. The only place on the purse where the number three has been used is the number of rows of beads in this central cross motif. I did that to represent the Trinity of Christian tradition.

Even here, though, the three rows of beads are a cultural blend. I first laid down one row of blue beads. Then I simply went all the way around that row with only one row of pearl beads. By beading the equal-arm cross in this way, it created three rows of beads with only two rows of stitches. So, there is another blending of traditions, three for the Christian Trinity and two for the balance of ancient Cherokee wisdom.