Iroquois Beadwork: Through the Voices of Beads

The Royal Ontario Museum's Iroquois Beadwork travelling exhibit on display at the Surrey Museum in British Columbia

See Iroquois beadworks, both historical and contemporary, and learn how this art still flourishes.

Iroquois beadworkers play a vital role in preserving cultural beliefs. The Iroquois were quick to adapt European-made cloth and glass beads to their own artistic traditions developed over many centuries. Such adaptation allowed them to pursue their conceptual and aesthetic goals, while retaining the same imagery that they have always used, representing their cosmology, values and legends.

The exhibition consists of about 20 pieces from the ROM’s collections, and around ten works from the collection of Iroquois-beadwork artist Samuel Thomas. The latter include two magnificent full-length outfits; one for a woman, one for a man. They are unusual in that they were created in a collaborative effort by several teams of people across Ontario, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, working under Thomas’ guidance. Most of them had no previous experience in beadworking.

One of the goals of this exhibition is to reveal the meanings expressed in Iroquois beadwork. A second goal is to show that this art, like the Iroquois themselves, still flourishes.

This exhibition is accompanied by an exciting school case which allows visitors to discover many aspects of Iroquois culture by examining beaded objects made today and in the past. Visitors can listen to three stories – "Creation", "Stone Giants", and "The Corn Husk Doll" – as they examine the symbols on beadworks connected to these ideas. The school case contains activity centres including traditional and contemporary beaded objects, examples of beading materials and tools, a corn husk doll, photographs, compact discs containing Iroquois stories, and teachers’ notes.


Topics covered:

  • The Art of Beadwork
  • Iroquois Artistic Traditions and Symbolism
  • The Role of Iroquois Beadwork in Preserving Culture and Traditions
  • The Relevance of Certain Iroquois Ideologies to the Modern World
Grade Curriculum Relevance



Grades 1 to 8

Visual Arts
Drama and Dance
Language: Oral and Visual Communication

Grade 2

Heritage and Citizenship: Traditions and Celebrations

Grade 3

Heritage and Citizenship: Pioneer Life

Grade 6

Heritage and Citizenship: Aboriginal Peoples and Explorers

Grade 7-12

Canadian History

Grade 9-12

Visual Arts
Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology: Self and Others, Social Structures and Institutions, Challenge and Change in Society
Social Change World Religions: Belief and Daily Life


  • 3 display cases 183 x 82 x 77 cm (72 x 32 x 30 in)
  • 2 display cases 183 x 127 x 77 cm (72 x 50 x 30 in)
  • 2 display cases 199 x 188 x 77 cm (78 x 74 x 30 in)
  • 3 shipping crates 106 x 211 x 76 cm (41.75 x 83 x 29.75 in) containing text panels

Space required: 75-93 square metres (800-1000 square feet)

Supplementary materials: Exhibition posters, exhibition/installation manual, program ideas and exhibition text

Booking period: 8 weeks

Fee for 2014 rentals: $1600 plus shipping cost