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 1

Heritage and Identity: Our Changing Roles and Responsibilities

Grade 2

Heritage and Identity: Changing Family and Community Traditions

Grade 3

Heritage and Identity: Communities in Canada, 1780-1850

Grade 5

Heritage and Identity: First Nations and Europeans in New France and Early Canada

Grade 6

Heritage and Identity: Communities in Canada, Past and Present

Grade 7

History: New France and British North America, 1713-1800
History: Canada, 1800-1850: Conflict and Changes

Grade 8

History: Creating Canada, 1850-1890
History: Canada, 1890-1914: A Changing Society

Grade 9-12

Visual Arts

Grade 9

Natitve Studies: Expressing Aboriginal Cultures

Grade 10

Canadian and World Studies: Canadian History
Native Studies: Aboriginal Peoples in Canada

Grade 11

Native Studies: English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices, Current Aboriginal Issues in Canada: Aboriginal Beliefs, Values, and Aspirations in Contemporary Society

Grade 12

Canadian and World Studies: Canada: History, Identity, and Culture
Native Studies: Aboriginal Governance: Emerging Directions - Issues of Indigenous Peoples in a Global Context


  • 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. The exhibition is also complemented by an EduKit containing hands-on objects, student activity booklets, teachers’ notes, class worksheets, and other resource materials.

Minimum booking period: 8 weeks

2019 Fee: $4,000 per 8 weeks, plus shipping cost