The Traditional Art of Melissa Twance

Story and photos by Leah Morningstar 

When Melissa Twance was 13 years old, she found an old cookie tin at her grandmother’s house. She wasn’t expecting to find cookies, but what she did find shaped the course of her artistic and creative journey. The tin was full of tiny seed beads—dozens of little containers filled with every colour of bead imaginable.

Twance’s parents were not beaders, so watching someone work with beads wasn’t an everyday part of childhood. But after she found those beads in the cookie tin, Twance really wanted to learn. She started simply and slowly: watching her grandmother work, eventually trying her hand at a few stitches, working her way to simple geometric designs, and later, traditional flower designs. Her grandmother was incredibly patient and supportive, and the time they spent together beading was a calming and relaxing time of familial bonding.

Twance grew up, attended Lakehead University, and started thinking about what she might like to do as a career. She has a master’s degree in education, an honours in Indigenous learning, and is currently working towards a PhD. Twance has fully immersed herself in the life of an academic and loves it, but says it can be exhausting. “Academic work involves so much writing and it’s so thought-intensive,” she says, adding that it’s the beading that helps her relax and take a break from academia. “Beading lets me zone out. It’s a mindful activity, but it’s repetitive and automatic. I can let my mind wander and reflect and feel at peace.”

Twance has been beading for years now and her mother, who never had time in earlier years, has picked up the art as well. Interestingly, Twance’s grandmother didn’t learn to bead until she was in her 30s. It was something she taught herself to do as a way to earn extra income for her family. Then she was able to teach her granddaughter and eventually, her daughter. The satisfaction of learning a skill as an adult and then teaching that skill to your descendants is a tangible way in which families stay connected, even after death.

Twance’s grandmother recently passed on, but Twance thinks of her every time she picks up a beading project. “These beads connect me to the people who came before me, especially my grandmother Florena,” she says. When she opened up the cookie tin all those years ago, not only did Twance open up the door to creativity and art, but she opened up a door that goes back hundreds of years: connection to her ancestors, and connection to art, beauty, and spirituality.

Find Twance on Instagram @miskobenays.