Watching Ada Phillips working with her bead loom is both calming and mesmerizing.
A member of Xat’sull First Nation, Phillips said she was born in Deep Creek, and learned how to bead when she was a student at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.
Her mother, Alice Summers, died when she was only seven years old and she was raised by her grandmother, Addie Sellars.
During the Cariboo Heritage Gathering, organized by the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin for Monday of the Williams Lake Stampede, Phillips was one of several elders sharing her knowledge and talent with the public.
“One of the supervisors, who lived at Sugar Cane, used to take a handful of us girls after she finished doing her work over to her place and do bead work with us,” she said. “She taught us how to do a head dress, which I don’t see anymore. I am going to have to do them again some day, but I cannot keep up with what I’m doing now.”
Once she learned the artistry, she never stopped, and said she beaded at intervals in her life doing the most when she was between 30 and 40 years old.
“I did a belt for my dad, Albert (Sonny) Sellars Jr, two headbands for my dad, a belt for my cousin and a belt for my husband, Wilfred. I’m redoing the belt for my husband because I made it about 30 years ago already. I have to redo it because it’s worn out.”
Phillips said she finds it peaceful to bead and her eyes are doing “OK.”
She makes purses to order, and teaches beading workshops in her community.
“My needles are all a size 10 and my thread is too,” she explained as she demonstrated her craft during the Cariboo Heritage Gathering.
“They are not the smallest, they are the regular size.”
Average times for making something takes about three hours an inch, she said.
Recently she did a demonstration workshop for 10 participants and said she tells people who want to learn they have to be keen.
“If you don’t want to do it, you are not going to learn. Maybe you will get started, but you won’t keep on it. That’s my view. Being interested will get you over have the battle of learning.”
Phillips said she has always had ideas for designs and things to bead, but feels as she gets older she is inspired more and more.
When she’s not beading Phillips works two part-time positions for her community — assisting with natural resources and with treaty negotiations.
She said she planned to attended the Kamloops Pow Wow over the B.C. Day long weekend for the first time in over a decade and hoped she would find some inspiration there for further beading ideas.