Conversation with the Artist: Elias Jade Not Afraid
Conversation with the Artist: Elias Jade Not Afraid
Elias Jade Not Afraid is an award-winning Apsaalooké bead artist who is a bright light in the world of young Indigenous beaders and artists revolutionizing beadwork. Elias' work incorporates modern high fashion and punk elements with traditional Crow beadwork techniques. We dove right in to our conversation with Elias, who was enthusiastic to share his story and why the future of Indigenous art matters.
Image by Latoya Flowers, courtesy of the artist. Elias holds one of his beaded bags featured in The Field Museum's exhibit “Apsaalooké: Women and Warriors”.
MoB: Who are you and what do you do?
E: My Name is Elias Jade Not Afraid. I’m 30 years old and I'm a member of the Apsaalooké Nation (Crow Nation) and was born and raised on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. I am a self-taught bead artist and have been beading since I was 12. I started participating in art markets like Santa Fe Indian Art Market and the Heard Museum Indian Art Market in 2017. I won multiple ribbons from the art markets and was featured in multiple publications, both in print and online such as Native Art Magazine, Shoutout Arizona, and Vogue Magazine.
I have some of my beadwork in the permanent collections in museums like The Field Museum, The Heard Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and The Smithsonian. I also share my knowledge and techniques with other beaders and I also post tutorials and my creative process from start to finish on how I make an item. I don’t believe in keeping all this knowledge of this very old craft that my ancestors started all to myself, so I share it on my social media.
Beaded thistle (Luckenbooth) earrings made with antique Venetian glass cut seed beads, antique steel-cut beads, faceted sapphire gem beads, faceted emerald gem beads on smoke brain tanned deer skin. Image provided by artist.
A pair of Elias' beaded Kevlar cuffs (2017) featured on the cover of Native American Art magazine: The Beadwork Issue (2020). Image courtesy of artist.
MoB: Why is beadwork important to you? What kinds of stories would Crow beadwork tell if it could talk?
E: Beadwork is vital for our tribe’s survival in these modern times to keep our culture and traditions alive by not only teaching others how to bead but to continue and push boundaries and limits by evolving the designs and patterns like our ancestors did with both floral and geometric designs in their beadwork and understanding what certain designs and colors mean to Crow people. I try to do this by making beadwork interesting to the younger tribal members by using bright and vibrant colors or by beading something they might find “cool” like a beaded skull or snakes.
I went into the Field Museum’s collections last year and was looking at all the beaded items our ancestors left behind and when I was looking around, I noticed 3 types of beadwork techniques that died out and are no longer being done, in other words, we’re already starting to lose our culture. But, by examining the beading technique used on the item and taking a lot of photos and videos of it, when I got home I figured out how it was done. So now I’m putting a tutorial together and going to share it with everyone.
Beaded Crow style men's choker (made using a technique that died out) in the collections of The Field Museum. Elias was able to recreate this technique and revise it for future usage in Crow beadwork. Image courtesy of artist.
Revised beading technique from old Crow technique shown above. Image courtesy of artist.
MoB: What are your current influences and inspirations?
E: My great grandmother Joy Yellowtail has always been my biggest inspiration. She passed away before I was born and never got to meet her, but I grew up in her house and a lot of her research, beadwork, and materials were still in our house and I would go thru them as a kid. I later began to take some of her beadwork apart and put back together and taught myself how to bead using the 2 needle appliqué.
Beaded skull medallion using antique Venetian black glass cut seed beads and 24k gold tri-cut seed beads. Image courtesy of artist.
Beaded old Crow style choker with real elk ivories, antique Italian glass cut seed beads, large natural pink conch shell beads and pendant, vintage brass chain/beads and smoked brain tanned deerskin. Image courtesy of artist.
MoB: Do you have any upcoming projects, concepts, and new work we should look out for?
E: I currently have works of mine in an exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago called “Apsaalooké: Women and Warriors”.
I’m currently working on a commission for a museum and I’m beading 3 pairs of my Kevlar Cuffs. I bead on a layer of Kevlar over buckskin and line the cuffs with kevlar and using kevlar beading thread.
You can see more of Elias’ work on his Instagram @eliasnotafraid or on his website www.ejnotafraid.com. Read his feature in Vogue here alongside numerous other Indigenous designers and artists. He also appears in the Feb 2021 issue here! Thank you, Elias!
- Tags: Artist feature Blog
- Heather Kahn