“I don’t like the word ‘bling’, though some people call my work ‘native bling’,” says Dellisa Hooke, a thirty-one year old jewelry designer, wife, and mother of two. Born on the San Carlos Reservation outside of Globe, Arizona, she was raised in nearby Winkelman and now resides in Peridot. As a child, one of six, she would stare, captivated, at her Grandmother’s jewelry. Her beading talent is self-taught. Dellisa smiles modestly when she confides a simple goal, that her work is “something any girl– some random girl, even non-Native— would want to wear.” Initially, she didn’t think her work was very good, but through contacts on Facebook with people in North Carolina, North Dakota, Washington and Canada, Dellisa admits, “People like my work!” She beads every day.
Native American beadwork is known the world over for its exquisite craftsmanship and enduring beauty. Its practice dates back centuries, beginning with seed beads and shells and then later with the introduction of glass beads from European and Asian traders. These quickly became popular due to their eye-catching colors. The Western Apache migrated to Arizona in the fifteenth century. By the late 1800’s the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad came barreling through. In 1902 the Fred Harvey Company created an alluring image of the Southwest through heavy advertising, complete with Native American artists who sold souvenir trinkets at railroad stops. It was the first time many people were exposed to the beauty of beadwork.
Dellisa Hooke has created traditional Apache beadwork in the past, and still does so today. “I made my daughter a buckskin top with a beaded neck and hem, and I make beaded medallion necklaces with dime-sized mirrors.” She pauses and then explains, “I’m more modern– I understand how things work in the rest of the world. I do my beadwork but don’t do the traditional Apache four colors (black, white, yellow and green or blue). I believe in tradition and I understand it, but I’m Lutheran.” Dellisa adds that she has participated in a Sunrise Dance, an age-old Apache celebration of a young woman’s journey into womanhood, with her children.
She admires actresses in vintage films who wore gardenias in their hair, and when she found an attractive artificial flower she liked she added her special touch with gems and a beaded center and the ‘Hooke Blossom’ (a friend’s designated term) was born. She not only creates them for others, but wears them herself. She smiles when she says, “A lot of the things I intend to keep, I end up selling, though.”
Her designs are brilliantly colored and expertly executed. “I’ll find a gem and then bead around it,” she says. “I like to use the acrylic ones.” She admits to a fondness for the dazzlers: rhinestone banding and fiery glass Aurora Borealis beads, along with crystals and seed beads in both #9 and #11 sizes. Hearts, butterflies and floral designs are prevalent images in her work, and lately she says that “black and white are big now!” Dellisa uses a running applique stitch— four beads at a time— and, when beading moccasins will utilize the ‘lazy stitch’. Items she create run the gamut from hairbands to hair ties, earrings and chokers; bracelets and barrettes, and the aforementioned hair flowers. Her rings, though, are the knockouts: big, bold hand candy in a myriad of hues which could easily lead one from the darkness. Women literally giggle when they see her rings, and line up to try them on. The light catches, refracting and reflecting until the whole room is drenched in an undulating wave of rainbows. “I’ve been thinking about doing new items, but I want them to be unique.”
Besides her beadwork, Dellisa is a voracious reader, amassing a library of more than 300 books, and she enjoys writing as well. She sought more balance after realizing she was spending more time reading than beading. She also has a taste for vintage, having a new-found love of Victoriana, cameos and pearl strands. Dellisa appreciates old French costumes and has worked images of Marie Antoinette into her jewelry as well. “With two energetic girls, I’d like to have more time to shop for vintage,” she sighs.
Much has changed in global society— everywhere, it seems, tradition has been turned on its head in almost every aspect of our lives. This is evident in art, business, politics, and especially in the traditional nuclear family. Dellisa seems to have created a perfect world in her realm.
“We sat down before we had kids,” she says, referring to her husband Kraig, a talented photographer and Human Resources team member of the Apache Gold Casino Resort, “as to how we’d raise them, and after they were in school, then I’d go to work or college. I’ve made it a point not to work in order to raise my kids myself, rather than having grandparents do it.” Her girls Delighla, eleven, and Elizabeth, nine, are sweet and funny children who sometimes bead along with Mommy. Although she disliked high school, she now admits, “If I go back to school, I’d want to be a teacher.” How does she feel about passing on her knowledge of beadwork? She pauses and says, “It’s something I’d never charge for— I couldn’t charge for it. I would share it with other people.”
At first glance Dellisa may seem to break the rules. She has put a spin on the ancient art of beadwork by creating something smaller than a scream but much more than a whisper. However, her goals and her work and most importantly, the love and support of her family all speak to the simple fact that Dellisa Hooke may indeed be one of the most traditional people of all.