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Tayler Gutierrez dreams in beads. The 24-year-old Cherokee and Scandinavian designer then manifests these visions as pieces for ‘Kamama Beadwork (@kamamabeadwork), her line of intricately embellished flat-brimmed hats and earrings, made using the techniques of her ancestors.

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After growing up outside the Upper Skagit Reservation in Washington, Gutierrez moved to Salt Lake City, UT, working as a cultural interpreter for the Native American section of This Is The Place Heritage Park. That’s where she met her mentor, Diné (Navajo) poet Tacey Atsitty, who first taught her how to bead medicine pouches. “She took me under her wing,” says Gutierrez. “There was no judgment for the things I didn’t know or the parts of tradition I didn’t grow up with.” This inspired Gutierrez to dive deeper into the craft and start ‘Kamama—the Cherokee word for butterfly—to showcase her pieces, which feature colorful, typically flat-stitch beaded floral motifs, fringe, dentalium shells, fur puffballs, horsehair, and buckskin. (When using animal products, she always says a prayer of thanks.) A single pair of earrings can take Gutierrez up to 16 hours to create, and yes, her fingers do hurt in the process.

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Gutierrez recently moved to Santa Fe, NM, to study fine arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts. “I’m not going to let this be something that disappears in my family. It’s too important to just let it go,” she says. That’s also why Gutierrez looks to early Cherokee beadwork for inspiration. “I let it sit in my mind and think about what I can do to make it my own in a contemporary fashion,” she says. Ultimately, Gutierrez wants her work and her story to inspire others. “Being able to find more of myself and reconnect with my heritage,” she says, “I think that can serve as a reminder that reclamation is possible.”

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By Anna Gragert
Photos: Demri Rayann 

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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