Char Francis - Penobscot

Title: Char Francis - Penobscot
Image size: 29 x 39 inches
Medium: Colored and graphite pencils, acrylic, watercolor and ink.

Charlene (Char) Francis is a Penobscot Nation artist from the Bear and Fisher clans. With more than 30 years experience in traditional arts, Char is an award-winning artist who finds the most pleasure in creating contemporary pieces of beadwork.

She prefers working in a contemporary style which allows her to break the rules. Char doesn’t like straight-line-beading since very little in nature has straight lines. Instead she likes to use curving motions to convey movement and sometimes various sizes of beads to impart texture. “Sometimes I might mix Cree, Ojibwe, and Maliseet designs and styles into one piece,” says Char. It's the variety and challenge that she appreciates and contemporary beadwork allows for more freedom of expression.

The technique Char uses is appliqué and she has a love for colors with no particular color being her favorite. “How can a person decide a particular color is their favorite,” says Char, “when there are so many equally beautiful ones?”

In her designs, she often uses motifs that her father would refer to as “wheat” and that she calls “ash.” Char says that “most of the carvings you see from around here use these designs.” Much of her work is infused with symbols that are very special to her; symbols that can be either related to the stories of her people or simply because it is something she enjoys.

Char comes from a family of artists. Her father was an accomplished painter and he taught several people on Indian Island to paint. He used oils, acrylics, and sometimes air brushing, but his favorite was oil. “I’d watch him nitpick at paintings,” says Char, “and sometimes we'd get a good laugh out of that. My brother wrote and performed music and was pretty awesome with portraits as well. I miss him sometimes - miss his honesty and the ideas we would bounce off one another.”

Char credits her talents to those who were her teachers. Christine Reed (Ojibwe) and Mary Gibson (Odawa) played important parts in her early training. Sally Thielen mentored her on the road to competing and encouraged her to take part in the National Indian Art Shows where she won many first place and best of show awards for her beadwork. Most of all, credit goes to her father who told her she could never be an artist, knowing in his heart that she would strive to prove him wrong. Many others shared helpful tips and inspiration along the way and they will always be appreciated.

Reflecting on the years of doing the National Shows and winning awards, she appreciates that it's the people and the community who come first; beadwork, quillwork, etc. is secondary. “The process of doing beadwork is a method of communicating with those around you and the whole process becomes sacred in itself,” says Char.

Beading allows us to tell a story that is either based on legends, teachings, or a narrative told by someone. Sometimes the designs represent a beautiful memory. It's a form of communication between the artist, the spirit world and those around them.

It’s Char’s hope that beadwork will be understood by more people. Her creations are more than “just beads.” Doing beadwork is meticulous and time-consuming process but very rewarding as well. Its purpose is to tell a story or offer shared feelings.
“In time,” says Char, “perhaps contemporary beadwork will be viewed as traditional by those who live in the future.”