Grant Wade Jonathan, Tuscarora

Title: Grant Wade Jonathan, Tuscarora
Image size: 36 x 29 inches

Medium: Colored and graphite pencils, acrylic, watercolor and ink

Grant is a Tuscarora raised beadwork artist and an attorney, who currently works in the Indian Program at the U.S. EPA in New York City.  When he is not assisting the Haudenosaunee in addressing their environmental concerns, he pursues his other passion of Tuscarora raised beadwork design. 

Grant grew up on the Tuscarora Reservation near Niagara Falls, New York.  “Throughout my childhood, my mother Lorraine always encouraged my creative talent. When I became a teenager, she passed down the tradition of Tuscarora beadwork, showing me how to make earrings, barrettes, small purses, and ornaments.”  After his mother's death in 2006, Grant returned home to Tuscarora to be with his family and commuted from Buffalo to NYC for work.  While home, he took advanced adult beadwork classes taught by Rosemary Hill and was fortunate to sew regularly at her home, where he perfected those advanced skills and techniques.

While proficient in creating all forms of traditional Tuscarora beadwork design, Grant particularly enjoys creating his interpretations of historical Tuscarora “souvenir art,” called "whimsies” by the Europeans.  Grant says, “The souvenir art created by my ancestors combined traditional Native designs with popular Victorian-era fashions, and was adorned with flowers, animals, dates, sentiments, or place names such as 'From Niagara Falls'.”  Like his ancestors before him, including his Great Grandmother, Edith Jonathan, Grant creates a variety of pincushions such as birds, strawberries, hearts, tri-lobes, boots, shoes, and a variety of wall hangings like canoes, horseshoes, and picture frames.  Grant says, “My family sold these traditional pieces to the tourists visiting Niagara Falls during the early 1900’s. My father Gerald shares his stories of when he was young during the thirties and forties. He watched his 'Grandma Jon' selecting her beads which were stored in cheesecloth, beading her creations on her porch, and using smooth basswood sticks to pack the sawdust into her newly created pincushions.  When he would play with her beads he would get scolded.  He also remembers going with Grandma Jon to Prospect Point at Niagara Falls to sell her beadwork.” 

In addition to his artistic pursuits as a traditional beadworker, Grant is passionate about the Tuscarora Nation’s historical legacy regarding this tradition as well.  “I have an extensive collection of antique Tuscarora beadwork.” Grant continues, “During my travels throughout the country, I collect antique Tuscarora whimsies as a way of preserving and protecting our history. My collection has allowed me to revive old patterns, techniques, and concepts that were regularly used by prior generations, which I share with my community and especially with other Tuscarora beadworkers.”  At the urging of his teacher, Rosemary Hill, Grant educates the public about Tuscarora souvenir art.  He lectures on the beadwork history of his people, telling stories of the beadworkers who sold their art at Niagara Falls, ensuring the correct attribution of the beadwork based upon oral and documented history.  Through his art and his lectures he strives to preserve and protect the history of Tuscarora raised beadwork and the sale of it by Tuscarora families at Niagara Falls, NY.

Grant exhibits annually at the Southwest Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Indian Market, and has exhibited at other venues such as the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, Autry American Indian Arts Marketplace, National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Art Market, as well as at conferences and workshops in Upstate New York.  He has received awards for his work at Indian Market, Tuscarora National Picnic, Cattaraugus Fall Festival and the New York State Fair.