[Rewind] Beading And Lakhota Artistry, With Collins Provost
We’re rewinding back to October 2018 to revisit our episode with Collins Provost, who has since been expanding her artistry — spray painting and working on murals with her husband, and designing shirts for Thrive Unltd., which is meant to empower indigenous communities. Lakhota artist Collins Provost finds healing and self-expression through her intricate and vibrant beadwork. Listen to this episode of The Cultured Podcast to uncover Collins’ deep-rooted journey as an artisan and how her Native American heritage both inspired and challenged her individual path.
Read the episode transcript below.
Michelle Khouri 0:00
Hello babies! We’re back with another rerelease. And we’re nearing the end of our rereleased time together, which also means that our holiday break is coming to a close and guess what? January 2021. New episodes of Cultured are coming back. But in the meantime, we are looking back at some of our favorite episodes of Cultured and obvi we had to pick up with Collins Provost. Collins is an amazing Lakota beadwork artist. And part of the conversation that we had that was so striking to me was learning about the beautiful, love based and honor driven rituals around Lakota beading. But since our conversation, Collins has been up to a lot more than beadwork. She’s expanding her artistry. Since we last spoke, Collins has been expanding her art forms. So she has not only been spray painting and working on murals with her husband, she’s also designing t-shirts for Thrive, which is meant to empower indigenous communities. And so I highly suggest that you go to Thrive and you support Collins and buy some of her t-shirts, because as we all know, COVID is impacting a significant amount of artists, so we need to show our support more than ever. All right, y’all, I cannot wait to dig into this beautiful, rich and illuminating episode. Without further ado, here is Collins.
Welcome to the Cultured podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Khouri. And together we’ll journey into the unknown reaches of the art world.
Hello and welcome! I think it’s becoming like an every single episode thing now that I opened with singing strangely. I’m okay with it. I’m comfortable with that. You know, today’s inspiration is a little bit in line with the last episode’s inspiration but certainly departs. I announced in the last episode that I have opened FRQNCY Media Co., which is a full service podcast strategy, production and marketing agency, and soon to be a brick and mortar studio space and community hub for podcasters. And what’s really inspiring me about that is, you know, I spent over a decade of my career in corporate environments, in corporate America. And I remember thinking there was something so wrong with me because I just couldn’t do it. And I just felt tired and lethargic all the time. I felt such a drain on my spirit, and myself. And I was working, sure, I was working a lot. But I wasn’t working nearly half as much as I’m working now. And yet I was constantly tired. And now I’m working all the time. Nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Okay, not literally, I do sleep and I make sure I sleep. But I’m working most of my waking hours. And most days of the week, well I work every day of the week, basically. But I’m trying to reserve at least one half to full day for me because it’s not, it’s not good to work as much as I’ve been working, but it’s necessary. And yet, I have more energy than I have ever had in my life, y’all. Like this whole alignment thing, this whole purpose thing, this whole following your calling thing. It is energizing. And yes, I get tired and I get drained. But my gratitude is on fleek. Okay, I am just in a constant, never ending state of gratitude. I didn’t say that I’m happy every hour of every day because that is not attainable. That’s not human. Happiness is as fleeting as any other emotion. Gratitude, though, now that sticks. And even if I’m sad, or even if I feel lonely, or even if I’m ecstatic, or even if I’ve had a triumph or a failure, or a setback, or stress, I’m feeling grateful and energized by that gratitude. Oh, it’s such a crazy feeling. I participated in this core program for women CEOs a couple of weeks ago. And we all said the same thing. This is an energizing experience to build your own business. It’s an energizing experience, to work for yourself and to build these huge dreams that are not even like your vision. They’re a vision for something greater than you and to build them and to make them a reality, it takes so much work. But it’s freaking amazing. It’s, it’s an exceptional experience. Y’all, I wish that for you. I wish you energy. I wish you alignment. And I wish you gratitude. All right, y’all. Let’s get to it. Collins, let’s talk!
Hello, Collins! Welcome to the Cultured podcast.
Collins Provost 5:34
Thank you so much.
Michelle Khouri 5:37
Um, so I’m very excited to have you here. I’ve actually been following your work for quite a while. And it just got to the point where I was like, why haven’t I asked her to be on the podcast yet? Because your stuff is stunning.
Collins Provost 5:52
Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
Michelle Khouri 5:55
So why don’t you describe for us what you do with beadwork.
Collins Provost 6:00
With the beadwork that I currently make, I make jewelry, a variety of things, well, mostly earrings. And the reason why is because I know for myself, when I’m wearing something, if I put on a pair of earrings that feels like it, it’s gonna make my outfit pop, that I feel just more confident.
Michelle Khouri 6:20
Absolutely. It’s like it ties it all together.
Collins Provost 6:23
Yes. And then you start walking with, like, your head held high, you know, as we all should, you know, anyway, but it’s just you know, adorning yourself in jewelry really does something special, I think. So I’ve been focusing on that. But I’ve slowly been branching out into making other items. Currently, I am working on a jacket. So I-
Michelle Khouri 6:47
Oh my gosh.
Collins Provost 6:49
It’s taken me a while.
Michelle Khouri 6:51
I can imagine.
Collins Provost 6:53
It is my biggest project so far. But I am very proud of it. And the design of it isn’t necessarily a traditional design, I wouldn’t know how to describe my design, I guess they wouldn’t be necessarily, like, traditional, you know, as far as, like, a Lakota woman. Most of our designs are geometric. But when it comes to making art, I kind of go with what I feel and what I see and the story behind it. So everything I’ve made so far, has a story behind it.
Michelle Khouri 7:24
Oh my gosh. Well, I need to dive into that. But first you sort of alluded to your culture. You’re Lakota. Sorry, I’m not saying it right. Am I?
Collins Provost 7:34
Oh, it’s okay. It’s a La-ko-ta.
Michelle Khouri 7:36
La-ko-ta. I can do that.
Collins Provost 7:38
There you go. Yeah.
Michelle Khouri 7:40
My last name is K-H-O-U-R-I and it’s Syrian. And in Syria — in Arabic — you pronounce it “Khouri”, so I can do “La-ko-ta”.
Collins Provost 7:49
“Khouri,” I like that. So awesome.
Michelle Khouri 7:53
Look at this gang culture. So I would love to explore before we even dive even deeper down your path as an artisan. I want to explore the culture and heritage of beadwork for Native Americans but especially within the context of the Lakota tribe. So tell us a little bit about your upbringing in that culture and what beading means for you.
Collins Provost 8:20
So I know for the Lakota people our original artwork was actually quill work. And quill work comes from the quills of the porcupine.
Michelle Khouri 8:30
Oh my gosh.
Collins Provost 8:31
So yeah, that’s a different element in itself. It’s certainly something I haven’t quite dove into. I tried years ago.
Michelle Khouri 8:39
What is quillwork like? How do you describe that?
Collins Provost 8:42
Well, it’s a process like you have to find your porcupine. What they do traditionally is like throw a blanket on the porcupine so it’s not harmed. And then that blanket picks up the quills or a lot of time if there’s, I guess, fresh roadkill, then someone will pick that up and take the quills from it. That way you’re not harming I guess, the animal itself.
Michelle Khouri 9:04
Wow, that’s fascinating.
Collins Provost 9:06
Michelle Khouri 9:06
What a good method to, like, throw the blanket which collects the quills but leaves the porucpine. Wow, that’s amazing.
Collins Provost 9:13
Yeah, so I mean, we have to remember that those are also our relatives, you know, and-
Michelle Khouri 9:19
Collins Provost 9:20
We’re not just gonna like, chop them up for their quills.
Michelle Khouri 9:23
Collins Provost 9:24
You know, there are other quill makers that I’ve seen on Instagram. Like Jamie Okuma. Oh my gosh, I don’t know if you follow her but I’m such a fangirl. Her work is so amazing. And, and there’s just other young artists who, like, have been able to incorporate quill work with beadwork and it’s just so phenomenal and I’m just, I always tell myself even as an artist, that I’m always just a beginner.
Michelle Khouri 9:52
Collins Provost 9:52
And the reason why is because when I see other people’s work, I’m just so blown away and I always think I cannot wait to be that good. Or, you know?
Michelle Khouri 10:03
Yeah, but you know, it is a constant quest, even if you’re incredible. There’s always something to learn, you know, and your work really is so beautiful and detailed. And so anyway, we kind of digressed a little bit, but continue talking about the history of beading in your specific tribe.
Collins Provost 10:21
We are people that have just been able to utilize, you know, different things, whether it was like shells, or beads or, or different things of that nature and have just used that as a way of adorning our clothes. Well, if you look in historical photos our people, who have had a lot of beadwork, wow, they must have been really loved. Because, that, it takes a lot of work, you know?
Michelle Khouri 10:47
Collins Provost 10:47
And their techniques were different then and the way that they were able to use it was really beautiful. So I know that our designs, like they all have different meanings and different symbols, and, you know, maybe their designs were a representation of their journey, you know, were they a warrior? Were they a great hunter? What kind of medicine did they carry? You know, or were they good for their people? You know, things like that. And so beadwork has played a large role in that. So when I was pregnant with my daughter, that was 12 years ago, it was custom for us to make our baby, their first pair of moccasins. And so I didn’t have anything I didn’t know what to do. So my ex mother in law, she had provided me with some elk leather, some beads, really tiny ones, I believe, their size fifteen, and some string, and then I didn’t know what to do. So I just started from there. I cut out my design, and made her a pair of moccasins. And it took me like two weeks, just for the border. And they were so tiny. They were like doll shoes. She didn’t get aware of them, because they were so little, but I was so proud of them.
Michelle Khouri 12:06
Oh my gosh, that’s so special.
Collins Provost 12:07
I still have them.
Michelle Khouri 12:08
Of course you do. Oh my gosh.
Collins Provost 12:11
That’s where it started. And I slowly started making other items like medicine bags, other types of earrings. But I always gave it away. It just felt good. You know, it just felt good knowing that they had my work. And, if they were going to use it, then it was for them. You know?
Michelle Khouri 12:31
What drew you to continuing to do that? What do you think it was about that specific act of creating?
Collins Provost 12:38
There was a period that I had kind of stopped creating. And then I had gone through something, a big turning point, I would say in my life. And I was looking for ways to heal myself. And that’s when I picked it back up. And I, at that point in my life, I started creating like, jewelry, kind of like what I make now.
Michelle Khouri 13:00
Collins Provost 13:00
And that’s how that began, that next journey was because I was trying to heal myself.
Michelle Khouri 13:08
And what do you think was so healing about the action of beading, and creating those moccasins and medicine bags?
Collins Provost 13:16
You know, it’s like a meditative experience. And they say that, like, when you’re working, your ancestors are looking down on you. You know, they’re watching what you create. And they’re kind of like guiding you in the design. So I feel like, in that respect, that they’re not only are they watching, but they’re also guiding you and healing your heart. You know, so-
Michelle Khouri 13:40
Collins Provost 13:39
So, it’s a good time to pray. It’s a good time to be reflective, you know? Those are the things that I do when I create. So, like, if I’m angry or anything, I always step away from my work.
Michelle Khouri 13:43
Why is that?
Collins Provost 13:45
You know, how, that feeling like, if you go into a place and something just doesn’t feel right?
Michelle Khouri 14:00
Collins Provost 14:01
You know, that kind of thing. Like, I tried to pay attention to that. I feel like we need more of that good energy and love and especially in a world like today, you know?
Michelle Khouri 14:10
Collins Provost 14:11
I feel good when I create, you know? Because of that, I always try to make it a priority to give back as well.
Michelle Khouri 14:19
You have a lot of abstract pieces, but you also — you know — you’ve done a butterfly and you’ve done, I mean, my favorite piece that I’ve seen recently is that tiger. Oh my gosh.
Collins Provost 14:31
Michelle Khouri 14:32
Holy moly. So why don’t you describe where your inspiration comes from.
Collins Provost 14:37
So that tiger is actually part of a jacket that I’m working on, that bigger piece. I mean that is a very, very large piece. It’s on the back of a jacket right now. I was able to attach it and then outline it in like crystals and whatnot.
Michelle Khouri 14:52
Oh, good God.
Collins Provost 14:56
Another artist had reached out to me and asked me to make this jacket for them. And they gave me free range as far as creativity. And I was sitting there for like, months, like looking at this jacket, like, what do I do? You know? I kept drawing it out, drawing it out, like these traditional designs and whatnot. And I’m like, but this isn’t where my heart is. So, you know, before that I had done a pair of koi earrings. And I’ve seen a picture of that with a cherry blossom. This is it, this is what I’m going to do. So I started drawing it out. And then I got started. And bam. That’s how that came into play.
Michelle Khouri 15:35
What a fusion of cultures and traditions and powerful symbolism.
Collins Provost 15:41
Yes, it was a big leap for me. I was so scared to do that, though.
Michelle Khouri 15:46
Collins Provost 15:47
Because it’s not, like, traditional, you know, for us. I’ve gotten comments before about, oh, that’s not Lakota, or that’s not indigenous, you know.
Michelle Khouri 16:00
Why do you think it’s important for those people who’ve said that, for your work to align more with tradition?
Collins Provost 16:07
Because culture is important, you know? And maybe they feel like that needs to still be kept alive, which I totally understand. But I feel like the difference is, when I make things that are traditional, like medicine bags, or moccasins, that’s when like, the traditional designs come to me. But whenever it comes to things that I just want to make out of pure art or my heart. Other things come to me.
Michelle Khouri 16:37
Yeah, allowing that room for expansion when it comes to your own self expression.
Collins Provost 16:42
Right? Yes, absolutely. And so, I mean, I certainly take their words into consideration. But this, like that tiger, you’ve talked about, is something that drew me in and had meant so much to my heart, just because of the symbolism. Like, it’s a beautiful animal. I mean, it’s still of this earth, and we’re all in this together, you know?
Michelle Khouri 17:05
Collins Provost 17:06
So it’s what I wanted to make, and I made it and I was, I still look at it, like, it’s in my living room. And I’m, I’m like, Wow, did I really make this? You know?
Michelle Khouri 17:16
Collins Provost 17:17
It’s just one of those things. So, I mean, when it comes to my own self expression, I think I find beauty in other cultures as well, aside from my own.
Michelle Khouri 17:30
Absolutely. I mean, what a perfect thing to say on the Cultured podcast. But I feel the same exact way. The, the incredible diversity that exists on this planet, between species, and even just between our own one species is, is breathtaking. It’s really, really, really beautiful. And rather than seeing the fear in it, you know, we need to be more like you, which is to find the inspiration and the beauty in it. What’s your future vision for your work? Where, you know, you’ve said that you’re starting to sort of expand your repertoire beyond just earrings, let’s say. So what are you starting to sort of mull over that you want to create?
Collins Provost 18:12
Well, I hope to slowly branch out into clothing and whatnot, just because like, I have a few ideas. I’m not necessarily a seamstress, though. Hopefully, in the future, I just haven’t figured out how to execute it. So, you know?
Michelle Khouri 18:29
Yes, yes. But you know, it’s one of those things that when you get really serious about discovering something, and teaching yourself something, you can do it. I mean, you taught yourself how to do what you’re doing right now.
Collins Provost 18:42
Right. That’s true.
Michelle Khouri 18:45
You know? You didn’t know anything about this at one point in your life.
Collins Provost 18:49
That’s absolutely true. Yeah, I think you are absolutely right. It just, it’s one of those things, I have to push myself. Fear, you know, always holds us back. And it’s kind of like that, what dreams may come, if you build it, it will come.
Michelle Khouri 19:05
Yes. Without a doubt.
Collins Provost 19:06
Michelle Khouri 19:07
Collins Provost 19:08
So hopefully, you know, branching out in that perspective, but my ideas are so like, eclectic. I guess you could say, that I’m just trying to figure out how do I stay on one idea, you know, and branch out with that instead of like this, and this and this, and making it so complicated.
Michelle Khouri 19:28
Right. So, so, you know, I’d love to explore the actual process of beading. So, what’s your process? How does your inspiration start? Do you sketch and then, you know, just walk us through what it feels like to actually go from conception to the final creation.
Collins Provost 19:46
Generally, it depends on how I’m feeling. My Koi earrings that I most recently made, I’ve kind of always wanted to do a fish and the koi are very beautiful in general, and I was thinking I was sitting there, and I was reading a story about them. In it, the story is the koi who became a dragon. And it was just a journey for them. And ultimately, when they made it, they, they, the gods granted the koi to become a golden dragon. So I was like, Wow, that’s so amazing. So I started, like, looking at pictures. And I have to get a feeling for it. What’s going on here, you know? So I’ll sketch it out. I have this bag of mixed beads. And they’re of all different colors, shapes, sizes. I like my, not all of them, but this bag of beads to be mixed. Because through that, I’m able to pick out my colors. And that’s how I’m able to see my piece. I don’t color my pieces before I make them.
Michelle Khouri 20:48
Fascinating. You just kind of let the colors come to you as you’re picking through-
Collins Provost 20:53
Michelle Khouri 20:54
-this bag of mixed beads?
Collins Provost 20:55
Yep, absolutely. And that’s how I see color. I mean, that’s why it takes me so long, is because the first airing I’m just winging it, you know? And sometimes my design changes in the midst of it. Like if I didn’t like the place and something or the way something looked, I’ll take it out, and then do something different with them. I’ll get my design down and I’ll start beading it, start creating it. And after that part is done, then I’ll cut it out, cut out the leather associated and I’ll start edging it. And sometimes if the earring isn’t too heavy, I’ll create a design on the back as well. So I test that out. And I always test the work out. Of course, I’ll tie the hooks and you know, whatnot, but just to make sure that they’re not too heavy. And always looking for you know, different materials and whatnot. Different leathers, testing those out.
Michelle Khouri 21:54
So how many earrings do you produce, like, per month or per quarter?
Collins Provost 22:00
It takes me about a week to do a pair of earrings. And it also depends on the size. Recently, I’ve kind of branched out into making earrings that have like fringe.
Michelle Khouri 22:12
Yes, they’re beautiful.
Collins Provost 22:14
Thank you. A lot of time goes into making that fringe as well. And counting those beads. So yeah, I would say maybe like one to two a week, in a month, maybe, five?
Michelle Khouri 22:27
Collins Provost 22:28
Michelle Khouri 22:29
That’s way more than I thought you were gonna say. I mean, that’s, especially with a full time job and as a mother, I mean, it’s so… Actually that brings up a good point. Has your daughter started beading at all? Is she interested?
Collins Provost 22:42
Yeah, she absolutely is. She just recently started picking up her own first piece. And I’m so proud of her. Like we just sat together and she designed it out herself. She has been working on making her own things. And, so what I’m doing is I created a little bag for her. So she’s going to attach her piece to this bag that I made.
Michelle Khouri 23:02
Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. So what does her design look like right now?
Collins Provost 23:07
It’s a, it’s so cute. It’s like a traditional flower, like a tulip that she designed. It’s so pretty. And she made it green and yellow.
Michelle Khouri 23:15
Oh my god, that’s so special. That’s so cool.
Collins Provost 23:19
I know, I’m so proud of her. Like that’s her beacon. And you know, as young as she is, she’s very impressionable right now. So to encourage her, like, the way I see it I’m like, this is magic. Like, I’m so proud of you. And just to see the way her face lights up. I mean, that’s what we should be doing for our babies.
Michelle Khouri 23:37
Oh, totally. And she’s 12. Right?
Collins Provost 23:40
Michelle Khouri 23:40
So if for a kid that age to introduce them and even younger to introduce them to the concept of expressing yourself through the arts and through these creations, you’ve just opened up an entire world for her because it can start with beading and then she can move on into you know, what, quilling and move on to some other form of art, maybe painting or sculpture. And now she is sort of encouraged to, to play with color and shape and form and texture. And that’s just the beginning of artistry.
Collins Provost 24:13
Yeah, right. And she, she draws a lot and I am so proud of her. You know, like, we look on Instagram, like of artists that show like, this is where I started back, like four years ago, and this is where I am now. And I’ll tell her, like, “see mitushi”, which means “my girl” in Lakota, this is, if you keep drawing, you know, like you will continue to get better. So don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a journey, like and then I share like, my journey with her. You know, like, just keep doing if it feels good, keep doing it. You’ll continue to get better. You know, define what you make. And that’s you know, you continuously get better. So don’t be hard on yourself. Like we’re not experts right now. It’s like I don’t even consider myself an expert right now, you know?
Michelle Khouri 25:02
Yes, I don’t think we are ever experts, frankly. And even just to have that mentality pushes you forward through everything in life and, and it also that mentality sort of defeats this quest for perfection that can be a part of many of us, which is sort of the killer of creation.
Collins Provost 25:21
Right? Absolutely. And so, I’ve just been encouraging her through that, like, it’s okay to make mistakes, you know, and to grow. You know, do what makes you feel good.
Michelle Khouri 25:35
What a powerful lesson. It’s just been really amazing to chat with you on the show and to finally be able to explore where your inspiration comes from and your journey and also a little bit about your culture. So, thank you for coming on the Culture Podcast and for sharing with us. This has been so amazing Collins.
What an honor to have Collins on the show today and to explore so much about that Lakota heritage and the tradition of crafting, but also to explore Collin’s very unique perspective when it comes to making her own modern twist on that art form. You can find Collins on Instagram @collinsjordan. And don’t forget to check the show notes for some pictures of Collin’s artwork. Give me a shout. You could always reach me at info@cultured podcast.com All right, my lovelies. Until next time, keep it classy. Keep it curious. Keep it cultured!