Museum of Beadwork Director Kristina Skillin, left, and founder Heather Kahn hope the new Portland venue will inspire beaders and spread awareness about the art form. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

After years of preparation, planning and being held back by the pandemic, the Museum of Beadwork opened in Portland last week, showcasing an array of unique and elaborate artwork ranging from beaded bugs to an intricate gown to a wall of more than 500 beaded squares created all over the world during the pandemic lockdown.

The exhibits are a way of “elevating the art by showing what can be done” with the hope of inspiring people to work with beads in a new way, said Heather Kahn, founder of the nonprofit museum and an owner of Caravan Beads, which shares the same Forest Avenue building but operates as a separate business. The museum will offer programs and workshops on beading techniques, some led by its featured artists. 

Betsy Youngquist’s bird and bunny sculptures are displayed at the newly-opened Museum of Beadwork in Portland. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

We were thinking about the future and how we would progress to the next generation of beaders,” Kahn said. People often stop at making necklaces and bracelets, she said, but “there’s so much more.”

“I really want to get people started on that first step of weaving or sculptural work,” she said.

One of the programs will be specifically targeted to people who have been beading for less than three years. The museum will display the work of participants in its Emerging Beader Program so visitors can see how quickly one can progress in the art form.

For non-beaders, Kahn hopes the museum will expand their understanding of the art and illuminate its beauty.


Among the displays of jewelry, accessories and tapestries is the “Wings and Stings” exhibit, showcasing the works of artists who entered a competition with the theme of bugs and insects. Visitors will have the chance to vote on their favorite item. The competition was held in 2020 and the entries are being displayed publicly for the first time.

On one wall is a display of beaded squares, all made from March 2020 to March 2021.

Melanie Christie’s “Green Grasshopper” is part of the “Wings and Stings” exhibit. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

“It marks the first year of lockdown,” said Kristina Skillin, museum director and head curator, and reflects “fears, hopes, aspirations and everything that happened in that first year.”

The squares were made by 400 different artists across 18 countries.

“We were all locked at home and looking to do something, and it allowed us to express where we were,” said bead artist Betsy Youngquist, who participated in the project.

A couple of Youngquist’s sculptural pieces are also on display at the museum. She said she likes to use “non-traditional materials as beads,” often incorporating found materials in her work.


“I think there’s energy in a piece of artwork when you make it, and the material you choose to use has its own energy, and that contributes to the narrative,” she said. “Beads are a material that have been used for a long time, and initially it was in ceremonial sense, to connect the human to the environment.”

Skillin plans to make museum visitors aware of that history.

“The interesting thing about beadwork is that every culture we know of, past and present, has a tradition of beadwork,” she said. “The first beads we know of were created by Neanderthals, so beads are actually older than modern humans.”

She hopes to exhibit more historical pieces, or replicas of them, to guide guests through the many time periods and cultures that have used beadwork in significant ways.

They had a spiritual importance that a lot of people aren’t aware of or they don’t think of,” Youngquist said.

Much of Nicholas Heller’s artwork is inspired by Haitian voodoo flags, he said, and some of it is hanging on the new museum’s walls. 


People always think of beadwork as a craft, but I think of what I do more as fine art. I’m basically painting but with different materials,” he said. 

Because he often listens to the news while working, many of his pieces have political messages woven into them, but he hopes people will appreciate the artistry regardless of how they interpret or receive the message.

I like making pretty things, so even if people aren’t interested in my message, I hope they’ll enjoy the work,” he said.

It’s time-consuming work, with large pieces taking him four to five months to complete, he said.

Kahn and Skillin said that providing artists an opportunity to have their work exhibited is important to them, as it can be difficult to know where to start as a beading artist.

“Unless you’ve already had your work exhibited somewhere, it’s very hard to get your foot in the door,” Kahn said.  

“Being able to give that opportunity so that people can further themselves as artists is something we’re also really focused on doing,” Skillin said.

The museum is located at 915 Forest Ave., behind Caravan Beads, and is open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can purchase tickets for $15 per adult and $10 per student, senior and child under 18. There is no admission charge for children under 5. For more information, go to

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