Since she was a child, Jackie Bread has enjoyed flipping through vintage photographs of ancestors from her Blackfeet tribe in Great Falls, Mont.
A couple of years ago, she was captivated by a black-and-white image of her paternal great-great-aunt, Cecile Schildt, taken in the 1960s at an annual summer Indian Day celebration.
“It was just a moment in time,” Bread said, a candid image of Schildt wearing traditional clothing and a soft expression on her face. “It really resonated with me.”
When she learned the theme of this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market — “Rise and Remember: Honoring the Resilience of Native Women” — she thought of that photo: “What better way to honor women than with [an image] of my auntie?”
After months of labor, Bread, 59, completed an intricately beaded portrait of Schildt that took the top prize Friday afternoon at the 98th annual Indian Market’s awards luncheon. An award-winning market veteran, Bread wept at the event after learning she had won her second Best of Show in six years.
She said the winning piece, Amskapipikunni Culture Keeper, The Heart and the Soul of Our Families, aims to acknowledge “all the ladies who came before me. … They’re the heart and soul of our family.”
Furthermore, she said, it’s meant to remind younger generations to embrace their roots, their culture, their heritage.
“To know your place in the world, you absolutely need to know where you come from,” Bread said. “Gathering some of that richness and passing that on to your children and grandchildren … that’s very important.”
Beadwork is part of that inheritance for Bread, who has beading for at least 50 years and has participated in the Santa Fe Indian Market for 21 years, often taking home awards. She last won Best of Show in 2013 for a beaded box titled The Memory Keeper.
She learned beadwork from her father, Nobby Larson, when she was about 7 or 8 years old, Bread said. For the past 36 years, she’s focused on portraiture, using photos passed down from her ancestors and images of tribal members she finds on the internet for design inspiration.
The process, she said, is meditative: When she beads, she thinks of “those stories [from my childhood], about people and what their lives must have been like.”
She considers Amskapipikunni Culture Keeper — a detailed portrait of a strong Native American matriarch that’s composed of thousands of tiny glass beads, freshwater pearls and crystals — her greatest accomplishment in beadwork.
“It is the best piece I’ve ever made,” Bread said. “To have it acknowledged as that is amazing.”
To create the piece, which took “literally all summer,” Bread said, she used an appliqué, or flat stitch technique, in which one needle is used to thread the beads and a second needle to stitch them to the fabric, two at a time.
The hardest part, she said, was replicating the ripple-like texture in Schildt’s traditional regalia, as well as creating a realistic reflection on her glasses.
“I wanted something that was challenging,” she said.
Though most of her memories of Schildt were from near the end of her great-great-aunt’s life, after the woman had suffered two strokes, Bread said, she was inspired by Schildt. She had heard several tales from when Schildt was an ambassador for the Blackfeet Nation.
“Everything that I heard of her, she’s just an amazing person,” Bread said, noting Schildt lived through the Depression, World War II and several other “significant milestones.”
Schildt, to her, was an example of a woman with “fortitude and resilience.”
“She was the lifeblood of the family,” said Bread’s son, Paris Bread (Blackfeet-Apache), “… similar to how my mom is the lifeblood of our family.”
Jackie Bread said she feels her Native culture “is becoming fast diluted,” so she makes an effort to pass “uniquely Blackfeet” stories on to younger generations, using beadwork as a catalyst.
In many ways, she has become a matriarchal figure like the ancestors she’s always admired in sepia-hued photographs.
She has been teaching her craft to her 3-year-old granddaughter, Ava Ogden, who has autism.
“She loves watching me, the rhythm of it,” Bread said. “… I sing to her while I bead.”