Beads of Brousseau

Twin Cities beadwork artist endures life’s trials with art

Barbara Arnold

Beadwork artist Brenda Brousseau’s exhibit goes up at the library on Nov. 30.
Beadwork artist Brenda Brousseau’s exhibit goes up at the
L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library on November 30.

Brenda Brousseau was about 10 years old when her grandmother took her to an exhibit of Native American beadwork at the Grout Museum of History and Science in Waterloo, Iowa, her hometown. The exhibit featured all sorts of beadwork: cradle boards, rattles, pouches, headdresses, and clothing. Afterwards, her grandmother bought her a bead loom at the gift shop. And Brenda, totally self-taught, has been beading ever since. She now beads by hand – without a loom – in the Twin Cities.

Her exhibit “Head vs. Heart,” which features her beaded headdresses and mandalas, will be on display at the L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire from Nov. 30 through Jan. 6. A reception will officially open the exhibit in the gallery on the library’s second floor at 7pm Thursday, Dec. 4. A coinciding event will be held at the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center’s Janet Carson Gallery at 5pm.

“If I have an extra hour or so, I bead. The table is always up and ready to go. I just have to turn on the light.”
– Brenda Brousseau, on her time-consuming artistic process

“The headdresses represent the head of course, the mandalas being the heart,” she said. “It is to ask the question of what responds to you more: your head or your heart. The headdresses can be worn – they fit adult heads – but I guess they make great sculpture pieces, too. I always envision someone from Cirque du Soleil using them in one of their acts.”

She then went straight from headdresses to mandalas, craving a form that could still be layered with meaning and symbolism, but one that people were more comfortable buying and knowing what to do with. After all, you can hang a mandala on the wall.

Simply what’s happening in her life can inspire her as shown in the exotic Queen and Medusa-like crown headdress: “It’s Not Nice to Fool Your Motherboard.” Brousseau shared that she was in the throes of fixing the motherboard on her computer when she received the call to entry for a show. Artists were asked to create a piece that symbolized what the Internet meant to them. Brousseau incorporated USB ports and circuit board into the headdress for an elegant, whimsical, wearable piece of art.

Brenda Brousseau
Brenda Brousseau

“Art can heal you, especially from a watershed moment,” she said. “I am very spiritual.” At 3:30pm on Aug. 1, 2007, Brousseau was in a traffic jam on the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis. Just three hours later, the bridge gave way, and 13 people died. Brousseau created a piece of beaded wall art called “The Bridge” based on her near-miss experience. “Since I made it through that experience, I believe I am here for a reason,” she said. “I don’t necessarily know why yet, but I try to live each day to its fullest.”

The newest piece she has started is about her dog, Shambala, who is half Springer Spaniel and half Bernese Mountain dog. “She was my soul mate, and due to tumors, I had to put her to sleep this summer,” she shared. “I may not be able to part with that piece when it is finished.”

Brousseau recently received a grant from the Minnesota Arts Board to create wall mandalas. She named her beading company Luna C. Bede, the old English word for bead, because “I’ve always been attracted to the moon, and when you think of all the time – hundreds of hours – I spend beading these pieces, it is kind of crazy.”

Yet, Brousseau doesn’t bead full-time. She owns a software company that is developing an app that can be used on smartphones that galleries can use to tell the story behind the art. Yet she maintains and works in a small 10-by-16-foot workspace.

“If I have an extra hour or so, I bead. The table is always up and ready to go. I just have to turn on the light. The light is an important part of beading; I need good light. Outdoor light is best. But that’s not possible now that it’s cold. I am a huge movie buff, so I usually have movies playing in the background. And I look up if a good part is coming up.”

Local artist Barbara Shafer, a member of the library’s Visual Arts Committee, helped bring Brousseau’s exhibit to the Chippewa Valley. She spied the exhibit at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, when a show by her husband, Anders Shafer, was opening there. “The work is original and interesting on both an abstract and multi-cultural level,” Shafer said. “It is resplendent in color and detail with a great balance of solid design and fun.”

North High School art teacher Janice Roberts was at the Phipps with Shafer then. “I was struck by the amazing intricacy of Brousseau’s sculptural beaded headdresses and their power to evoke a spiritual or ethereal feeling,” she said.

And what of Brousseau’s grandmother who sparked her interest in beading? “She passed away about 10 years ago at age 98,” said Brousseau. “And she had Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years of her life, so she did not know the extent of my artwork.

“She would say that she remembered that first piece I did. And I still have that first piece of loom-work. It is very juvenile, but reminds me how far I have come.”

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