Meet a Mohawk beader in the Adirondacks who’s sharing her culture through art
BLOOMINGDALE — Jocelyn Jock was driving through the Adirondacks recently when she spotted a dead porcupine on the side of the road. So she pulled over and started plucking out its quills.
“At first I was just pulling handfuls out of it, just thanking the creator,” she explains.
Jock is originally from Akwesasne and her Mohawk name is Teiekariios. She makes jewelry with porcupine quills– they’re hollow so they act like a kind of bead.
“I went to get into my car to drive away and I was like, ‘I can’t just leave it there,’ so I threw it in the back and I drove home.”
At her home in Bloomingdale, Jock keeps those quills in a little clear box. They’re about two inches long, are a pale white color with brown tips, and are extremely sharp. It took her five days to harvest the quills from the porcupine she found.
“Every porcupine has about 30,000 quills on it and you have to pluck them individually by hand, you have to wash them individually, you have to boil them, you have to dry them and then you have to trim them.”
Jock first learned to bead when she was just 6 years old, but it didn’t turn into a big part of her childhood. She lived in Akwesasne, but went to school off the native reservation in Massena. During the day, she was surrounded by white people and white culture. Jock says bouncing between worlds was really hard.
“I wasn’t white enough to fit in with the white kids and I wasn’t Native enough to fit in with the Native kids,” says Jock.
Eventually, she left Akwesasne and moved to the Adirondacks for college when she was 18 years old. She started going back home to see family, which is when Jock really began beading on a regular basis.
“I would visit with my mom and that’s what we would do- she would teach me and we’d just talk and bead and that would be our hanging out when I would go home. And then COVID happened so I stopped going home so often and I started doing it here.”
She watched tutorials on YouTube and found beadwork patterns on Pinterest. Jock is 22 years old now and has been beading for years, though she still describes herself as a beginner.
She picks up a piece of felt and threads a needle with two tiny beads.
“I am just going to bring the beads down to the string and then I will pierce the fabric with the needle,” Jock explains, “pull it all the way through and then I will go back through with the two beads. And that is one stitch.”
One stitch takes her about 30 seconds, so intricately beaded earrings can take anywhere from 4 to 40 hours to make. She beads either on her lunch break or when she’s not working at Nori’s, a natural food store in Saranac Lake. Right now she sells her earrings on commission.
“Almost all my coworkers on the cafe side have them,” says Jock. “Almost everyone at Nori’s has a pair of my earrings.”
Jock’s older sister, Presley Ransom chimes in to confirm. Ransom, whose Mohawk name is Kanentaha:wi, works with Jock at Nori’s.
They also live together, along with their other sister Keeley Jock, whose Mohawk name is Kawerarenniiohstha, and Ransom’s husband. Like Jock, Ransom bounced between Native and white cultures as a kid, never feeling like she fit in anywhere, which left a mark on her.
“I really suppressed my culture,” says Ransom. “I never learned how to bead, I never learned how to dance and I never learned how to cook our traditional foods, so to watch her really embrace our culture has been phenomenal,” says Ransom.
“To be able to back her, non-stop and to be pushing her art, it’s amazing to see.”
Ransom has been a kind of guinea pig for Jock’s earrings. She and her husband also helped Jock connect with a ski company out in Utah- Vishnu Freeski, which commissioned a beaded piece by Jock that took her 600 hours to make.
A photo of that piece is now the design on a pair of downhill skis. Jock says the piece tells a story of family, of Mohawk culture, and of a time when Native children were forcibly taken from their homes and stripped of that culture.
“The orange colors are for the residential schools and for all those that didn’t make it home, the strawberries that are there- there’s three of them- it’s representing my and my sisters, and strawberries are really good medicine.”
There are also rows of pink and red for the missing and murdered indigenous women. Jock says it’s important for her to not only embrace her culture but to share it with others. Both the beauty and the pain.
She also hopes that sharing and selling her work on Instagram inspires others to do the same.
“I hope that other younger native artists see it and go, ‘oh I can do that too,’ and they just try their hand at anything and they just post about it and try to find their voice,” says Jock.
Jock found her voice through her beaded jewelry and by embracing her Mohawk culture. She hopes one day she can bead full-time and make a real living doing what she really loves.