Meet the Master of Martial Arts and Crafts: An Interview with Jo-Ellen Loring Jamieson

by Wabanaki Marketplace

The Wabanaki Marketplace is excited to introduce one of our newest artists, Jo-Ellen Loring Jamieson, the artist behind Fisher Clan Creations! Jo-Ellen is a citizen of the Penobscot Nation located at Indian Island. A talented beadworker, Jo-Ellen grew up learning to make jewelry from her family on Indian Island and she’s just starting to establish her presence at some of the local markets here in Maine.

Join us in welcoming Jo-Ellen to the Wabanaki Marketplace by reading her interview below and taking a look at her gorgeous jewelry.

Jo-Ellen, we’re so excited to meet with you to learn a little more about the artist behind the art. Can you tell us a little about how you got started making jewelry?

Of course! I used to spend a lot of time with my dad and stepmom on the Island when I was growing up. Often times we didn’t have electricity and I had to find something to do that didn’t require lights. I started beading when my stepmother taught be how to do simple brick stitch earrings with fringe. I did a lot of my work by my kerosene lantern and that’s what I did! I spent a lot of times in the woods, I did beadwork, and I read.

Beadworking has always been very therapeutic for me. As I got older, I started looking at different techniques, reading through books and taking pieces apart in my mind and putting them back together to figure out how they were made. I use a lot of different techniques in my pieces. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started making jewelry as much as I do now.

What made you decide to pick up your needle and thread again?

I needed therapy, to be honest. I’m a college student. This is my senior year. I’m majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders, which is speech language pathology and audiology, with a minor in psychology. It’s been quite a ride! But this is therapy for me. It also gives me a kind of peace. And it makes me feel closer to my tribe and it’s a good feeling.

You’re very, very diverse in terms of the types of beadwork you make. Where do you get your inspiration from?

Having been born on Earth Day, I am innately drawn to nature. I often incorporate natural materials, found objects, and broken vintage jewelry parts into my beadwork, resulting in something that is truly unique with a touch of history. I love the idea of taking something imperfect and giving it new life. After all, nature itself is imperfectly perfect.

I like to incorporate found objects into my work. I use natural objects, like shells and stones, and sometimes broken vintage jewelry.

Would you say you’re giving those pieces new life?

That’s exactly what I’m doing. Like with the turtle here. I felt like I was giving that  brooch a new life. I’ve been collecting a lot of old, vintage, broken jewelry parts which  are also going to be turtles. I really like doing freeform pieces and seeing where the  process takes me, just like with this turtle piece.

It looks like you’ve done a lot of your own beadwork for your regalia, too.

Yeah, I do! I’m a fancy shawl dancer. I’m somewhat new to it, but eventually I will be  good at it. It’s a lot of exercise!

Have you done any research into older styles of Penobscot beadwork for any of  your pieces?

I have. There’s a relative of mine, Frank Loring “Big Thunder.” I’ve looked at some of his regalia before. I studied the designs on his collar and I made bracelets for myself with the designs on them. It makes me feel closer to my tribe.

Do you dance the pow wow circuit?

I wish I could dance the pow wow circuit! I get to dance maybe twice a year. I dance at the Wabanaki Spring Social and the Penobscot Community Days. I did the pageant two years ago which was awesome because my grandmother used to do it. Her name was Martha Loring. I’ve seen pictures of her in the pageants and I’ve always wanted to do that. It makes me feel closer to her. My shawl has frogs on it. Anyone who knew her knew she was obsessed with frogs. That’s how I bring her with me. That’s how I keep her alive. When I’m dancing, she’s with me.

In addition to dancing and beadworking, I’m also a martial artist.

Oh wow! You do a little bit of everything!

I do! I call myself the “Master of Martial Arts and Crafts” because I train Mixed Martial Arts – 

Taekwondo, Jiu Jitsu, and Kickboxing – and I also do a lot of beadwork. People are surprised because I can be quiet, but I want to make sure I carry myself in a good way. I’m kind, but I want people to know that Native women are strong, too. I like to be a good representation of who we are. I'm kind, but I can stand my ground. eventually I want to cage fight and carry in the Penobscot flag. 

That’s impressive! It sounds like you make a strong effort to be your best self. If our readers wanted to meet you in person, where could they find you? Do you attend any of the Maine markets?

Not yet. One of the great things about my work is I am able to use my gift to help our community. I love being able to donate to the senior raffle for the Penobscot Community Days every year. This year I also donated to Nibezun and I felt good knowing my art was going to support such an important group. But I am going to start getting out there this year, so keep an eye out for me!

Click the button below to see more of Jo-Ellen's work. 

Shop the Jo-Ellen Loring Jamieson Collection