By: Tom Benoit Photos by: Lillian Reitz
Strawberry Moon Beads sells colorful beaded jewelry with traditional Native American beading techniques and influences. Cunningham, the founder and designer behind the local brand, is originally from the state of Washington and is also an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
When Cunningham turned 18, she joined the U.S. Coast Guard and worked within the armed forces for five years. After being stationed in Kodiak, Alaska, she was transferred down to Corpus Christi in 2019. Once her time in the service came to an end, Cunningham began to bead full-time. She had picked up beading as a hobby when she was a teenager, and started selling her jewelry as Strawberry Moon in June of 2020.
Cunningham originally made the pieces using Native American techniques. “My great-grandmother was the last beader in the family before me,” she explained. “She used to sell mittens and moccasins. Unfortunately, the trade stopped at her.” Cunningham’s great-grandmother was the last beader in her family.
The Strawberry Moon Beads owner went on to share, “My grandmother was placed in a Catholic residential school,” a common practice at the time. As a result, Cunningham “didn’t learn many of the tribe’s practices. I always wished we had more beadwork in the family, so I taught myself. Now
many members of my family have pieces that I’ve made for them.”
Cunningham said the jewelry she now makes consists of very contemporary designs, rather than traditional Native American pieces. “I rarely make any traditional pieces to sell, as I want everyone to be able to wear my beadwork,” she said.
Regarding her process, Cunningham said she’s inspired a lot by the concept of kawaii and anime culture, pulling plenty of color inspiration from the style’s bright and neon shades. “I first try to think of a concept I think would make a good collection. I hoard a lot of beads too, so sometimes it just takes one special set of beads to inspire a [whole] collection,” Cunningham said. “I also have some skill in illustration, so I can come up with designs pretty quick.”
On the side, Cunningham also uses ProCreate to draw anime-inspired characters wearing Native American-inspired outfits and jewelry. “Whenever I get a little overwhelmed or am feeling uninspired, I always fall back to drawing pretty girls,” Cunningham said in an Instagram post.
Despite only moving to the Coastal Bend area in 2019, her pieces have been showing up in a variety of places, such as the local shop Commons and different popular markets. Cunningham primarily shows off her work on her Instagram, where you can see her kawaii-inspired pendants with buckskin bows and brightly colored fringe earrings. She sells her work on her website, although her beaded jewelry is known to sell out quickly—which, after one quick scroll through her vibrant and enticing inventory, is no surprise at all.