Karen Bornong started beading 18 years ago. “I’ve always loved it. but I was raising kids first.”
Karen lived near the Paiute Indian Reservation at Burns, Oregon, when she took up beading. “Just loving the Indian culture made me want to do beading.”
The majority of people who bead are native American. “When I lived in Spokane most of the bead crafters were Indians.”
After her children grew up, Karen started crafting. “I did all kinds of crafts. Crocheting, quilting, bone carving, furniture refinishing. Crocheting was the first thing I did in the 80s. I taught myself all kinds of crafts because I like doing different things.”
But beading is Karen’s favorite. “I absolutely love to bead. It’s pretty much strictly beading that I do now.”
Right now, I’m in the process of beading walking sticks. I just love to work with diamond willow. I did one for my daughter and now I am working on two others.”
After stripping the bark off the willow stick, Karen places two strips of peyote-stitched beads, backed with leather, around the sticks. She drills a hole in the top of the stick, places a stone there, and finishes with special decorations for each creation. Many hundreds of beads go into the making of each strip and it takes a good month for her to complete each stick.
The willow comes from near the Musselshell River. She uses cut beads (they shine and glitter) - size 13 to 11 - purchased from Shipwreck in Lacy, Washington.
Other items which Mrs. Bornong beads are combs, dayplanner and checkbook covers, key rings, hairpieces and berets, wallets and strike-a-light bags. “I don’t do much custom work. I do what I like and design as I go.”
Karen Kinnie was born in Granite Falls, Washington, and moved to Burns, Oregon, at age seven. Her mother was Chippewa and father Irish. She has three siblings.
The high desert of Burns, OR, is where Karen met her husband Harold who was working for Commonwealth Power Line Company. “After Burns, we lived everywhere. Alaska, South Dakota, California, Idaho, Washington.” The Bornongs resided in Spokane for 15 years where Karen sold many of her beaded creations at pow-wows. Karen recalls that in Oregon and Washington, almost all of her friends were native American. “I think we are drawn to the people who make us happy.”
The Bornongs have two children, daughter and son, who live in Las Vegas. Karen and Harold followed his twin brothers, Al and Nick, to Harlowton two years ago.
Mrs. Bornong says, “I bead whenever I have spare time. At least three hours a day. And, all day long in the winter when it’s cold and nasty out.”
While Bornong sasy he is only doing bead work, she is also restoring a showcase for the Museum and a Victrola for Irwin Allen. That talent was developed in the 80s in Spokane when she worked for several years at Benny’s Antique Store and began collecting her own antiques. Besides antiques, Karen likes to collect Indian artifacts.
While not a silversmith (one craft Karen has not taken up - yet), she obviously loves jewelry. “I’ve always been into jewelry.” Karen had 15 rings and bracelets on the day of this interview.
Her other present project is working as assistant curator at the Upper Musselshell Museum on Fridays and Saturdays. Still with her other activities and projects, beading keeps her most busy and happy.
Quality materials and good lighting are necessary, and an eye for design. “I do a little bit of a lot of different pieces. I like to do new things. Deciding on a design can be the hardest part. That can take a while.”
“I learned different designs form friends. Most are pretty basic. Sometimes, I refer to a book. But, many of my designs are my own and some are unusual.”
“I like to use the fire colors - orange and red and yellow - with black.” Karen Bornong obviously has an eye for design - and color.