Pin It

The Reluctantly Famous Shoshoni Hostler 

click to enlarge Shoshoni Hostler's intricate cape with abalone shell.

Courtesy of the artist

Shoshoni Hostler's intricate cape with abalone shell.

When Yurok Native Shoshoni Hostler began beading as a hobby years ago, she never dreamed it would lead to museum exhibits and Hollywood actresses wearing her designs. She works as suicide program manager and associate marriage and family therapist for the Yurok tribe, but her artistic career has continued to grow — albeit somewhat accidentally.

Hostler's mother has been a Native jewelry maker for many years, so working with beads was never far-fetched. But it was not until she was in her early 20s that Hostler's artistic work began in earnest. At the time, her mother was ill and traveling to the Bay Area for multiple surgeries at the Stanford Medical Center. It was on one of these trips that Hostler accompanied her to keep her company and her mother offered her beads to play around with to pass the time. Hostler returned from Stanford with a few pairs of earrings that were complimented on by a coworker. Her beading took on a life of its own from that point forward.

That coworker asked to see her collection "but, of course, I didn't have one," said Hostler. "So, I went home and made a few more and she bought them. Then, she shocked me by asking for more. I guess that's how it all started, with just those fun little earrings I made for myself."

For quite a while, Hostler's jewelry "business" remained more of a hobby. Uninterested in technology and unsure about social media, she decided on a name for her creations with the help of her former mother-in-law, who spoke Yurok fluently: Nar Rew Ekar, meaning "my beautiful beads." She started selling jewelry at craft fairs and in Native spaces, and that was as far as she went business-wise for several years.

"I knew I wanted to do this as a business, but I didn't really know how," explained Hostler. "I come from Klamath. I'm the first person in my family to have a college degree. I didn't know anything about small business. I just kept thinking, 'You have to have a space, a brick-and-mortar shop, where people can see your work.' That was kind of my mindset."

Eventually, Hostler embraced the modern age and created a Facebook (and later Instagram) page for her work. About 10 years ago, her jewelry was noticed by a representative from the Muir Woods National Monument gift shop. Under new ownership, the shop was looking to feature Indigenous artists from California. Hostler began filling orders for them and developed more of a presence as an Indigenous jewelry maker. Then, about two years ago, a woman connected with the Hollywood film industry found Hostler's work and began buying pieces.

With her Hollywood benefactor's help, Hostler's work has since been featured in magazines and on the red carpet, worn by big names like Canadian Indigenous actress Tantoo Cardinal, who has appeared in such films as Dances with Wolves and the more recent Killers of the Flower Moon. Additionally, Miss Indian World 2023/2024 Tori McConnell, herself of Yurok and Karuk descent, commissioned Hostler to create a bear cape that McConnell has worn throughout her reign. McConnell also entered a piece of Hostler's work in an Indigenous design show where it won Best in Show in Traditional Wear.

As Hostler grew as an artist, she realized she wanted to dive into fashion and not just jewelry. Raised in her tribal community, she is steeped in Yurok traditions and has been a part of regalia creation for years. She found that part of her desire is to meld the world of ceremony with the world of design and bring Indigenous fashion to the forefront.

"I'd been wanting to do [Indigenous fashion] for a long time but I didn't even know there were Native designers out there ... I didn't know there was a pathway. It took me a long time to feel like I was a true artist and able to market myself in this way," said Hostler. "Native fashion came out of working with traditional regalia. Our dresses are very intricate and heavy. They are elaborate, made with specific intentional methods and materials. What we do here on the coast ... we create things like bark skirts with maple bark that has healing properties for anti-inflammation and other purposes. We use our clothing in very intentional ways. Because I have a background in that, I realized, if I can do this incredibly hard thing with regalia, I can do this easier thing with Native fashion."

As Hostler sees it, California Native fashion has been largely overlooked in the world of Indigenous art. This is something she intends to change. "When you look at Indigenous fashion, there is a lot from the Southwest, the plains," said Hostler. "There are beautiful ribbon skirts and artfully created things you can readily buy. You can get all these beautiful pieces, but if you live here, that work isn't going to connect you to your region, your home — not the way things made by Yurok artists does."

Despite her recently found fame and sales, Hostler continues to work full time for the Yurok tribe, creating her designs at night and on the weekends. "I struggle because I get to these places where I feel like I could make my art full time so at certain times I would quit my job to focus on this, but then I realized — when you are an artist, you are working way more than 9 to 5 because everything depends on you. You are producing it yourself; you are creating it with your own hands and spirit. And it takes the time it takes, no matter what that is," said Hostler. "So, I create things. Sometimes I sell them — well, really, they always sell," she added cheerfully. "But that's not what it's about. It is about creating this thing that hasn't been created in this way before. It's not a ceremonial piece. It's not a contemporary piece. It's made to be worn as an adornment as opposed to a ceremonial item, but it's made with that same energy, purpose, intent and process. And I get to pour myself into it without it being my 'job.'"

Laughing at her backward business model that has seen her grow from selling a single pair of earrings at work to having her designs appear at the Oscars and on red carpets, Hostler has promised that someday soon she will have an actual website.

Tamar Burris (she/her) is a freelance education writer and relationship coach. Her book for children of divorce: A New Special Friend is available through her website

Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

About The Author

Tamar Burris

more from the author

Latest in Art Beat


Facebook | Twitter

© 2024 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation