Despite the inaccurate stereotypes colonists and the media have associated with the 4,500-year-old art form, artist and instructor Allen Hazard of the Narragansett Tribe, worked to keep wampum alive.
Wampum is made from shells acquired from ocean water quahogs or hard-shell clams. The process of creating the beads was a laborious and arduous task that required focus and patience.
Traditional wampum began with cracking a quahog shell with a deer antler. After that, artisans would use a nipper to break off any sharp edges. From there, the shape of the break determined the shape the wampum would take.
Allen Hazard used a more modern method for his art. Rather than breaking the shell first, he used a wet saw to cut the shells into pieces. After that, he transferred the shards into a tumbler.
This process is what allows the wampum to retain its shine. Traditionally, this process would have taken hours of grinding the wampum piece on a sandstone. Occasionally, Allen utilized this practice using a sandstone his son found for him, one that has been with him for 40 years.
Once the sanding was complete, Allen used a multipurpose tool with a small needle to drill a hole through the beads. Traditionally, this process would have utilized a bow with a sharp stick.
Thanks to the work of Allen Hazard, this fascinating artform will stay alive for years to come, and we can begin the work of undoing the years of misunderstandings that have inaccurately painted wampum as a form of currency.