Student Spotlight: Lee Chavis-Tartaglia

Get to know the incredible arts students around campus. This spotlight features Lee Chavis-Tartaglia (pronouns: they/them), visual artist and vice president of NC State’s Native American Student Association (NASA). Check out Lee’s beadwork that is for sale on the virtual Student Art Sale and learn more about them below.

What is your year and what are you studying?

I am a second-year and am classified as a junior due to how many credits I came to State with. I currently am double-majored in history, focusing on public history and museum studies, and anthropology, focusing on archaeology.

When did you start practicing your art form? How did you get into it?

I started in November 2021. My aunt had gifted me beading supplies since I had mentioned I was interested in learning. I started out making beaded hoops for myself and my family/friends and grew to make different types of beaded jewelry, such as flat stitch and bead weaving. I self-taught myself through videos and trial and error.

I really became interested in beading because of my grandma. She was always making something – quilts, Powwow regalia, jewelry, or ceramic dolls, etc. Beading helps me to really feel connected to my ancestors. It has been a practice Indigenous people have used to tell stories, trade, and gift for thousands of years, especially before colonization. It’s a part of my heritage.

Chavis-Tartaglia’s beaded earrings. Photo from 2023 Online Student Art Sale.

Where do you make your art?

Anywhere I can, as long as I have a steady surface, my beads, thread, and a needle! I have to be in the right mindset too. If I am stressed, angry, sad, etc. that energy is going to go into the beadwork, and it’s not going to be good. Beadwork and beading are medicine. When you sit down to bead, you must have good intentions.

What do you want people to know about you? 

I am the village mentor for Native Space, an on-campus Living and Learning Village out in Wood Residence Hall. We cater to first-year Native students, but are open to both Native students and non-Natives wishing to (respectfully) learn about different Indigenous cultures! I am also the Vice President of NC State’s Native American Student Association (NASA). We welcome both Native and non-Native students to come to our meetings and see who we are.

What do you want people to know about the art form?

Beading, and especially the beadwork I do, is very intricate and very important to Indigenous people. The practice of beading has been around since before colonization, the beads may have just looked a little different. It’s a form of medicine for many people, not just something to make a quick profit off of. This being said many Indigenous people sell their beadwork to help them survive. Be sure to buy beadwork from inspired Native/Indigenous people, not Native-inspired beadwork.

Chavis-Tartaglia’s table at the 2023 Online Student Art Sale. Photo Credit: Robert Davezac.

What do you hope to be doing in the next few years?

I hope to get my Ph.D.! I would like to work as a curator for a museum, maybe even in Williamsburg if possible.

We have a predominantly STEM campus. What do you want others to know about the arts at NC State?

The arts are just as important as any STEM course. You can have science, technology, engineering, and math, but one must have the imagination to create. Stories make us ask “Is it possible to do that?” or “Why exactly is that the way it is?” Arts and STEM have always gone hand-in-hand. I must say, I never realized exactly how much math I would be doing when I started beading! I also see the math and technology my mom and aunt do when they sew or quilt. You can never really separate it into just STEM or just arts.

Please share anything else we missed.

Indigenous peoples and cultures are plural. We are not a monolith, and Indigenous does not strictly apply to North America only. There are Indigenous people around the world. There are different tribes/nations in America, therefore, different cultures (plural). There is different artwork. Not all Natives bead; some paint, write poetry, do woodwork, tan hide, make hats, quilt, make dolls, etc. 

Please share any web links, social media links etc.