Thursday, March 15, 2007

Back to the Beads

I find it hard to believe that I've been beading for nearly twenty years.  I started back in 1990 when I was living in Philadelphia.  My start on this road was a happy accident.  I discovered a bead store while waiting for a movie to start. I don't recall what movie I was going to see, but I remember it was raining and it was either too long a wait to hang out in the theater lobby or the lobby was closed for renovations, so I ducked into an Indian import store next to the theater. I don't know what I expected to find, but beads weren't one of them.

The front of the store had saris on display, but the whole back of the store (which smelled of patchouli and sandlewood) was filled with beads.  I was entranced by the colors - mostly seed beads, but I remember that there were stone and glass beads as well. I even recall the beads I bought that day - a hank of glittery green seed beads and a large carved jet bead with the long life symbol. I was planning on making a choker necklace with a dozen strands of seed beads with the carved jet in the center.

Such was the start of my addiction. I don't think I ever actually finished the necklace with the green seed beads, it was just too tedious to string all of those little beads. Stone and plain glass bead became my materials of choice.  One thing I quickly realized it that while it was easy to put beads on a string, finishing a project "professionally" was not so easy.  I eventually decided that I needed to learn how to knot in between the beads (like pearls), and spent a then-exhorbitant sum of $36 for the original Tri-Cord knotting tool.  It took me a while to make sense out of the instructions, but I soon got pretty good at it, and my necklaces took on a nice, professional look.

Although I occassionally sold pieces at shows and small craft stores, most of my work was either commissions from friends and family members, or pieces I created for myself.  My mother was always my biggest customer (as well as my biggest critic and supporter).  Beads became a hobby and obsession.  I quickly learned NOT to pay retail, and spent may a weekend rummaging through boxes of junk at antique fairs for interested vintage beads and necklaces.   I also became true friends with some of the dealers who were specializing the beads and jewelry, particularly Mike and Marie Dick from East of OZ, who frequently set up at The Garage on 26th Street in Chelsea.

I stopped beading in the mid-1990s as my career (I am an attorney) took precedence over my hobbies, and my stash sat dormant for nearly a decade. But a few years ago, during a career slowdown (I was laid off), I needed something to fill the time between job hunting and resume reviews, so I decided to reorganize my stash - mostly with the intention of selling it. Luck would have it, I landed a new job just as the last loose bead was sorted.

The new job was nowhere a demanding as the old one. It also had the dubious benefit of keeping me away from home two nights a week. My time spent with the stash was not in vain - it rekindled my interest in beads and in making. I often used the empty evenings in my hotel room time to work on simple projects. A few weeks into the job, an Interweave show was held at the Fort Washington Convention Center (one of the last). My client (the one who kept me from home a few nights a week) was in the area, and I took advantage of the proximity to go to the show - my first bead show in about a decade.

Boy, how things had changed. The last ones I had gone to (1995 or so) were dominated by new and vintage Czech glass and very little in the way of stone and pearls. Now, all I saw were stone and pearls and crystal. I was also fortunate enough to reconnect with dear friends, including Mike and Marie Dick from East of OZ, who had amazing and unbelievable stuff (as well as warm and welcoming arms).

In a heartbeat, I fell in love with the rare minerals and gems I saw before me. These were nothing like the drab and uniform round beads or the inferior quality stuff I had started with way back when. Lucious agates and jaspers, charioite, tektite, rough quartz crystal, big simple cut Peruvian opal and Amazonite and Labradorite and Sunstone and Wonderstone and on and one. Stones I never heard of.  And the pearls - yummy, yummy pearls in all the colors and sizes I could imagine. Keishi and chickenfoot and coin pearls, long Biwa, plump round potato pearls. Peacocks blues and greens, golden red, peachy pink and pinkish peach, white and black and gray.

And so, like a dragon out of myth, I began another hoard. And just as that one started to grow, the career (the thing that pays for the stash) took a 180 again. More downtime between job hunting, but this time I used creatively. By the time I was back to work, I completed quite a few very complex projects.

The creative juices ebbed a bit while getting up to speed at the new job, but recent I've hit my stride again. A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to a local crafts fair.  We were both pretty disgusted at the overpriced and poorly executed pieces we saw. My friend, who knew I was a beader (she had been the recipient of two necklaces during the past few years), asked me if I could make something for her as a gift.  She came to visit the next day, and spent hours pouring through beads - both glass and stone.  We had a complete blast putting the necklace together. Her taste is exquisite, but very different from mine - but we were able to create something extraordinary.  I have included this piece here at Stone Heart Beads - the Green Glory.  She became so enthralled that she's decided to take classes and learn the art herself.

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