Close your eyes for a moment,
and imagine hundreds of thousands of multicolored beads, piled high in several enormous wooden bowls. You scoop up a handful, and notice that some are nearly as small as a grain of sand, yet faceted to catch the light. Others are larger and unfaceted, yet still radiant as light travels through them. If you are a bead scholar or collector you may sort, study, and document them.You are fascinated not just by their material essence–their colors and shapes–but more importantly, by their practical or symbolic significance–in other words, by what they meant to the humans who made owned, worked with or traded them. Because, as the late Peter Francis Jr.
often reminded us, “It’s not about the beads,
it’s about the people.”
If you are a beadworker, you may share this fascination, but soon your interest takes a different trajectory. No matter the scale of your artistic vision or the level of your expertise, your purpose is simple: to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. For you, meaning resides in the linking together of chaotic little bits of color and form. Whether you know a single technique or several dozen, exhibit your work professionally or not, there is but one way to proceed: one bead at a time. You follow in the footsteps of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of beadworkers of other centuries, and anticipate those who will follow you in the centuries to come. In a sense, you form one small link in a vast metaphorical web of beadworkers that stretches from past to present,uniting beadworkers of the Eurasian Ice Age of ca. 25,000 years ago, to beadworkers in the early 21st century. This imaginary web, not unlike the one evoked in Nam Dev’s poem (see top of this page), unites beadworkers of all races, cultures, religions and nationalities. Each beadworker is a radiant point of light, invisibly connected to beadworkers in the immediate area, and to beadworkers in the far distance.
I am one such beadworker. To me, loose beads may be interesting or historically significant, but they are not nearly as compelling as beads that have been assembled into larger structures. I look at these structures equally from the point of view of an artist, and from the point of view of a student of the history of beadwork. For me, the most successful pieces, whether my own or someone else’s, express a singular aesthetic vision with a masterful use of technique. There is lushness, but it is tempered by restraint. Moreover, these pieces encapsulate seminal aspects of the culture or time period in which they were made. They communicate things that cannot be communicated in any other way. The modest pieces on this page, which I’ve collected over the last 23 years, embody these essentials, and it is to them, and pieces like them, that I look for guidance and inspiration in my own work. Without this crucial dialectic of past and present,
I would not know quite where to begin.
I have never wanted to deliver overt social or political messages with my work. It is enough if one of my pieces brings the wearer a sense of self-expression, even happiness, or engages the viewer in a moment of quiet contemplation. Like so many artists living in this age of global uncertainty, I enjoy making pieces that transcend, if only for a moment, the pressing concerns of everyday life. After having spent much of the last four years researching and writing The Art of Beadwork, I am more committed than ever to this medium. There are still so many beads to play with, so many designs to bring into being, so many techniques yet to explore, so much research left to do. A hundred thousand days would not be enough, and that is a great blessing.
May you find inspiration in the images on this site,
and return to your work, whatever it is, refreshed.
Thank you for your interest.