|My Bead Life Story...
My first memory of working with beads was when I was 9. My dad and I went to my Aunt Joane's house and I guess they wanted to keep me busy so Joane had me pick out 3 colors of silver lined seed beads. I picked Cobalt, Lime and Teal, imagine that. She strung up her bead-weaving loom, and showed me how to do it. It was surprisingly simple, and I was done within a couple of hours. I made it long enough for a bracelet, and Joane stitched my beadwork onto a ribbon with a Velcro closure in 5 minutes while speaking sternly to someone on the telephone. I still have that bracelet.
I got into beads and jewelry pretty serious during my senior year of high school. A friend had some cool hemp necklaces at her house, and I was really blown away when she just gave me one. It had on it some of the coolest beads I had seen yet, and I asked her if she could really stand to part with such neat beads! She said, "Aww, I got those at Hobby Lobby. Do you want to see some really neat beads?" and she got out this fishing tackle box full of these really amazing beads! I was flabbergasted, and when I got home that evening I told Mom about these really neat beads I saw at my friend's house. I asked her if she had any beads I could look at. Of course, Mom has this big cabinet full of some of the prettiest, most unusual beads I had ever seen. Mom has always been a bead and jewelry freak, she's never been all that big on diamonds and stuff like that. We had so much fun looking at all of her jewelry that I had never even noticed before! She had mostly glass bead jewelry, and a few semi-precious stone beaded necklaces. Mom was happy to see me wanting to keep busy with something other than teen-age drama. We went to Hobby Lobby, and believe me, in 1995 there was an abundance of really cool beads at very affordable prices so we really cleaned up. I had a preference for glass beads from the start, so we bought faceted glass, beads from India, and seed beads. Soon after, we discovered there were actually bead stores (GASP!) We started looking for beads everywhere we thought we could possibly find them, like estate sales, the flea market, and even the fabric store. One time Mom found some seed beads of the strangest color of green (a color we haven't seen since) in this dirty old craft shop on the bad side of town. Where people will travel for beads!
I never kept a steady job in high school, so I relied the generosity of family members for bead money, and sometimes they would even give me beads! Whenever I visited my Grandma Moran, she would usually point to or tap on the placemat at the kitchen table, where she had already placed a $5 or $10 bill. Grandma Moran had boxes and drawers full of really nifty vintage beads and costume jewelry, and was quite generous with that, as well. Both of my sisters gave me various beads and strings. Mom, my step-dad Bruce, and my Dad were always happy to give me a few bucks. I would do without lunch whenever I could stand to so I could go to the bead store after school. Back then, $5 would buy a fair amount of beads from the Clearance Pile at the crafty store!
I started out with basic stringing and knotting. My (then) boyfriend's mom showed me how to do the basic macrame knot, so I bought some hemp and started making hemp necklaces and bracelets along with simple strung necklaces. All my friends went nuts over them and were saving their birthday money to buy something from me. Even my boyfriend wanted me to make stuff for him! All the people in my life were very encouraging.
I continued to get more into beadwork after high school. I made leather collars with woven beadwork stitched on, intricately knotted macrame chokers, and got more daring with simple knotting and stringing techniques. I began designing my own bead-weaving patterns and weaving little pictures out of seed beads and framed them. I got into French beaded flowers, and since I couldn't find many books on the technique, I just came up with some of my own! I discovered new bead stores in town, and Delicas, and tiny size 15 seed beads!
My Aunt Joane called me one day in 1997 and asked me to come to her house because she wanted me to help her clean up her craft room, and as payment she would give me some craft supplies. I said "sure" not knowing exactly what sort of supplies she was talking about. I get there and she has 2 or 3 rooms full of rare beads, fabrics, buttons, sequins and all sorts of other things I never knew existed. She just kept giving me stuff! She told me she wanted me to have this stuff because she knew I had a real knack for jewelry. I went home with (3) 66 quart storage containers full of compartmented boxes of wonderful vintage beads and buttons, cigar boxes, display racks, string, and jewelry findings. I had so much fun over the next few days sorting it all out! Thing is, in this pile of great stuff was a copy of Bead and Button magazine, and in it was an article about Kristina Logan, an extremely talented lampwork bead artist. There were a few pictures of her at the torch, and some really great examples of her beads. Before then, I had never given much thought to how beads were made. I figured some were made by machine, and I knew some were handmade, but couldn't actually envision the process. So after reading this article, I thought WOW, but at the time didn't really even consider the possibility that I could make lampwork glass beads myself.
There came a point that I had bought just about every kind of bead I thought was available, and found myself feeling limited and stagnant. There were colors I wanted in certain types of beads that I just couldn't find. I needed to do something new and challenging. I guess I had a "light bulb moment" because my Mom and I were talking, and she said, "You know, I vaguely remember seeing a book about how to make glass beads in some catalogue. They said you could make them with household stuff like scissors and pliers, and that it's pretty easy." I was skeptical, but I started asking around. Nobody knew what I was talking about. Mom found that catalog, and the book was "Making Glass Beads" by Cindy Jenkins. I bought it with my 20th Birthday money and read it cover to cover. After studying this book quite diligently, I was convinced that I could do it, and should.
Finally, the time had come in 1998 for Mom to say "Get a job! You need to support your own art addiction, and pay for your car insurance and gas." I figured, I'm 20, I've had a couple of years to recuperate from 12 years of indoctrination, so I might as well. I looked in the Sunday paper, and found some ads for graphic design and page layout positions, which I studied at Vo-Tech in a 2-year high school program. Truthfully, even though it paid well, the thought of staring at a computer, stuck in a stuffy office with stuffy co-workers in stuffy business attire for 8 hours a day sounded dreadful. Mom found an ad for a dental lab wanting help making crowns and bridges, and I found an ad for a photo lab. I applied for both, and was offered both jobs. At my interview at the dental lab, I showed the owner/manager some of the peyote and brick-stitch necklaces I had been making and told him I liked to work with tools, and I think that sold him! The choice was simple - either making teeth, or spraying extremely toxic fumes in a 7'x7' room. I chose the dental lab. I started out making plaster molds of people's teeth, and eventually moved to waxing crowns and finishing the metal castings.
Even though I had an 8 to 5, I still found time to do jewelry stuff. I also found I had money to get the stuff to make the beads! I called around town, and surprisingly enough, I found a stained glass shop that had everything I needed. And the ladies there were so helpful. They got me started with a Hot Head and all the trim. I brought it all home and set it up. For several days I was afraid to turn the torch on. Mom said, "Geez, you're not going to burn the house down, just try it!" This helped me conquer my fear of fire - I guess I wanted to make beads badly enough to get over it.
At the time, I was quite uneducated about the process (other than the basics), and there were no classes available in my area at the time. I didn't know that there were so many glass suppliers, tools, torches and other cool things. I also didn't have a computer or internet access, or even much interest in the internet, so I was very isolated for the first few years. In alot of ways I'm thankful for that, since I was able to form my own style without much influence. Though I must thank Cindy Jenkins and every artist who contributed to Making Glass Beads, as it was my one and only point of educational reference during my most formative years. I tried many of the various styles of beads in that book, which set me on my path to finding my own style. With practice, I gained more understanding about how glass worked and its likes and dislikes, and tried lots of different designs and color combinations. I also realized there were alot of things I wanted to do, but didn't have the right kind of heat from my HotHead to do it. I wanted to try borosilicate glass (aka Pyrex) and work bigger with soda-lime glass, and maybe even try some sculptural beads (which I have yet to do!) In 2002 my husband, who has always been so wonderful and encouraging about my work, suggested I try selling my beads on eBay, just to see how they did. I was quite amazed at how well received they were. Especially since I really wasn't trying to please anyone, just made what I liked, in colors I thought looked good together (lime green and orange, for example)!
In the spring/summer of 2003 I finally had the resources to buy the entire apparatus, such as an oxygen/fuel torch, regulators, hoses, buy the tanks, eye protection, etc. I had been itching to try some borosilicate glass, and that was one of the first things I did. (I must give thanks to Theresa Hess, who helped me figure out some of the best boro colors to start out with and advised me about annealing and such). I figured out that the torch I bought, a GTT Lynx, was way too hot to do the things I liked to do with soda-lime glass, like tiny beads with intricate bumpy details, but perfect for borosilicate. I went ahead and got a Nortel Minor burner, which in my opinion (and many others) is the perfect torch for soda-lime glass. My style hasn't changed much, but is more refined and now I can do things that would have taken forever on my HotHead, in much less time. Plus, I don't get bored waiting for the glass to melt! I also have become more daring with my designs. Experimentation is more fun than it has ever been!
I must say, this is the most satisfying and fascinating art form I have found for myself so far. I have still never taken a class, or really watched anyone else work, so I have had to learn most of what I know from the glass (and two books, Making Glass Beads by Cindy Jenkins and Contemporary Lampworking by Bandhu Dunham). I love glass and jewelry, and if things go the way I hope they will, beads are only the beginning for me!