February 15: Cut some Ball Chain, Add a Centerpiece!

My Blog Plan for 2018 is based on a first of the month posting of a special necklace and its story which was also 2017’s plan, only weekly. I also thought I might post a more lighthearted piece of work mid-month.

There is nothing more lighthearted than ball chain. My first exposure to it was a lucky rabbit’s foot I received as a birthday present as a kid. Today such a gift would have PETA picketing outside our family home. I just attached it to my pencil bag and petted it for good luck.

Otherwise folks used it to keep their keys together. Maybe it should have been called key chain? Or dogtag chains? Or pull cord chain?

My selections from the top include fancy sterling silver ball chain with the Egyptian Ankh and Nefertiti pendants.

Then three brass ball chain 24-6” long, with picture jasper, brass and copper, and ceramic snake pendants.

 

 

 

Next, 36″long ball chain with faux Amber resin and lamp-work glass with silver dots.

Finally, ordinary ball chain with picture jasper, lampwork glass and pewter in 24-6″.

Ball chain really keeps prices down!  They range from $11 to $25.

The top two sterling silver are $35 and $38, left to right.

 

 

 

FEBRUARY 1: New Jade

“Noble Space”

Last year’s challenge is a gift that keeps on giving.  As I made my way through the year, drawer by drawer, I chose to present the best that drawer had to offer, create a boffo necklace and blog it.  The gift is that many drawers offered several choices of fabulous beads which I put aside for future consideration.

Well, the future is now.  I have several trays full of plastic bags each containing a necklace wanting to be designed.  The first to jump out is New Jade with a magnificent carved jade centerpiece.

I’ve collected new jade beads for years, liking their milky green color with their cloudy opacity.  Guess what?  New jade is the trade name for semi-translucent serpentine!  It’s OK that it is not jade; I have always considered serpentine as a cousin of jade.

The real story here is the centerpiece:  it is real jade, variegated from white to mountain green, carved with the usual flourishes of talented carvers plus the open work circle which is not often seen—perhaps due to the difficulties posed by carving one of the hardest stones.

Many jade centerpieces in my stash are round and I now know why:  they were girdle ornaments in ancient China.  Read girdle as belt, perhaps similar to a Japanese obi.  In the Zhou dynasty (1050—256 AD), seven carved jade pieces hung down from the belts of men and women.  The wearers enjoyed the tinkling of the ornaments as they walked, reminding them of music, claiming it put them in a joyful disposition.

I enjoyed reading that in royal Zhou courts, only the king could wear white jade; princes wore green the color of mountains; prefects wore a water blue stone; and mere officials were assigned to prehnite which is pale green in color.  Men and women of all classes wore them, choosing emblems of their life’s work (which type of stone was not noted).

The necklace has three strands of hand cut new jade with earrings to match.  Both are finished in sterling silver.  It is 18.5” long.  The centerpiece is 2” diameter and .25” thick.  It is not heavy, weighing three ounces.  $99 the set.

I do not mean to imply the centerpiece is ancient.  To the best of my knowledge, it is contemporary.

Most of my research came from a book I purchased in Hong Kong in 1994.  Originally published in 1912, republished in 1974, my unabridged edition of Jade:  Its History and Symbolism in China by Berthold Laufer was republished in 1989.

 

 

Week 53: 2017 IN REVIEW

Thank you, dear readers, for your congratulatory comments! And thank you (WBS), for the bottles of champagne!  We’re all celebrating the achievement of a goal!  I couldn’t have done it without you, reading and commenting.  I received 326 of your encouraging comments over last year!  Thank you, thank you!

 

I couldn’t resist doing some analysis. The most popular week was #11 (amber glass) with 11 comments; followed by week 17 (dark green) and week 38 (chrysoprase) with 9 comments; and week 25 (iridescent), with 8 comments.  Then I checked he lower end:  the peach necklace of week 15 got one comment, as did weeks 9 and 24 (brown and black with other colors).

 

What was easy? Writing each blog flowed like a charm; not once did I experience  writer’s block.  Two things helped:  lots of research so my head was full of interesting tidbits and I like to write.

 

What was hard? The technical stuff–especially adding more than one image and having it land where I wanted it.  I chatted with WordPress so many times on that subject that they finally asked me what operating system I was using.  They told me it was too old (as did my webmaster and others.  So I did the cyber Monday thing and bought a new PC, to be installed soon!)

 

The other difficult challenge was to get rid of the blue background in most of my pictures. Not possible until I realized my kitchen window was UV-tinted, so I moved my photo area to a north-facing un-tinted window.

 

I intended to rejuvenate my bead artistry as I turned 75. It turned out that meant I must create a spectacular necklace once a week for 52 weeks:  that realization hit me early on; it became a point of pride and the true challenge.  Twenty-nine necklaces sold.  I am humbled and gratified.

One existing collector (MBL) bought 5; a new collector (DS) also bought 5: to you both, a belated but heartfelt tip of the NYEve champagne glass!  Another existing collector (SL) bought 2 and a long term friend (SG) bought 2!  New friends, local friends, plus California friends took this year over the top for me!  Thank you!

More than one person has asked me to put this together in book form.  That thought is a little overpowering right now.

Over 52 weeks, my thoughts have delved more and more frequently into the ageing process. Having fun, making moments count, valuing relationships, letting the unimportant slip away, leaning into quality workmanship, keeping promises (to post every Wednesday come hell or high water!)—-  this is what I learned this year.  And how lucky I was that Rochelle Ford’s centerpiece and philosophy were the grand finale!

One unintended consequence yielded a great benefit: I will donate four boxes of beads I no longer want after going through 52 drawers of beads acquired over  23-years, to Rosie’s Place, a non-profit in Boston, founded in 1974, which serves more than 12,000 poor and homeless women a year.  Their Craft Cooperative teaches women to make bead jewelry and learn a new skill.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.  I’m taking the rest of January off.  I shall present a new program on February 1, 2018.  Thank you all.  See you soon.  Be well.

 

Drawer 52: Recycled Found Metal

“Urban Jabber”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

‘Week 52/Drawer 52: December 28, 2017: “Urban Jabber”

We have arrived at the last Wednesday of 2017 and at the bottom right last drawer. Drawer 52 actually contains faux amber, but the necklace would look a lot like Drawer 34 (August 23), so I have chosen to conclude my year’s work with panache.  I will tie together an amazing centerpiece with a quote from the artist which will, in turn, tie together my thoughts on rejuvenating my work in my 75th year.

Rochelle Ford, Palo Alto, CA, is the artisan who made the centerpiece. At age 58, she taught herself to weld, got a permit to salvage metal at the town dump, and turned her home into a gallery of her work.   I took some classes from her in the late 90’s to learn how to solder (I flunked, just like those drawing classes I took.  So if you can’t do it, buy it from one who can!)

I commissioned some recycled metal centerpieces from Rochelle and this is the last one in my inventory.

Life marched on.  I’m in Boston; Rochelle has turned 81 and is still welding.  Imagine my surprise three years ago when some ageing quotes popped up in my email, just like the cute dog and cat emails, and my friend Rochelle had a fabulous quote!  I copied it and put it on my studio bulletin board.  Here it is:

“ Every morning when I wake up, I say, ‘I’ll never be as young as I am today.  Today is the youngest day of the rest of my life.  Get up and do something fun!’” 

Her piece is 5.75” by 4.75”. There are many crazy bits of metal welded together and painted.  Like all my centerpieces, they dictate the colors of the beads:  here olive and copper were the obvious choices.  They had to be chunky, so there is lampwork glass, Indian glass, filigreed copper, a strand of small round flat vintage Czech glass, and it really demanded some hefty copper chain.  It weighs just 10 oz, not a heavy necklace.

The beaded section is 9.5” long on each side and features a large copper clasp. Matching olive  earrings don’t match with each other:  one is round and the other an organic pear shape.  As Rochelle recommends, have fun!  $139.

Rochelle’s story is too good not to tell, so I will do a week 53 wrap-up to tie together my thoughts on rejuvenating my work and what I learned over the past 52 weeks. We’ll pretend there are 53 weeks in 2017.

You will love her website www.metalsculptor.com, or google her name Rochelle Ford.

 

 

 

 

Drawer 51: Reverse Painting & Bumpy Beads

“Meditation on Nature”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 51/Drawer 51: December 20, 2017: “Meditation on Nature”

In the middle “double wide” drawer, I found two oddities: four glass beads painted on the inside that I found in a flea market-type setting in Beijing and my bag full of what I call bumpy beads, due to their surface texture, but undoubtedly vintage Bohemian pressed glass.

As I emptied out the bumpy beads, the bright green ones wanted to be near the painted glass so they could pop the green in the landscape scenes. Finding some matte vintage Lucite beads that didn’t overpower the painted beads was easy—Drawer 6 offered a great selection.  I chose three large plus a strand of medium faceted beads to intersperse with the green glass.

Reverse painting originated in Venice in the 13th century, resurfaced as a method of portrait painting in the 19th century, and enchanted Americans as fancy lampshades in 1910.  But it was the Chinese who elevated reverse painting to fine art using very delicate brushes.

This necklace features two beads with a typical landscape of a lake, a boat, a mountain, and a verdant foreground with a tree by the lake. The other two feature an elegant crane in flight and, on the other side, a resting crane.  Imagine packing all that inside a bead that is only ¾” in diameter!

Cranes are a frequent symbol in the Chinese culture since they are a sign of longevity.  A common expression is “heavenly crane” which is a reference to wisdom, the second role of the crane.

I could not find any images of my bumpy bead collection, so my name sticks. I am confident they are the pressed glass Bohemian-style beads made in post-war Germany.  See Drawer 30 for the story (7-26-17).

This necklace is 22.5” long. The clasp is a matte glass odd-shaped circle with a silver toggle.  I made earrings to match.  Since I’ve had the painted beads for so long, I used their original low price and not the average price of $12 to $15 each I saw on Etsy.  Therefore, the set is $79.

Stay tuned…only one more Wednesday in 2017. I plan to end this challenge with panache!!!

 

Drawer 50: Wood

“Blurry Shadows”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 50/Drawer 50: December 13, 2017: “Blurry Shadows”

 

I am so close to the end that it is scary. Only two drawers left after this one.

My Apothecary Chest has seven rows of seven drawers, each 16” deep. Across the bottom, there are only three drawers:  I call them my “double-wides.”  And, I guess, because they are odd-sized, I used them for odd beads which didn’t have a home in one of the other 49 drawers.  So these last three are free-form!

The first is wood. I found enough to fill one-third of a drawer. Not the sophisticated wood of Drawer 4; but playful wood, reminiscent of the large shapes that were strung into necklaces for us as kids—at least in my house where we were five girls, only eight years from me to my baby sister, and a play producer Mother—dress-up and staging plays in the cellar was what we did if there was no sun shining outside.

I glossed over the playful beads as I tumbled them onto my work surface because I immediately saw a contemporary (dare I say sophisticated?) design in black and beige. It is pictured above; I shall let you judge.

The necklace is symmetrical, chunky, and very light. A pleasing yet somewhat bold design.  But I didn’t restrain myself with the earrings:  asymmetrical; one beige, one black, neither matching.  I got cold feet the next day and made a conservative pair of earrings.  Both come with the necklace.  Wearer’s choice.

The necklace measures 21.5” and is $59 including two pair of earrings.

I’ve been asked. Yes, Virginia, there will be a next year.  I’ll take a break from weekly challenges and make it monthly in 2018, with little bits popping up in between on some Wednesdays.  More info soon.  It’s premature, but THANKS, I couldn’t have done this without your feedback and that ultimate compliment of a purchase.

Drawer 49: Aventurine, a semi-precious stone

“Seductive Lure”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 49/Drawer 49: December 6, 2017: “Seductive Lure”

It is fitting that the Aventurine drawer is next to the Jade drawer because I used to have a lot of green aventurine which can be close to jade in color, and was my reason for making those drawers neighbors, but there are many other aventurine colors—blue, yellow, orange, and a brownish called red—which I have collected over the years and now outnumber the green.

This necklace features red aventurine which I paired with a bug-eyed koi fish. At first, I chose white jade to fill in the Aventurine and it wasn’t working.  A closer look at the fish showed me its underside was the palest of lavenders.  I really had to suspend belief in color theory to go with Mother Nature’s combo of lavender and red aventurine.  The results charmed me.

Then my research told me why the colors worked: Aventurine is a form of quartz.  The koi fish is agate which is one of the most common materials used in the art of hardstone carving and agate is also a quartz.  If you are confused, it’s easier to say  aventurine and agate have the same parents.  Additionally, they both channel abundance in the world of crystal properties.

The Chinese are very fond of Koi or goldfish and keep them in bowls in their homes or in ponds in the temple gardens. The Chinese words “jin yu” meaning goldfish are phonetically identical with the two words meaning “gold in abundance”, thereby making the goldfish/koi symbol a traditional wedding gift.

The necklace measures 18” long plus 2.5” for the goldfish.  I just found two more Red Aventurine beads and can make earrings to match.  $69 plus $15 if earrings desired.

 

Guess what else I discovered about quartz? It accounts for 12% of the Earth’s crust.

I found my koi/goldfish cultural interpretations in the same book I referred to last week : A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols by Wolfram Eberhard, first published in 1983.

Drawer 48: Jade

“Momentum” 

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 48/Drawer 48: November 29, 2017: “Momentum”

To me, Jade is Hong Kong. Worn by many citizens, seen in shop windows, handled at the Jade Market:  it is the heart and soul of Hong Kong.  I became very attracted to it.

When I discovered the Jade Market, I walked there from our Kowloon apartment, frequently slipping into the Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium, a large department store on Nathan Road, to find curios and objets for my growing Asian collectibles.

Approaching the Jade Market were countless small jewelry shops full of Cantonese-speaking shoppers, men in the street hawking big chunks of jade from their small pick-up trucks, and a few Westerners like me with anticipation glistening in our eyes. The Market is really a tent, permanently erected, and certainly the size of a football field.  I walked around until something I saw drew me in.  The vendor rushed around with a low stool, a tray and a smile.  I could sit for an hour, choosing the beads I deemed suitable for a necklace.

Don and I lived in Hong Kong for 18 months in 1993-4 and the memory of the Jade Market is still fresh. Unfortunately, what material I have left from that era isn’t enough to make a necklace.

So here is this week’s necklace: Suzhou jade, also called new jade, in a dark to light variation with two carved beads on each side  separating the two shades.  There were no leftover beads, so wear your silver earrings.  A nicely carved turtle, 2” x 2.25”, is the centerpiece.  Sterling silver clasp.

The tortoise is an enigmatic creature for the Chinese, “concealing the secrets of heaven and earth”: they see its shell as the vaulted  heaven and its underside as the flat disc of earth.  It also symbolizes steadfastness.

The necklace measures 18.5” long plus 2.25” for the tortoise.

 

While still in Hong Kong, I started using my Jade Market finds. I found a helpful book to explain the meanings of carvings such as the tortoise above: A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols by Wolfram Eberhard, first published in 1983.

DRAWER 47: CORAL

I wondered what I would say about Coral since everyone knows a lot about coral, like
pearls, like turquoise.

Then I remembered Don and I snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef in 1994
during our travels around Southeast Asia when Don was managing the area for
National Semiconductor and I accompanied him on his business trips. After
business in Melbourne, we traveled to Cairns with snorkeling on our minds.
We found someone to take us and spent a lovely afternoon.

Everything was colorful, abundant, vibrant and full of the orangey coral I
loved. But I noticed a few sections of white coral and didn’t understand
it. I came to understand it is bleached coral and I subsequently invented
my own story: true coral was becoming more extinct and bleached, so they
started dying it. I made that up because all I ever saw at bead shows was
“dyed red coral”. It’s a lovely color when dyed well-if not, white shows
through.

It turns out there is a bit of truth in my story, so I decided to update
myself and my dear readers on this subject.

Coral clusters form a reef barrier, very important to ecosystems, beach
protection, fishing, and tourism, not to mention coral’s own subsistence
since red algae attaching itself to coral gives it its natural color. If
the temperature or the salinity of the water change, coral reacts by
expelling the algae, revealing its white skeleton. This is bleaching.
Using Australia as an example, they made the Great Barrier Reef into a
protected reserve. Voila, no coral for jewelry. The very happy news is
they are discovering coral is able to adapt and acclimate to changes and it
is believed it will survive.

Dyed red coral are pieces of skeletal coral dyed. Nothing can replace the
beauty of natural coral, but I can live with dyed red.

That said, this necklace is natural! These coral beads came from a
multi-strand necklace I found in my travels and promptly cut up. It has
supplied me with coral for years!

The sterling silver sea scallop shell with a piece of coral is beautifully
made with great-and realistic-details. I have a clear memory of buying it
in an ethnic-type shop in Palo Alto after returning from Hong Kong. It
measures 3″ by 3″.

The necklace is 22″ long with a sterling silver clasp. Wear it with your
silver earrings. $115.

Drawer 46: Silver: Thai Hill Tribes

 

“The Singular Spirit”

Week 46/Drawer 46: November 15, 2017: “The Singular Spirit”

For years I have bought “hill tribe” silver and only knew it was a recognizable style of workmanship made in Northern Thailand. Now I know so much I fear I shall bore you with my focus on the six tribes who make pieces like this fish centerpiece.  Read on.  Some names will be familiar to you.

First of all, they work in a special silver which, at 97%, is in between sterling (92.5% silver content) and fine silver (100% silver). High silver content produces a softer metal which tarnishes less.

Second, there are six tribes who, over the past 200 years, emigrated mostly from China and Tibet through thick forests and mountainous terrain to the “Golden Triangle” where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

Third, the tribes retain their traditions in their clothing, their abundance of silver adornment, and their methods of making beads and jewelry. Their tools and processes are simple: silver ingots are flattened into sheets by pounding with a hammer.  Then they pound the sheets into a mold and something like this fish emerges.  They detail the piece—see fish scales—in their own signature style.

The most populous tribe at 300,000 is the Karen, originally from Myanmar. They live in stilt houses with their animals beneath.  They are expert elephant handlers (think logging and tourism); very friendly; and called the “long necks” due to the silver necklaces worn from collarbone to chin.

Next largest are the Hmong, many of whom were welcomed as refugees in the USA after the Vietnamese war. They came from the icy regions of Tibet and Mongolia; settled in Chiang Mai, a large and lovely city; and are identified by their traditional clothing of pleated skirts and black baggy pants, both with lots of embroidery.  Besides being silversmiths, they are dry rice farmers and may cultivate opium poppies.  They are very independent, preferring to live above 3000 feet.

The last tribe I’ll describe is the Mien (also called Yao) whose women are often photographed for their elaborate costumes and headpieces. They are considered the aristocrats of the region and have been making silver jewelry the longest. They are the only hill tribe with a written language and they use silver as their currency. They originate from Southern China, bringing their medieval religion, Taoism, with them, but many have converted to Christianity or Buddhism.

The remaining three are called Akha, Lahu and Lisu. All proud silversmiths.

The Drawer 46 necklace is full of trade beads, all with varying patina (read bumps and bruises from years of being traded), sterling silver and Naga shells (how I would love to tell you about the Naga tribe in the land-locked Himalayas who trade with shells and adorn themselves with shells, but no time for that story!) The fish centerpiece is a Karen Hill Tribe silver creation.

The necklace is 20“ long and the fish is 2.5“long.  Wear it with your silver earrings.  $99.

Trade beads are described in Drawers 12, 32 and 43.