Venetian Memories

“A Venetian Memory”

I’m trespassing in unknown territory here.  While I have a unique necklace to present, I know very little about it.  So this blog is all speculation based solely on my 25 years of experience.

In Venice, I was walking to a bead shop near St. Pantaleon Church, set in a small plaza on a canal.  There was also an antique shop in the plaza.  I spent some time looking in its windows,  discovering several treasures which impassioned me.  Recall how I love hunting for interesting beads and you’ll understand how I wanted to pounce on a necklace and a bracelet in that shop window.  It was closed.  Later, I thought.

The bead shop had beautiful local glass beads made in Murano which I was pleased to purchase and thrilled the prices were close to what I pay for them in the USA.  I sauntered back to the antique shop.  Still closed.  I was to make two more trips until I could enter the shop.

I looked at all their jewelry butsettled on to the two I zeroed in on earlier in the day:  for myself I bought a pearl necklace with a front closure similar to the one I am presenting to my readers plus a honey yellow glass bead bracelet with this orange and brass dangle.

Once I arrived home on May 8, I placed the bracelet on my work table.  On June 10, I finished the necklace.  I had purchased a strand of giant Baroque* pearls last October.  I removed the clasp and centerpiece unit from the bracelet, strung the pearls and voila, a Venetian Memory!

A close-up of the centerpiece.

The clasp/centerpiece is a gold-colored brass of excellent craftmanship with 6 orange glass cabochons bezeled in place with filigree work on top and bottom.  This circular piece is attached to another brass circle with a 1950-style flower soldered on to it.  Quite a remarkable example of workmanship.

The necklace consists of two pricey components—the pearls and the clasp/centerpiece.  20″ of pearls which range from 14-17 mm each (one inch is 25.4 mm) and a clasp/centerpiece (meant to be worn in front) which is 2″ long.  $149.

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*Baroque pearls are natural freshwater pearls featuring unique markings, imperfections,  irregularities and subtle beige coloration unevenly marked.


A MAX MOMENT

This is one of Max’s most endearing traits as he calms down as he approaches 15 months:  when he jumps on my bed, he takes a big mouthful of the throw into his mouth, brings both paws beside his mouth and gets a contented look.  It’s his “blankie”, his security blanket!

 

Whimsey Bird

A touch of whimsy always makes my day.

This lampwork glass bird is one of many whimsical beads Stephanie Sersich, Topsham, Maine, creates.  Sersich today is 43 years old and introduced herself to the bead world at age 25 with a public lecture and an article in the legendary “Lapidary Journal.”   Two big influences contributing to her success are her creative Mom and a major in metalsmithing and painting.  As she says, “I learned engineering and color which led me to making my own glass beads.”

She then developed her own “Spiny Knotting” method to allow her to bind many of her colorful beads into a single bracelet or necklace.  Check them out on her website sssbeads.com.

I have often wondered why I preferred the hunt for fabulous beads like Stephanie’s instead of making them.  It has a lot to do with the fact that my youthful focus was on getting an English degree, living in Paris and Lisbon, and being a corporate HR professional.  I didn’t buy my first bead until I was 50 and living in Hong Kong, entertaining myself while my husband organized his company’s South Asian footprint.  But I loved the hunt!  From the Hong Kong Jade Market to Beijing’s outdoor flea markets, Shanghai’s treasure-filled antique shops, from small entrepreneurial silver shops in Bali, to the giant pieces of turquoise I found in Tibet, and the amazing beads on small Indonesian islands of Sumba, Komodo, and Flores.  For two years, I never thought of making my own beads.  Just acquiring them.

And I can safely say that is true today, 25 years later.  I was determined, however, to put my own creative stamp on each necklace.  To balance color and texture, to be bold, chunky and fearless, but above all to never stop searching for the odd, eccentric, remarkable bead.  And to do that, I expanded my search to fulfill the true definition of a bead:  something with a hole in it which can be strung.

Stephanie’s bird and fiber dangle is 3.5″ and the pink Czech glass bead necklace is 24″.  Featured in the necklace are molded glass pre-war German semi-circle beads plus glass flowers at the end of the necklace and in the earrings.  $139.

 

It’s Springtime! Nightingale’s Eye.

“Nightingale’s Eye”

The nightingale, a European thrush, is unknown to Americans other than through its history as a romantic, even poetic, bird with an amazing night song. (1)

Before I connect this necklace to my chosen title, let me tell you how I choose titles for my necklaces…and why I choose titles.

First, why title a necklace? I started making bead jewelry in 1993 while living in Hong Kong with nothing to do but wander while my husband was on an 18-month work assignment. While wandering, beads seemed to attach themselves to me. Since an acquisition gene controls a part of my life, I just collected beads. Soon I had to hide them under the bed. No surprise, my husband asked me why I had so many beads…Surprisingly, I answered, “To make necklaces!”

Oops. A commitment. Good reply, it turns out. I started at the dining room table in Hong Kong and liked what I did. I had fabulous beads. Still do. So I made some decisions: this is my business; it’s appropriate to make a profit so I can keep buying beads without guilt; I’m now an artist; therefore I treat my work like a painting (Important insight. I had plexiglass boxes made so I can hang my works like two-dimensional art.) Also, I titled my work. Whew, took two paragraphs to answer that one.

How I choose titles. When we returned to Menlo Park from Hong Kong, while reading the NYTimes Book Review, I started underlining catchy phrases. Mind you, only an English major wants to memorialize catchy phrases. Then I listed them on notepaper. I did this for less than a year. I just went to my studio to count the pages–23. I still use them and have never expanded the lists.

When I finish a necklace, I prepare a tag. First is the title. The feeling of the necklace is fresh in my mind as I review the lists and a title that corresponds jumps at me. It’s totally intuitive. So simple.

Back to the nightingale and the necklace. I recently named this necklace and when I started writing today, discovered how an intuitive pick from my long list of titles was the correct karmic choice.

There is a Ukraine legend that a nightingale flew to Ukraine from India and heard only sad songs, so it sang its song to cheer them up. The people responded with happy songs, and since then, nightingales visit Ukraine each spring to hear happy folk songs. This was my spring necklace, created in the winter, correctly, if surprisingly, so named for spring. Full circle.

Details: it is 20.5” long accompanied by earrings that are 1.5” long. $119 the set. The necklace features a lampwork glass heart by Louise Erskine (MA) and two large Venetian blown glass beads. The remaining beads are rock crystal and faceted glass crystals. I love how the aqua of the crystals refracts through the clear beads. Sterling silver clasp.


To hear a nightingale sing, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TepTnlERuRo

Max will turn one year on April 12. I shall post a birthday salute!

A Corrugated Necklace

“A Corrugated Necklace”

This necklace draws attention coming and going. I strive to make all my designs attractive from the front, but it is only a few necklaces that can achieve that high mark from the back. This is one.

These paper beads were made by an unknown artist in Murano, Italy. I bought them on a trip there four years ago. They look like corrugated paper sliced in ribbons and crafted into architectural shapes…to my mind. What a labor of love! They are treated with a matte varnish to protect the surface. They are very sturdy.

I wanted them to be paired with special beads, both texture- and color-wise. For that honor, I found a dozen handmade glass beads from the tiny shop in Carmel, CA, called Two Sisters. The remaining spacer beads are pale wood.

 

The creative clasp is a resin circle in pale beige coupled with a wood toggle featuring four different woods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matching earrings of the stylized paper and sterling silver are 1.75” long. The necklace is 21” long.

$149 for the set.

Happy Valentine’s Day 2019

In New England, Valentine’s Day is inexorably linked to the weather which is usually snow, sleet or ice. I started making these necklaces during the weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday. Ice was the weather horror of that weekend. With a forecast of snow followed by rain followed by single digit overnight temps, I planned for a forced two-day homestay by shopping for tasty food. I stocked crab cakes, cod which I cook Mediterranean style, lobster meat for a Lobster roll as well as sautéed over angel hair pasta. I did not forget Chardonnay and Merlot!

The three necklaces shown below were strung on the sofa in front of a fire with the dog Max curled up on his spot. It was a pleasurable two days with no broken bones since the furthest I went was to the deck gate to let Max out…after pouring hot water to defrost the gate latch.

I decided to string simple seed beads and save the excitement for the dangles that are such fun to assemble. Descriptions follow, left to right.

  • Red glass “pony” (a big seed bead) necklace, 22” long with a gold metal heart clasp. Dangle of 4” with large gold metal circle as the connector. Featured beads are Murano red glass with foil interior; red glass hearts and assorted gold metal charms. $47.
  • Small gold metal round beads make the 19” long necklace and simple hook and eye clasp. Dangle of 3.5” featuring an off-white heart plus 4 gold metal hearts plus an angel making music. $39.
  • Sparkling red glass seed bead necklace, 21”, with a creative silver metal clasp. Dangle of 3.5” featuring two Murano foil glass hearts, assorted red hearts and a sterling silver and crystal small dangle. $42.

A search of my “HEARTS” box produced three gems that I could just put on a chain and present at a low price because my labor is negligible (unlike stringing those seed beads). I show them in the second photo. Again, from the left.

  • Blue and white Murano glass bead on a 20.5” on a silver mesh chain. $20.
  • Large (2.25” wide by 2” high) lime green with copper and silver foil designs embedded on a 36” copper “key chain” which I (or you) can easily make shorter. $20.
  • Simple and contemporary 18” silver chain with a stylized silver heart and gold patch. $20.

 

 

 

 

 

Certain dog-loving readers have asked for more Max photos. I shall graciously let him steal the spotlight every other month. This is Max on the sofa, which is for play as well as rest in his mind.  He is just shy of 9 months of age.

Welcome 2019 and the American Sleeping Beauty Turquoise

“American Sleeping Beauty”

 

I remember when I was first introduced to American Sleeping Beauty Turquoise at one of my beloved bead shows in Northern California.

Whether it was Oakland or Santa Barbara; what the exact date was; I have no recall. I saw the clarity of a robin blue strand of really big faceted turquoise beads, and just like the first Tiffany boxed gift you receive, you are transfixed by the color and you know you are in the presence of something iconic.

The strand was expensive ($39 per bead), but I intuitively knew it was worth it. And guess what? I never saw turquoise from the American Beauty mine in Globe, Arizona, again. After my research for this blog, I know why: the mine closed in 2012*.

Close-up of the front of the centerpiece showing artistic use of boring ole electroplate. There are two pieces: the flower shape on top and the rectangle of dyed magnesite on the bottom.

Turquoise mines in that area date back to the Anasazi era (200 BC to AD1500) of Native Americans. The Navajos mined it into the 1900s. An American entrepreneur took it over in the ‘60s and closed it in 2012 to mine copper.What made this necklace possible was my discovery of the creative centerpiece at my favorite Boston area bead show this past October. Currently it is the only show I attend since I am well-stocked after 24 years in this endeavor! But like all acquirers, I can’t stop looking! And buying….

The vendor didn’t tell me the name of the designer even though I asked, so I can’t give credit. I have two more to use later. Can you see me smiling?

What attracted me to this centerpiece was the creative use of copper electroplate, usually seen as smooth and sleek. This inspired artist made it to the consistency of mashed potatoes and just piled it on, with a few balls of pure copper accenting the bumps. S/he picked dyed magnesite (often confused as turquoise, and, worse, often claimed as turquoise by unscrupulous vendors), then cleverly added a “flower” in the spirit of more is better. There is even more: the top bead of frosted rock crystal is artistically embellished, crowned by a generous circle to attach to a necklace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back of the centerpiece:

electroplated copper on dyed magnesite.

 

 

 

The third component to this magnificent piece (forgive my abandonment of humility) are the Swarovski pearls which the world-famous crystal producer made by using a crystal instead of the usual shell irritant, resulting in faux pearls in a myriad of colors! So this necklace is the classic high/low I often see in home design magazines. They are reasonably priced, but a quality pearl: the low to the above two highs.

Now for the summary: this American Beauty Turquoise necklace is 20” plus a 3” long centerpiece. $259.00 including earrings.

 

*Not to say American Beauty Turquoise cannot be found. Many people, especially the miners, have stashes of it. Prices have increased, as they do for all scarce commodities.

Bauxite.

“Crossroads”

I wonder how many of my dear readers said “Bauxite?”

Well, that is what I said when I bought these oddly interesting beads over twenty years ago.  And all I knew was aluminum is made from bauxite.

Turns out there is a small village 60 miles north of Accra, Ghana, Africa, that maintains a relationship with the bauxite-bearing hills just 2 miles away.  For four generations, the families of Abompe have the exclusive market on bauxite beads.  The hills are also the abode of their guardian spirit who protects the village from over-exploitation of the bauxite.

Everyone in the village has a different role in the making of a bead:

  • miners make the 3-hour trip to do their work
  • miners sell lumps of raw material to village families
  • a family member smashes lumps into smaller pieces
  • a different family member forms beads with a knife made from a worn-out machete
  • a kid drills holes in the beads with a spindle contraption made from wood and metal.
  • kids string the beads on wire (recycled from motor vehicle spokes)
  • someone polishes the beads on a grinding stone, resulting in a dull colored bead.
  • The last step is the person who treats the beads with oil to make them shiny.

Back to the necklace I am presenting today,  notice the natural crevices, especially in  the center bead.  BTW, these beads date from the early 1900’s.  The  brick color (from the iron naturally found in bauxite) continues to develop shine from the human necks who have worn these beads for the last century, minus the 20 years they have sat in my apothecary chest drawers.

Other beads in the necklace are Mozambique glass trade beads and yellow-dyed coco beads.  I am feeling compelled to tell you I bought the trade beads in a flea market in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1966 when Mozambique was struggling to gain its independence from Portugal.  Believe me, I had no idea that 30 years later, I would be having fun designing bead necklaces!

The clasp is hammered brass.  The necklace measures 26″ and weighs 6 oz.  $89.

April 1, 2018: AMBER.1 Very Old Amber

 

“Unexpectedly Sentimental”

It’s Easter. It’s April Fool’s. It’s interesting Amber time.

This necklace is very old Amber: an oxymoronical statement since to be Amber, it has to be fossilized resin of extinct pine trees dating back 40 million years. This mixed necklace contains three antique natural extra-large Moroccan Baltic Butterscotch Amber beads at the center and two out from the center. To clarify the oxymoron, they are Baltic Amber, by definition very old, but also antique since they were crafted into this shape over 100 years ago in Morocco. Therefore, they are also rare. Etsy has an overflow of amber pieces, but only one with these three beads in it; they price out at $166 each.

The remaining 18 beads are Ram’s Horn, also made in Morocco, also antique, also natural. Their patina is even more interesting: cracks and dryness which I assume are from the dry mountainous air of the nomadic Berbers who traded in beads. Their colors are in vibrant shades of amber. The ram has been a popular theme in jewelry and adornment since the Phoenicians of the 6th century BC.  I still wear my ram’s horn gold earrings from the 1980’s.

 

On many large Amber beads, signs of testing are visible as round black marks near the hole.

See details in two beads to left.

The trader would prove the authenticity of his beads by applying a hot needle: if it cannot penetrate the surface and if the contact smells of soot, it is real Amber.

Other resins would allow the needle to easily go into the bead and smell of fresh pine.

 

 

Finishing this necklace are some small Chinese wood beads with miniature landscapes etched in black ink, chosen for the overall shade of amber dye to extend my color theme. Notice sterling silver spacers and interesting circle with a lobster clasp. Wear your silver earrings.

Weight: 10 ounces

Length: 21”

Price: $175

Size of largest bead: 23 x 35 mm or roughly 7/8” hole to hole by 1.5” high

 

Berbers are indigenous to North Africa, especially Algeria and Morocco, living there as farmers since the Phoenician times. They were also traders, although not as famous as the later Tuareg tribes discussed in my blog of March 22, 2017.

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.

 

 

 

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.