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.

Happy Holidays!

“This is the Most Angelic You will Ever See Me”

 

These wings were a buzz item at the Summer 2018 Open Studios of my neighbors and colleagues, Donna and Paul Goes, mentioned previously in these pages.  A most creative couple, they taped the wings to a wall and invited visitors to be photographed.  Over 100 visitors enjoyed it!  (Except me since I was hosting my own Open Studios.) To continue the fun, they brought the wings as well as a surfboard background to Hull’s annual “Endless Summer” Street Fair where Hull Artisrs sponsors a Kids Tent with art projects.

I immediately saw this as a Christmas/Hunakah/Holiday greeting!

One of my favorite pastimes is to take time to laugh.  Me in angel wings was a grand opportunity to do so!  May the Holidays and the New Year give you many moments of laughter!

“Max and Priscilla” by Michael Domina

Michael Domina is another of Hull’s most creative artists and a close friend.  Some time ago he did a contemporary self-portrait and we discussed doing my portrait in that fun disjointed style.  Well, when the time in his schedule arrived, so had Max.  Quick change of plans.  It’s me and my doggie companion on a new road in 2018.  And in case if your viewing screen is small, let me tell you it is a very orange work of art.  I’m so happy Michael interpreted me so on the mark!

Closing this last blog of 2018 by saluting my readers, offering much gratitude for following my meanderings.  It gives me great satisfaction to write, to share my craft, and to laugh.

Sending special wishes for you to close out this year with a bang and to enjoy 2019!!!

 

GOLDSTONE

“Grand Illusion”

As I reach the end of my second regular blogging year (weekly in 2017; monthly in 2018 and onward…), this Goldstone research produced my first big “Aha!”

For almost 25 years, I have assumed Goldstone was one of my beloved semi-precious stones found in Nature.  It’s called stone, right?  But no!  It is a glass product cooked up by artisans!  I am not disappointed, dear readers, because it still is a fabulous glittering glass and it makes a great necklace.  I am now informed!

The original goldstone manufacturing process was developed in 17th century Venice (and Murano) by the Miotti family and exclusively licensed to them by the Doge.  The ingredients include silica, copper and other metal oxides to produce glass containing tiny crystals of metallic copper.

I have also used blue goldstone which I now know substitutes cobalt for copper.

This 22″ necklace contains two sizes of facteted goldstone with a center bead called a briolette, also faceted, which plays up the glitter very nicely.  Copper clasp and matching earrings.  $69 for the set.

 

 

 

 

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.

Multi-Strand Woven Necklace with Agate. Puppy update.

“Celtic Twilight”

This necklace has many fascinating beads with too many stories, so I shall focus only on the amazing agate stone centerpiece which has two sides and two personalities.  I will list all the beads for my readers’ information.

Agate really is just a stone living in volcanic host rocks discovered in the third century on the shore of a river in Sicily…think Mt. Etna.

Most agates are hollow and in the form of a geode.  Slices like this one are cut from the outside of the geode; the inside is called drusy quartz.   This agate is probably Brazilian identified by its brown color interlaced with white and gray with striking layered bands.  This is high end agate; ordinary agate is found as gravel in streams.

 

The stone centerpiece pictured here and above inspired this necklace’s colors:  warm and inviting.

 

It can be worn on either side.

 

This is a woven necklace with four strands started at the bottom.  The threads were pulled through the agate and then four threads were each loaded with beads, looped through a main bead, knotted, and so on, up each side.  The clasp is vermeil (14k gold over sterling silver).

 

Here is a list of my favorite beads in the necklace:  yellow and white “sugar beads”, my name, called crackle glass by other beaders; copal, opaque and beigey, which I have often described as young amber; white vintage Japanese cut glass; small white-striped  Venetian trade beads; semi-precious citrine chips; yellow jade; pale yellow vintage pre-war German pressed glass (three are seen at the clasp).

This necklace measures 21″ plus 7″ for the centerpiece and dangles.  It weighs 6.8 ounces.  It is not heavy to me since it is dispersed over 4 strands. Wear your own gold earrings with it.  $145.

Here is Max, the Labradoodle, now 19 weeks old.  Still a pesky puppy, but doing well in  obedience classes.  He is showing loving traits, follows me everywhere, and loves being outside!

NOTHING BASIC ABOUT THESE BLACKS: Sicilian Version and Tibetan Version

“Otherness”

BLACK LAVA BEADS OF SICILY  WITH CORAL.

I’m not sure if I mentioned I spent a week in Sicily in early April.  My reason for flying into Palermo after four lovely days in Rome was to meet up with a group from Oldways, a Boston firm very interested in nutrition and a sponsor of Culunarias, aka cooking classes in interesting parts of the world.

Sicilian cooking is living history born out of serial conquest.  Each wave of conquerers has shaped the Sicilian table.  The Greeks came bearing gifts of honey, wine, ricotta and olives, followed by the rapacious Roman cultivators of wheat and grains.  After invasion by the Vandals who introduced meat dishes, a return to Greek Byzantine rule boosted local agriculture with the establishment of monasteries across the island, bringing their taste for sharp cheeses and spicy biscuits.  North African Arabs and Berbers brought citrus trees, spices, nuts and, yes, dried pasta and coffee beans.

Here is a summary of what we did:  we lunched with Mary Taylor Simeti (1); drove to the rural wine estate of Regaleali and had our farmhouse  lunch made in front of our eyes at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School (2); we ambled around Palermo’s daily fresh market on a street food tour (3), eating five specialities and finishing at the lively Taverna Azzurea with local wine to sip!  We drove south-central to Agrigento, an ancient Greek city, quite intact, with an acropolis, viaduct, and temples galore. Then we finished our stay at Ortigia, a lovely island reached by a short foot and auto bridge, very close to Syracuse and Mount Etna, where our new best friend, Chef Maurizio Noceo, guided us around his favorite vendors at the fresh market, showed us how ricotta is made and cooked our goodbye dinner at his restaurant Marcelle.  In between, our expert guide/chef, Catherine Katz demo-ed a lunch of tasty but nutritious food and we toured Planeta Vineyards(4).

Whew!  A super-fast food tour.  Now for the beads.  I’ve been buying lava beads throughout my beading career, but never imagined I could find some Mt. Etna lava beads on this trip.  I also found the coral in the earrings there, but Sicilian coral was depleted in the 18th century, so this coral came from somewhere else.

Interestingly enough, Mt. Etna was in an erupting stage while we were there.

The necklace measures 19″ and is $69 for the set.  It weighs 2.7 ounces.

 

PAINTED BLACK PRAYER BEADS OF TIBET

“Holy Mala”

These prayer beads are made by Tibetans.  I visited Tibet twice but it is becoming more difficult to find the true Tibet.

Historically, Tibet covers the Tibetan Plateau, an enormous space bordered by China and the Himalayas, sitting mostly at 16,000′ altitude, except for Mount Everest which at 29,000′ is the highest spot in Tibet and the world.

In 1993, I visited Lhasa with Don and bought many exceptional beads.  I convinced Don to return a few years later:  we spent some days in Tibet and then boarded a jitney to cross the Himalayas for two days to reach Katmandu, Nepal, which is currently home to many Tibetans in exile.  In 1959 the Dalai Lama and many Tibetans fled to Dharamsala, India, and established a government-in-exile.  During the Cultural Revolution, nearly one million Tibetans were killed and 6000 monasteries were destroyed.  In the 70’s, China started relocating ethnic Chinese to Tibet in an effort to further dilute the Tibetan culture.

I admire the Tibetans and was happy to find these beads last year at Bella Beads in New Hampshire.  They are clay beads made by the monks to help support the monastery; an image of Buddha is imprinted on them.  What I like the most is the maroon paint which is the color of Tibetan Buddhist monks’ robes.  The added gold paint symbolizes the sun which has a deep spiritual connotation for Buddhism (and has nothing to do with its Western connotation of wealth).  Buddhism is the religion of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom.

The necklace also contains matte black glass beads from India.  It is 18.5″ long and comes with matching earrings.  $135.  It weighs 5.2 ounces.

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(1) Mary Taylor Simeti moved from New York in 1962 to Palermo and fell in love with the terra and with Tonino Simeti.  She raised two children and cooked her heart out.  Son Francisco lives in San Francisco and designs wallpaper; daughter Natalia manages the family farm and vineyard.  I enjoyed her delightful memoir, “On Persephone’s Island”, while traveling.

(2)  You too can enroll at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school.  Just google it.

(3)  There are specialized guides who usher small groups through the market.  Apparently there is a global ranking for street food; Palermo, Sicily is #5.  I remember sitting on the curb in the financial district of Singapore, eating delectable street food.  I wonder where they are in the rankings?  They hose the street down daily.  Hong Kong had lots of street food lean-tos, but please don’t sit on the gross curb.

(4)  I have to mention the “national” red wine of Sicily since it is very good.  Nero d’Avola.  I found it near me fairly easily.

This is the longest blog I have ever posted…hope you made it this far!  If so, thank you!