A Gau Box and a Tibetan Bead Adventure

“Tibetan Gau Box”

 

In 1993-4, Don and I lived in Hong Kong.  I discovered ethnic beads at the fabulous bazaars located in alleys and byways and became enamored of the giant orange and yellow beads that were described as those worn by Tibetan nomads.  I asked Don to take me to Tibet on one of his business trips to Beijing.  Ha!  Impossible since it is located on a 5000’ high plateau in distant southwest China.

So I convinced him to have an adventure travel vacation in Tibet.  Be informed adventure travel translates as difficult travel, as in one-star or no-star accommodations, toilets that range from pots under the bed to blackened porcelain with no seat, mattresses that feel like plywood, walking a lot, crossing the Himalayan mountains with a view of Everest in a jitney without any shock absorbers…a trip to Katmandu, Nepal, that took 24 hours including the overnight accommodations described above.

The pleasures of adventure travel are close-ups of the native population, interesting food, cultural immersion, different religions.  And beads.  No bead shops, just go to the village square and the traders find you.  Whew.  The first lesson is to push away the crowds, establish some control, and patiently look, point, and bargain.  What wild memories!

These Gau boxes were my most unusual finds!  Today’s necklace features an excellent specimen.  I paid $100 for it and it is $490 on Etsy as I looked for one today.  As you know, I don’t mark up the original price I paid.  No need to, since you, my dear readers, are looking for an interesting necklace, not a collector’s item for a display case.

Gau (sometimes Gao) boxes are antiques today, less than 30 years after our first visit.  We returned again in the late 90’s and the change was sad—China had infiltrated Han Chinese into Tibet in a massive relocation program to dilute Tibetan culture.  As a result, many Tibetans have crossed the mountains into Nepal where they are respected in their enclaves

These boxes contain Buddhist paper prayers and relics folded into the box, and worn around the neck, near one’s heart, by Tibetan nomads or travelers.  It also is an amulet to ward off negative energy and attract blessings (just like those fluttering strings of flags placed in the mountains).  Like any antique, they have patina, the fancy word for wear marks and nicks over time.

This necklace is 24” from clasp to bottom of box which is 2.5” diameter and 5/8” thick.   The clasp is hammered pewter.  The necklace weighs 7.7 ounces.  The set is $195.

The beads are dyed coral shell pearls.  These pearls are made from the lining of oyster shells, ground, shaped, dyed, and coated with a lustrous shine.  They do not lose color or shine due to sweat or perfume.  I also like them because they come in large sizes for a reasonable price.

At the beginning and end of the necklace and in the earrings are other Tibetan beads with silver decorative endcaps.  The beads in those endcaps and the center of the Gao Box are the same orange beads I first saw in Hong Kong…seems they come in all sizes. 

These are two other Gau Boxes I bought on that trip.  They are shaped like shrines which is another use of the Gau Box.  The large one is a wonderful speciman with many cultural icons carved in the silver and a wonderful polychromed deity in the window.

The small one is so old the silver plate wore off to its copper base.

 

 

 

 

 

A Max Moment

I dare not disappoint Max’s followers.  Here he is trying to dismember his stuffed  toy, but his smart Mom bought him a leather toy and it takes a really long time for him to destroy it.  Approaching 28 months.

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Postscript:  I imagine there are prayers and relics still in these boxes but I am afraid of ruining them if I attempt to open/close the boxes, so I don’t.  I just imagine.  I encourage readers to use their imagination also.

The Bunch Series

“Clarity and Subtlety”

A couple of years ago, I had the idea of bunching a group of related-by-color beads with a two-color necklace. I was pleased with the results, so I make one whenever the inspiration strikes. Presented here is November’s offering plus one from this year and another from last year.

They are fun to make, even if the wire work is a tad laborious. But they serve another purpose: I can utilize my special beads which don’t suffice for a full necklace, but can be the highlights of a Bunch Necklace. That is how they are born—open a drawer, find a bag of a half-dozen beauties left from a big project—lay them down on my desk and keep adding more beads until some colors announce that they are happy with each other. Lay those colors on a design board, search other drawers to find what’s missing, then celebrate the “aha” moments as a real necklace designs itself!

Not easy for a beginner, but after 25 years, I’ve learned to look and listen to the beads. They know what colors they want to be beside. Sometimes they surprise me. They have been wrong a few times and I have had to take them apart and return them to their drawers for another chance at greatness.

November’s choice could get you through this year’s holiday parties. The necklace is composed of sparkly black and clear faceted crystal glass with some rhinestone spacers. The bunch features black and white swirls on clear blown Venetian glass with additions of silver, vintage pearls, a vintage plastic flower and leaf, and vintage Japanese black glass drops. Matching asymmetrical crystal earrings. The necklace measures 20”. $99 for the set.

This necklace was born in my busy 75th year (2017) when I set aside a bag of vintage molded glass shells from 1950’s West Germany. They posed a design challenge (how to wire them) until this summer when I said, this is easy, and threw them together! I think you can see how the beads dictated that the jasper semi-precious and vintage yellow (plastic) colors would work together. Length: 19”. Matching earrings. $99 for the set.

 

 

 

 

This Bunch started when pink and aqua met on my desk, so I built on it. I wire-wrapped Venetian blown glass, “sugar” beads as I like to call glass with dotted textured surfaces, and vintage glass leaf stick pins and bunched them. The pink became matte and shiny Czech glass juxtaposed with a bit of aqua. 19” length. Wear with your silver earrings. $79

 

 

 

 

A Max Moment

I worship at Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, MA, which has beautiful woods and grounds walked by locals and their dogs.  A long-time occurrence each October is the Blessing of the Animals.  Max was a beneficiary this year, under a gorgeous blue sky, along with about two dozen other dogs and some cats.

 

 

Me holding Max tightly so he won’t jump on Abbot Tom who celebrated the Blessing.  The Abbot had just finished asking the human participants what their pets meant to them.  I answered that he is someone I can talk to and no one thinks I am crazy but was upstaged by a 9-year old who said “a lot.”  Clearly the best answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the occasion of my husband Don’s interment in Glastonbury Abbey’s Columbarium, my four sisters funded a bench in his name inscribed with these words:  “In memory of Don Beadle who had a smile for everyone.”  I wanted to connect Don and Max and here is what it looked like.

OPEN STUDIO.AUGUST 16-18.HULL,MA

COME BY TO SEE NEW WORK.

SHOULD BE GREAT WEATHER FOR ART-STUDIO-HOPPING.

ALL WEEKEND I’LL BE CELEBRATING MAKING MY 3000th NECKLACE, BRACELET OR EARRINGS.  IT ONLY TOOK 24 YEARS.  HA!  BUT WHAT FUN ALONG THE WAY!

FRIDAY, AUG 16 FROM 6 TO 8 PM.  wine and cheese to celebrate 3000.

SATURDAY & SUNDAY, AUG 17 & 18 from 10 TO 4.

CATALOGUES FOUND AT HULL BUSINESSES.  ALWAYS FREE.

June 1, 2018: AMBER.3. Real Baltic Amber

“Rare Sagacity”

This amber is Baltic, and it is often called the real amber. There are other ambers from other places, but Baltic amber is the most available. Amber is fossilized tree resin—not sap which circulates through a tree’s vascular system—but resin which is secreted through canals in the epithelial cells of a pine tree. The real delight of amber is when bugs and plant material are captured in its resin and fossilize inside the amber. The thrill of amber is that these pieces could be 40 million years old.

The Necklace

Tibetan centerpieces are my most favorite to collect.

They always feature a large-sized stone bezeled onto a piece of silver or bronze which is richly engraved and decorated with a classic Asian animal. When I choose a Tibetan piece for a necklace, I invariably use matching beads strung fairly simply. And I try to find a creative clasp solution for the back of the necklace.

This necklace follows the pattern described above.

The Centerpiece

 

 

 

The centerpiece amber has interesting if indistinct inclusions.

The animal featured above it is a goose which the Asian culture loves because a migratory bird never fails to return. They also mate for life. Both themes signify longevity and constancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice also on the back of the centerpiece the image of a deer, much beloved in Tibetan Buddhism as well as in Tibetan folklore and legends based on themes of longevity.

I love how the deer is resting on a regal floral vine beautifully carved in brass.

 

 

 

 

The clasp

From the philosophical grounding of longevity themes, lift your eyes, dear reader, to the whimsical background of the clasp: in its prior life in the 1960’s, this chunk of amber was a cufflink! My friend Betty gave me a bag of broken and out-of-favor jewelry (I love it when friends do that!) with several amber cufflinks I treasured. Here it is, upcycled!  Check out the inclusions.

Details

This necklace is 24” long; the centerpiece is 2.5” long; matching earrings are included. $99.

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.

 

 

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 45: Lapis Lazuli

“May There Always Be Something Left Over”

 

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 45/Drawer 45: November 8, 2017: “May There Always Be Something Left Over”

The first time I ever heard the words Lapis Lazuli (lapis is Roman for stone; lazuli is Persian for blue) was when I was matriculating at Emmanuel College, Boston, looking forward to becoming a junior and wearing our class ring which is gold with a rectangle of lapis as its centerpiece, designed by Tiffany in 1920.

I was late to the lapis game. The inhabitants of NE Afghanistan knew it in the 7th millennium BC.  It was Egyptian King Tut’s funeral mask in 1323 BC.  The Western world didn’t catch on until lapis was imported to Europe in the Middle Ages where its powder was the choice of the great painters.  I’ll refer to my favorite:  Vermeer.  Check out the “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”  That blue paint is known as Ultramarine.  The color is still on every painter’s palette, but the ingredients have been synthetic since the early 1800’s.

Lapis is prized for its deep celestial blue color. It is a rock, not a crystal.  It is found in Afghani caves, not mines.  It sparkles with…gold?…no…with Fool’s Gold or pyrite.  There is an inferior form of lapis with white calcite streaks which I learned to avoid.  Just pay more for the gold flecks.

This week’s necklace has flecks in every piece of the larger beads. The smaller beads, which I had to add to keep the weight down, is a brighter blue with few sparkles (and no white!).  The sterling silver beads are a pleasing shape and further reduce the weight.

The centerpiece is magnificent for its large oval lapis, with lots of gold and a short streak of white, and for the Tibetan sterling silver base, carved with rich flourishes on the front and the back.

While living in Hong Kong, I loved browsing the many English bookstores. It was still British until the 1997 handover to China who promised “one country, two systems,” referring to the financial, free-market and democratically-governed systems of Hong Kong.  In my opinion, the promise is eroding.

One of the books I treasure is “A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols” and I looked up the fish symbol which is prominently featured on the centerpiece. The well-carved pair of fish on the front are slightly worn, leading me to envision the wearer rubbing it as a talisman.  Fish symbolize wealth which is so significant for Buddhists that it is one of their 8 symbols.  I named this piece for the colloquial phrase for wishing others wealth.

When fish appear in a pair, it signifies harmony, and is often given as a wedding gift.

On the back of this piece is what I interpret to be a stylized fish. Pay attention to the design skill of the silversmith:  beautiful flourishes, curves, almost rococo flair, expert three-dimensional detailing.

The necklace measures 19.5” and the centerpiece is 3.5” long by 2.75” wide. It weighs 8.2 ounces.  After test driving it, I would say it is not heavy/not light, but average.  Some of my necklaces are “three-hour”, this is a five-hour necklace!      Wear your silver earrings with it.  $139.

Drawer 44: Turquoise

“109th Mala”Week 44/Drawer 44: November 1, 2017: “109th Mala”

I remember buying this large Tibetan piece in the early 2000’s in New York City in a shop well-known for ethnic beads and objets.  The price tag still stuck on the bottom said $150, but my note on the plastic bag said I paid $140…not my best negotiation!  It was sold as an ear ornament from Gujarat.  I accepted it as an ear ornament but when I looked up Gujarat, and learned it is in India, I doubted that was the true provenance.

This was clearly Tibetan. I’ve been there twice and have made necklaces with many pieces of their inlaid silver or brass with turquoise or coral:  I know their style.  So, I conducted a lengthy internet search and, after scrolling many pages on www.indianamulets.com.au, I found it! It was the only such piece out of a couple hundred images!  To improve my negotiating image with my dear readers, allow me to inform you it was priced at $375, hanging on a silver chain.

On the keft, I present you the 109th mala (prayer bead).

 

Buddhists and Hindus pray with 108 beads knotted and strung. One prays by meditating, touching a bead and saying this mantra,

“All is well.

Everything is perfect.

Wisdom and compassion uphold every atom!”

then on to the next bead, until one reaches the 109th bead; called a stupa bead.  A stupa is a Buddhist prayer hall and its steeple is in the exact shape of the centerpiece of this necklace.  The 109th serves a very special purpose:  a pause.  The pause offers silence, a moment to offer gratitude, and a practical way to keep count of their mantras and chants.  Faithful Buddhists don’t just go around the mala once; they can meditate for hours.

I was interested to learn the significance of 108 beads: it is a mathematical (12 Zodiac houses x 9 planets) metaphor for the omnipresent universe which is also our most innate self.  I would need to meditate for a long time to understand that metaphor!

The necklace features turquoise cylinders from Drawer 44 separated by sterling silver beads with a silver clasp. I made a nautilus-style sterling silver loop to attach the mala to the necklace.

The centerpiece Tibetan stupa bead is mixed metals—silver and brass—rising in a pattern to the pinnacle which is modeled after a Lotus flower with six petals inset with turquoise and coral cabochons.  This 109th mala was owned by someone who had the means to commission some very nice design and workmanship.  It is strong, sturdy and magnificent!  It is not heavy since it is hollow.

The necklace measures 25” and the mala is 5” long. Wear your silver earrings with it.  $199.

Drawer 40: Freshwater Pearls: White

 

“Tell it a Little More Than it is”

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 40/Drawer 40: October 4, 2017: “Tell it a Little More than it is”

Once upon a time, pearls were stratospherically expensive. Only cultured pearls existed; think of black Tahitian pearls harvested by divers, or the Japanese Akoya Oyster pearls in those luscious Mikimoto ads.

Ah, the legends: New York jeweler Jacob Driver was said to have sold a rope (36” to 54”)of pearls in the 1890s for $1.5 million.  Pearls were the most valued type of jewel in the Golden Age (See blog dated July 12, 2017 for more of the excesses of the Golden Age.) Jacques Cartier famously bought the NYC mansion where his iconic Fifth Ave store still stands for a double strand of matched pearls valued at $1 million in 1917.

That was then; this is now. In 1979, Japan and the USA developed a method to farm pearls by placing an irritating microscopic object in a mussel, forcing it to develop a nacreous coating over the object.  Freshwater pearls became available to all at reasonable cost.  In the USA, sadly, there is only one still in business, in Tennessee.  China has become the low cost producer and market leader.

“Nacreous” and “iridescent” are the words used to describe freshwater pearls, just like the inside of a mussel shell. There are many colors and shapes.

This necklace features nicely rounded large pearls in a natural white lustre. I wanted to use the copper ceramic piece to hold the pearl strands together, so since six lengths could be jammed in, the resulting necklace has three strands.  I added some dyed copper freshwater pearls in pear shapes as dangles.  And if you look at the clasp end of the necklace, there are some small sparkling glass beads faceted on the top and flat on the bottom—made in the USA for the millinery industry in the 1920s (again, see the July 12 blog!).

The ceramic piece is made by Barbara Hanselman who describes herself as a claysmith. She is smitten with creating in clay and has a fabulous website.  She is based in Cherry Hill, NJ.

This necklace is 22” long and the dangles add 4”.  Copper designer clasp.  Earrings on copper earwires with a pearl and a millinery bead are included.  The set is $149.

Drawer 36: LIME: Venetian glass

“Dreaming the Dreams”

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 36/Drawer 36: September 6, 2017: “Dreaming the Dreams”

I’ve expressed my love for Venetian glass many times and the romance continues with this week’s choice. This shade of lime is especially dreamy.  Actually, I do believe the gold foil centers of most of the beads causes the lime to impart a special glow on your neck.  I have worn this twice and the compliments were many!

It is my opinion that Venetian glass is made by true artisans on the Island of Murano, a vaparetto ride from Venice ( details of my visit there in Blog dated June 29, 2013).  Those artisans are the designers and the flame workers:  they both have their hearts involved in achieving outstanding results.  You don’t find any of the Venetian beads I’ve showcased this year in a bead shop (apologies to my local purveyor, Beaucoup Beads in Scituate…I still love to shop with you!), rather you have to go to shows where vendors lay out their best stuff, and make you drool!

Regarding this necklace, the 11 squares trimmed with yellow measure 7/16th of an inch…small, but large enough to be noticed.  There are smaller squares, only 1/4” across, that I used as spacers.  Be sure to notice two round lime beads with gold foil centers that comprise the focal point.  In fact, all these beads except the distinctive square ones have gold foil centers.

This 18.5” necklace comes with matching earrings.  Gold metal clasp.  The set is $109.