Fact & Fiction: Suzhou Jade

“Fact & Fiction”

For 5000 years, Imperial China used the word jade as something precious and beautiful.  Today, more jade comes from Burma than China, but the Chinese are considered the master carvers.  However, jade (think the green kind), became expensive and that engendered more affordable and clever uses of the word jade.

Such is today’s necklace made of ”Soochow” jade.  It is not jade but serpentine named after the city of Suzhou, 60 miles NW of Shanghai.  I’ve bought it for years in earthy shades of green, brown, tan and cream.  But I always put it in the serpentine drawer, placed next to the drawer holding the shimmering green real jade.  I always thought of serpentine as jade’s first cousin.  And after all the research I did for this blog, I shall continue to hold that opinion because serpentine is nice on its own and doesn’t require the false tag of jade to be attractive.

Actually, naming it after Suzhou was a big compliment to serpentine when you consider the city is called the Venice of China.  There are images of gondoliers pushing their boats through the narrow waterways of the Yangtze River Delta.  But no research revealed serpentine was ever mined in Suzhou.  Pure Marketing BS!!!

Fact and fiction aside, this two-strand necklace is made from two different strands and three sizes of brown-tone serpentine beads…note the earrings contain the three sizes.  Try to find two beads of the exact same tone and markings; nearly impossible.  For me that is the charm of serpentine–it’s mixable and matchable.  The centerpiece is made from an archer’s ring [worn to protect the finger against the pullback of the arrow.  When I first touched one , asked what is this, and hearing the answer, I bought a dozen of the nicest ones.  Two decades ago, I thought they were so cool.  Still do.]

My drawer of carved serpentine revealed this nice carved arrowhead and I used gold plated wire to attach it to the archer’s ring.  Brass clasp.  19″ necklace with 3″dangle.  Earrings included.  $90 plus $7 shipping.

A Max Moment


Just two years ago, I started reporting Max was growing attached to his “blankie”, a 50″ x 60″ throw I put on the sofa to protect it from him.  He loved it, snuggled into it, licked it, soft-jawed it, ran with it.  So cute.  Then came the destruction:  chewing, tearing, and swallowing it.

He stills runs with it except it is a 20′ long trailing fleece mess.

HELP!  I need advice from doggie Moms and kiddie Moms:  how do I get rid of it????

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.

_________

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.

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.

Three Shades of Orange

Usually I control myself from making too many orange necklaces since it is my favorite color and I don’t want to impose it on others. Similarly, I restrain from making pink necklaces because it is a color I don’t like. I suspect the nice pink necklace from my 2017 one-necklace-from-each-color-drawer program sensed my distaste and won’t sell.

The sultry hot weather of the last two weeks of July drove me to the orange drawer where I found materials for not one but three lovelies! My favorite, of course, is the ultra-chunky one of XL-sized faux cinnabar/real resin beads measuring 1.25” from hole to hole. It also has an outrageous and amazing dangle that is 11” long.  It was made by my ophthalmologist’s sister who lives in the Philippines. The resin beads are made in Indonesia, making this a thoroughly Asian necklace.

This fun necklace is 19” long with an 11” dangle. Wear your gold earrings with it. $79.

 

The next chunkiest necklace in my orange madness features three sizes of black water buffalo horn—a sustainable product—with a nice shine to it. The orange beads are glass with millefiori bits inserted during the manufacturing process. I do believe they are made in India. Coordinating earrings with sterling silver ear wires drop 2.5” from the earlobe.

This 19” necklace is $65 for the set.

The last one I wish to present is a two-strand square coral opaque glass seed bead necklace with a special 8-strand dangle. It is special because I made it many years ago in my San Luis Obispo, CA, studio for a project I fell out of love with so I saved the dangle in my tassel box. I love tassels whether made of beads or fabric, whether made by me or not. Many door and drawer knobs in my home are decorated with tassels.

The tassel consists of orange seed beads and milky multi-colored resin beads tied together and connected via a vintage fluted brass bead.

The necklace is 20” long and the tassel adds 4.” Wear your gold earrings with it. $89.

 

A MAX MOMENT

MAX THE LABRADOODLE

15 MONTHS OLD

July’s weather got to Max too. I was enjoying the 5 o’clock hour at my sisters’ beach cottage when he got away from me and dashed for the water. Except there wasn’t any water. It was “dead low tide” which means the tide goes out beyond the rocky beach to expose extensive mud flats. Max was in heaven and jumped around, sprinted up and down, and finally started digging…for clams?…and put his face, front paws and chest into the stinky mud.

 

Meantime, I am down on the rocks calling Max.  Ha! Temporary deafness! Unresponsive!  Finally a neighbor found some kind of a treat, ran down her dock above the mud and waved it in his face. He went for it and she teased him up to the rocks. I brought him back on to the grass, then the street, and turned on the hose until he and I were rid of mud.

The next day, the neighbors came over and we laughed a lot. One gal who had a standard Labradoodle said she remembered more than one occasion when her dog did the same thing.

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.

 

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.

__________________________________________

(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!

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.

May 1, 2018: AMBER.2.Faux Amber (Resin)

 

“Heaven’s Gate”

One of the treasures I found while revisiting the Amber drawer was some faux amber beads I found in an outdoor market in Bhutan, a landlocked Himalayan nation in South Asia. Its 800,000 citizens are surrounded by India, Tibet and Nepal. They are peaceful Buddhists. Instead of GDP, Bhutan measures Happiness.

I knew the necklace was faux, but I bought it for the memories, not only of scenic Bhutan, but of the last trip Don and I made together before the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease were unleashed. Now, five years after Don’s death, I release these beads into the world. May they be someone’s personal measure of Happiness!

It was a gift of the two-toned resin beads from fellow artist Donna Goes* that made me think of the Bhutanese beads and I think they pair well together.

I added sterling silver beads and a Tibetan centerpiece of copal with pretty silver work.

Ah, copal:  another twist to the Amber story. For 23 years, I have described it as “young amber,” just to make it more understandable to my clients, but always labeled it as copal. Now that I’ve researched it, I was correct: it is tree resin, like amber, but has not completed its fossilization. It is measured in thousands of years; Amber in millions. Copal is softer, opaque, citrine in color.

Weight: 8 ounces

Length: 20”

Price: $79

Size of largest bead: roughly 5/8” from hole to hole by 1” high.  Centerpiece:  1.75″ hole to hole by 1″ high.

Wear your silver earrings.

*Read Donna Goes’ story and see her amazing fused plastic paintings at www.luckylife.com.

 Heads up! Visit us both + 38 other talented artists at Hull Artists’ 23rd annual Open Studios Art Tour on July 7-8 & August 18-19.

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!!!