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!

July 1, 2018: Faux Pearls and A Real Puppy

“Dreams Die Hard”

I wanted this month’s featured necklace to have a short story because I have a longer story I am eager to share.

“Meet Max,wearing a necklace of abalone shell and pearls made in California by Elaine”

Max is the feature this month: a Labradoodle born on April 12, 2018 and welcomed into my home on June 19. Yellow Lab Maxie passed away on February 3 and it didn’t take me long to realize I missed my canine companion and I hated the quiet house! To fix it, I did a lot of research and found an experienced certified breeder: Marianne Hannagan at Autumn Haze Labradoodles in Newmarket, NH.

The result is an 11-lb cream-colored mellow male puppy who should be 30 lbs at maturity. He is quite delightful even though he exhausted me the first week! Week two is an improvement as we adapt to each other. We have started Obedience Training.

He now sleeps in his crate, assembledlast week by my brother-in-law, and already loves it! He walks into it often. Amazing.

He is full of puppy energy. I think he turns on a go button and runs for60 minutes, then switches the off button and sleeps for more than an hour. Since I’m getting up at 6am, I try to outsmart him by taking him to the garden where I cut, deadhead and weed while he runs up, down and around. Then at 7, it’s food, coffee and the newspaper while he cools down and sleeps. For the rest of the day, it is all about Max outsmarting me as I follow him around, removing low-hanging stuff, re-arranging electrical cords and putting my belongings up high.

Max was in the studio with me as I made this month’s necklace.

It is sweet and quiet, even though it looks so shiny in the photo. It is made with faux pearls which have no background story, in a pleasant pale yellow. The lampwork glass heart is made by Louise Erskine (MA) and is pale yellow at its center surrounded by several shades of soft green.

This necklace is 19” long; the centerpiece is 1.5″ long; the clasp is brass; matching earrings with vermeil earwires are included. $79.

 

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.

March 15: Creative Clasps, Chapter 2

Why bother with unique clasps? Answers: it’s all about the hunt; it’s a challenge to put something creative at the back of the neck; it makes me stretch.

Anyone can use store-bought clasps or even seek out artist-make clasps at the big bead shows. I too use these old stand-bys for the majority of my necklaces. But it is fun to rummage through my drawers and cubbies to see what odd find can be made into a clasp.

I made a decision early on that I didn’t want to create beads. It suited my personality to engage in a hunt for the odd, quirky, overlooked, repurposable, full-of-character item that can function as one part of a clasp—either the circle or the stationary part or the toggle or moving part of the clasp. Yes, I am a collector. My finds are my treasures.

This particular clasp find is a 1960’s vintage plastic circle that was a good color match to the necklace. Plus, it added texture to the already-rich necklace: look closely at the crisscross pattern.

I designed the toggle part of the clasp from sterling silver wire.

The centerpiece is thick handmade glass I purchased in Murano, Italy, with a distinctly aqueous pattern in bold tones of aqua and pale grey with some darker streaks. It is 2” diameter.

In a stroke of great bead karma, Drawer 15 (Grey) contained the palest shade of grey faceted Czech glass beads which are the base of the necklace and speak to the centerpiece. Also note the four artist-made lampwork glass beads bookended with rare vintage Italian oval glass beads in aqua.

Statistics for this necklace follow:

Title: “Murano Waves”

Length: 21” plus centerpiece.

Featured beads are described above. Matching earrings with 7/8” dangle are included.

Price: $110.

 

I made a trip to Murano & Venice in 2013 and blogged about it here on June 29, 2013.

March 1: Creative Clasps

Let me count the things I love when creating necklaces: creative clasps, asymmetry, chunky beads, bold statements, anything that puts a smile on one’s face.

I have a saying in my studio: “Life is too short to make boring necklaces”. I’d rather have fun mixing up colors, styles, throwing in some whimsy, and presenting the resulting creation to the public.

I’ll admit I was pleased with this necklace. The beads are rock crystal and faceted (more unusual than smooth); the necklace is asymmetrical, and possesses a creative clasp I bought last year and have been eager to use! It hit a lot of the things I love!

Rock crystal is also called natural crystal. Natural crystal is a quartz without other minerals present. It was formed when molten rock magma cooled beneath the Earth’s surface and crystals formed. Over time, other minerals infiltrate the natural crystal, add color and the results include well-known semi-precious stones like: amethyst; citrine; rose quartz; smoky topaz, to name a few.

Crystals are favored by healers. Rock crystal is associated with balance, clarity and energy.

Information for this necklace follows:
Title: “Music of the Spheres”
Length: 21”
Featured beads: Faceted rock crystals with brushed sterling silver circles. Sterling silver hook clasp by
Priscilla. Matching earrings included.
Price: $119.

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 50: Wood

“Blurry Shadows”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawer 43: Mali Wedding Beads

“First Person Narrator”

Week 43/Drawer 43: October 25, 2017: “First Person Narrator”

In rural Mali, West Africa, a bride is given a strand of these glass wedding beads on the eve of her wedding. It is the Fulani tribe, which is 2.5 million strong, that has decorated their daughters with beads for over a century.  For equally as long, these pressed glass* bulbous beads were expressly made for the African trade in Bohemia*.  The Fulani tribe likes them because their shape is so feminine.  They were originally made in that shape from local clay; the glass ones gave families a new sense of style and status.

I ended up reading a lot about Mali, formerly French Sudan, which became truly independent with democratic elections in 1992. This land-locked country is twice the size of Texas and now has a population of 18 million.  The Sahara Desert takes up 68% of the acreage.  Many tribes are semi-nomads.  And guess who is a minority tribe in the desert?  The famous traders we met in Drawer 12—the Tuaregs!**

It was delightful reading about weddings: only Thursday or Sunday are good luck days for marriage; first a civil marriage in which the bride and groom individually state whether they want a monogamous or polygamous marriage.  Choice of the former has always been limited to single digits.  Then the bride is washed by the female adults; an Islamic ceremony follows; then there are several days of celebrating when family drops by.  Since families are polygamous with many members, they have to introduce themselves to each other!  The groom’s dowry is as many kola nuts (a stimulant) as he can afford which he presents to his father-in-law who shares it with wedding guests.

I admit to being culturally fascinated by Mali, but I must move on to the necklace. It sits on the neck as pictured:  the very center lies flat and, as it curves up to the neck, some beads rest on top of each other, creating a certain movement.  Each bead is separated by an interesting small Venetian glass bead that is clear with thin, closely-placed white stripes, resulting in a milky tone.

Each bead is 1” high and 5/8” diameter. It doesn’t feel heavy to me, but it may be a three-hour necklace for some:  a party necklace; a ladies lunch necklace.  When I put it on after weighing myself, the digital scale did not change.

It is 18” and earrings are included. The clasp and the ear piece are matching hammered silver metal.  $115.

*See Drawer 30 dated 7-26-17 for Bohemia and pressed glass story.

**See Drawer 12 dated 3-22-17 for the Tuareg story.

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.