Beads beads beads!

Lampwork Earrings
      I'm pretty sure I have the Tucson Gem Show to blame for my obsession with beads. When I was but a poor graduate student at the University of Arizona, my friend Ellen and I would wander among the tent vendors outside the hotels along Interstate 10 during the Gem Show; those were the only vendors we could see, since most of the enclosed, indoor shows required a wholesaler's license or were too expensive for our budget. So we would walk among the vendors selling everything from silk scarves to baskets to wooden carvings to stone bookends, and, of course, beads. African trade beads, stone and glass beads, clay pendants, Tibetan silver; it really was magical and you felt that the world was coming to share a taste of themselves especially with you.

     I would buy a few of these beads, and subsequently learned how to make earrings. Basically, it requires a few tools and the ability to make a loop at the end of a straight piece of metal (a headpin) stacked with the beads you choose.

Stone beads and pendant from
Clay River Designs

     After a couple years having fun with that, I set aside my container of beads and tools and basically forgot about them for nearly 20 years, which was when I took a trip to Ecuador. Finding some cute, simple beaded bracelets (two for a buck!), I bought them and wore them happily for a couple weeks until I got them caught on something. They both popped, beads flew all over the place, and that was that. I was so disappointed, until I remembered we had a little bead store in town. I went in with this mournful face, hands full of loose beads, and asked what I needed to do to fix my bracelets. The owner, a very nice lady, showed me how to crimp beading wire to a clasp, which was a slightly different process than making earrings and required one more tool. All of a sudden, the image of my container of beads and tools that I had kept all these years popped into my head. When I got home, I dug it out, and behold were my tools and beads. With my new beading wire and crimpers, I played with what I had, and started visiting our bead store on Fridays to pick up a few new beads for weekend crafting.

"Anything Goes" set; a
mixed jumble of random beads
     Most of my early work isn't worth posting. I learned much over the years about what works (and more often than not, what doesn't work), like how not to keep your sets too busy, how to keep different styles of beads together and not mix styles (i.e. keep vintage-looking beads with similar beads, contemporary with contemporary) how to blend colors, how to use the color wheel, and the importance of using quality beads, spacers (those little metal thingies in between beads), and findings (earwires and clasps; the hardware behind the pieces). My inventory grew. Bruce made a unit with wooden pegs to hang my pieces. He then had to make another unit, as I stuffed so many on the pegs, any movement of air near the pegs would cause them all to fall. Finally, he "suggested" I start selling my jewelry, saying it would be a way to recoup my costs. I mostly think he wanted me to get some of this stuff out of the house, period. I saw it as a way to earn some spare change to be able to buy more beads.

     So I waded through the state licensing nightmare, got my license, and started selling. Sounds easy, but really, as a seller, one must of course set up some sort of booth--figure out how to display your wares. It also requires that you have folding tables and a canopy. I am not a sophisticated seller, really. I use pieces of felt on which I pin my sets, a donated wheel with hooks to show earrings, and so on. I type up things like "Buy two sets, get the third set 20% off", laminate them, and tape them in strategic locations.

Hand-crafted glass beads
from a Flagstaff artisan
       The best thing about being a seller is that you need INVENTORY. Which means I needed more beads!!! With wholesaler's license and a few buyer friends from my office in hand, we entered into the hallowed halls of the multitudes of vendors at the Tucson Gem Show. It was fantasmagoric. Surreal. Words can't descibe the volume and diversity of beads, findings, and spacers found at the Gem Show. Needless to say, I went overboard, joyously purchasing just about anything that struck my fantasy. What's amazing is after buying and buying and buying some more, all of my goodies could fit into one paper sack. That's the beauty of beads; so many take up so little space.

      Time, then, to crank out inventory, which took weekends of beading. The first year I grossed more than I thought I would, but again, it didn't make a dent in the investment I had made. Who cares, I made some money to buy more beads at the next Gem Show. A summer of craft fairs the second year helped somewhat, but it was exhausting. I work at my "regular" job all week, and then spend every minute of the weekend either preparing for, at, or cleaning up after, a craft show. So, I now mostly sell via word of mouth, at a few private parties, and at the occasional craft show that seems promising.

Beads purchased while on
vacation in Hawaii
      It's been an amazing adventure. Beading is creative, it's fun, and you can, in a short amount of time, produce something that someone may love enough to purchase and wear! Beads are something you can find almost anywhere you go; bring home some beads and make a memento that you'll treasure, like my Hawaiian piece on the left. Beading is also immediate gratification. My "real" job is in conservation of wildlife habitat; sometimes you work years on a project before you see success (and a lot of times, you don't). I can come home from (sometimes) feeling like I'm spinning my wheels, let my imagination go, and create something totally unique. Lastly, beading is one of those things you can show your friends (and in my case, my sister) and enable them to become beaders, and now you have more people in your circle who can bead with you and enjoy and appreciate the magic (and historical significance) of beads.

     Here are some of my other pieces. Click on individual photos to see them enlarged. Hope you enjoy them!

Ocean Jasper pendant;
Jasper and other stone beads

Olive/teal glass beads


Lapis with blue tigereye
pendant and smoky crystals
Stone bear fetish pendant set
donated to local Nature Center
for auction

Another Clay River Designs
pendant with black and cream
beads and ribbon

Dyed Tagua nut beads,
a sustainable resource from
the tropical rainforest

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