Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why do I like beads so much??

Not exactly beads:  necklaces.  Beaded necklaces is what I collect, make and desire. 

I'm giving a talk tomorrow at a local gallery, and so this is the question that I will attempt to answer.  Gemstones, fine jewelry, gold chains and all don't really interest me. Antique jewelry does.  Separate beads are interesting, but it is the old beaded necklace that holds my attention. Why?

My parents were born in Arizona, and the fact that we visited grandparents in  Flagstaff when I was little is certainly a factor because the first jewelry I saw was large chunky necklaces of turquoise and silver.  I suppose it defined jewelry for me.  Later, on my first posting overseas in Jordan in 1980, I saw the large silver necklaces the bedouin women piled around their necks.  Then I scrutinized the amber, coral and turquoise beads adorning Tibetan , Asian and African women.  In South America I saw the huge quartz and stone necklaces of the ancient American cultures.
I will wear all of these for my talk tomorrow

I have the ironic problem that the beads I collect are valuable in their own right, but I've put myself in a jewelry buyer's market.  So where a bead buyer would appreciate the value of the beads I use, he only wants the beads. Yet the jewelry buyer usually wants a beautiful  necklace and doesn't care about the value of the beads.  There is a gap between the immediate beauty, and the historical and artistic value of the components that is bridged with education. 

For me, the necklace tells a story of culture, history, art and fashion. It is a universal testament to  beauty, art and adornment.  Humans have  strung together cut stones, worked metal, and  hand made beads, and thrown them over their heads to make themselves more beautiful, or more special, or more valuable for thousands of years.

That's why I like beaded necklaces so much.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Three kids, Ten bags and a Dog

After nearly twenty-five years is the Developing World, I can remember some scary situations.  In the early 80's, the place my daughter took piano lessons was blown up by the PLO shortly after she had walked home; Laurie Berenson had her shoot-out/arrest in Lima, a couple of blocks away from us; my husband drove through an intersection in Colombo, Sri Lanka 7 minutes before the prime minister was blown exactly there; and my family had to be rescued by the marines in boats, out of our house during a cyclone flood in Colombo.  There were other tough adventures.  But hands down/no contest, the hardest thing ever for me was taking three little children on 30+ hour journeys in airplanes.

I did this several times.   There was the time when we boarded a plane in Oman, setting off on our journey, three children in tow.  Before we started,my son, age 2, turned and (accidentally)swooshed his cup of milk right into the stewardess's face.  Then, fifteen minutes into the flight, he went back to his window seat, pushed up my lunch tray, and changed the location of the lunch to the front of my chest. Then it was apparent that he wasn't well, and used up all but two of his diapers.  And this was the first 30 minutes, with at least 25 hours to go.

But the most amazing of all was the story of our trip from Maine to Lima Peru in 1994.  At the time, I was in Maine with the two boys, ages 11 and 7, and 3-year-old daughter.  We also had acquired a three month old lab puppy, Jenny.  My husband was going to move directly to Peru from the last post.  I was moving our stuff, ourselves, and our puppy on my own from Maine.

It started out smoothly.  We caravan ed to Bangor, Maine airport as I had three kids, 10 bags and a dog.  Jenny went off in the conveyor belt; the bags did too.  I felt liberated with only the kids.  We got down to Boston, changed terminals, got in line for our boarding passes to Florida.  As I stepped up to the counter the clerk said, "I wouldn't go to Florida if I were you.  Hurricane."   I looked at him.  "I have 3 kids, ten bags and a dog.  What would you do if you were me?"  "Stay in a hotel," was the answer.  Well that wasn't in the budget, so he told me I could apply for some kind of "mercy" flight back to Bangor.  We crossed to another terminal, had a conversation and got tickets back to Bangor.  Then they told me they had lost the dog.  Apparently a handler somewhere had let her out of her kennel.  In time they found the dog and brought her back up on the main floor where she promptly piddled because she apparently had a urinary infection.

Once in Peru, I collected beads like this Peruvian turquoise and these sterling silver beads
We flew back to Bangor.  A friend picked us up.   She generously let us all--sick puppy and all--stay with her as we had rented out our own cottage behind us.  Three days later we tried the whole thing again.  We made it to Boston, and then we made it to Florida.  When we got to Florida, I lined up to get my boarding pass.  The clerk said, "Sorry.  We are overbooked.  I don't have a boarding pass for you."    "That's impossible," I said.  "Do you know I have three kids, ten bags and a dog, and I started this voyage four days ago?" He shrugged.  I told my 11 year old, to hold on to both children, and I took the elevator up to the first class lounge.  I got in with my diplomatic passport, sat down next to a nice gentleman from Maine, and told him my story.  He went to the receptionist there and asked her if she could get us four boarding passes for that flight to Lima.  She printed them right out.  I thanked him,  returned to my children, and went to the (economy) lounge for boarding.    As soon as we were seated in the airplane, a voice from on high  said, " We are overbooked; we will pay $ 500 for each boarding pass .

On any other day I would have taken that offer.  But not on that day.  I had three kids, ten bags and a dog, and we were going to Peru.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wandering in a Souk

"Souk" is simply the Arabic word for “market”.  The spelling is phonetic, so it can be souk or suq or suk.

 Tijuana was my first experience walking around in a crowded, colorful and noisy foreign market. Only ten and on vacation, I delighted in the vibrant colors and vivid life swirling around the many stalls.
 Twenty years later I found myself in the souk in downtown Amman; then, in rapid succession, Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Bahrain, Istanbul,  Sudan (Omdurman),Limassol,  Muscat and Nizwa.   I still can’t imagine anything I would rather do more than stroll through the maze of shops in a covered market in the Middle East.

Purchasing was never the goal, though hunting was the game.  And in true confessions, there was hardly a souk adventure that didn’t result in some kind of purchase, even if only rose scented oil.  My personal hunt was always for antique stone or silver beads, and amber.   I found my Circassian  belt (see blog 12/15/10) in the deep recesses of the Junk Souk in Amman.  The best souks for the silver jewelry I sought were in Nizwa and Muscat (Oman).   Damascus was said to be tops for gold and carpets.  (Maybe.  My experience is that nothing beats a New England auction for oriental carpets.)   The markets in Peru are wonderful places to browse for handicrafts.  Colorful sweaters, silver vases, and Andean candles are eye candy for the Sunday ambler.

If it is not about buying, then what is it about?  The market experience stimulates all five senses.  As you enter you smell the coffee and the spices from the spice souk.  Then you are bombarded by sound.  People are everywhere and they call out to you:  “Madam, madam, come into my shop”.  “Madam, madam, I have something for you”. “Madam madam, do you like jewelry?”  It’s probably something to get used to, but it is part of the market game.  Your vision is jammed full of colors and crafts, and people.  And there are always wonderful barbequed meats, and tapas, and sweets, as well as tea with the carpet seller.   Textiles are there for the touching:  silks in Kashmir and Damascus, leather in Istanbul, alpaca wool Peru.

The markets I have visited all over the world are exciting to me because for all their noise and excitement they are usually family operated fine art or craft businesses.  Once you are in a stall--say for a carpet-- the vendor is energized, running around trying to find what it is he thinks you want.  If you mention something he doesn’t have, a little boy/son/nephew/brother runs to another shop, to said vendor’s brother/uncle/ cousin, to bring it in.  The asking price is usually twice the selling price.  And it is your job to whittle it down.  Tea and biscuits while you haggle, are of course, included.

The closest thing to a Developing World market or souk experience in the United States is a regional craft fair.  They’re nice.  But I yearn for the noise, the color, the intrigue, dark corridors, and pungent smells of cardamom spiced coffee in a Middle Eastern souk.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What is Amazonite?

The other day I was showing a talented jeweler some of my pieces.  I started with the first ethnic necklace I ever bought overseas.  In 1980, I purchased a Bedouin necklace from a Jordanian business man who cleverly learned where all the expatriate women lived, and rang their doorbells to sell his wares.  That first necklace was a double strand; the inside strand having a single pendant of a light blue stone.  At the time, I wondered if it was turquoise.  The only aqua colored stone I knew was turquoise.  But "Shifty" (his apt nickname) told me it was amazonite (accented on the second syllable).  As the years went by I saw more and more amazonite in the Middle East and Africa,  and learned more about it.

old and faded amazonite
It's a type of feldspar, named after the Amazon River.  It's found in the Americas (recently Colorado);and these days, mostly Russia.  However, the amazonite I love the most are those very very ancient beads, recently excavated in Mali.   Ancient Egyptian jewelry often  features lapiz lazuli, amazonite, and gold.  The old beads are irregular in shape and often faded to a light green.

They've traveled far in time and location, and been highly valued all the while.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bead Collection on a String

  I'm new to the craft show gig, and so I have been working on my booth.  I'm getting there.  Due to the nature of my jewelry, I am aiming for across between a Middle Eastern souk and a museum display. At The Rockland craft show I was immediately aware that my booth was missing a banner.  The banner would be a one-liner describing the essence of my product.
  I'm the first one to acknowledge that my beaded jewelry has a small market.  I'm also the first one to say that I'm not a jewelry maker.  I am two things:  I am a collector and a designer.  One could call the jewelry a bead collection on a string.  Or an  (arguably) artistically arranged bead collection on a string.  Therefore my work will appeal to those people who naturally gravitate towards old, handmade, culturally interesting beads.  I have found that this is an acquired taste, stemming from some experience or knowledge.  Like caviar.  Or like hats which totally defy gravity.  The more you see it/ hear about it, or taste it, the more you embrace it, whatever "it" is.  In Paris I was told that now the "right" way to eat chocolate is to smear olive oil on top of it.
  But I digress, and I don't think my work is as avant garde as an oiled chocolate bar.  But the foreign and exotic beads are more interesting to women who have seen them before, in shops, books, or in their travels.  This is how I finally arrived at my slogan:  "Artful beaded jewelry for interesting women".  It would probably be more accurate to call them interested women, but, interesting serves a purpose. 
"amber", antique red glass bead, hand cut sodalite, Peruvian turquoise, coin silver African bead
  Each necklace, or strung bead collection, has a story to tell, which starts outside this country. For instance, the necklace above is an example.  The piece as a whole has an Indian or Tibetan look because traditional Indian/Tibetan jewelry uses amber, turquoise, lapis lazuli and coral (as does Moroccan!).  However, nothing on this strand is from India.  I bought the "amber" on this necklace from Hudu, a bead seller in Ghana.  Hudu was magnificent to look at because he always wore satin robes and a matching hat whenever he was in selling mode.  He sold me these beads as amber, but I'm sure now that they are fake amber (see earlier blog post, "The lure of amber").  The turuqoise on this necklace is Peruvian turquoise, which is chrysocolla, found in Peru.  The dark blue stones are not lapis, but Peruvian sodalite, hand cut in Peru.  The red beads here are antique red glass beads traded in Africa for many years.  The coin silver beads are authentically African, which I bought from Hider in Ghana.  It's an international bead collection on a string.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Getting ready for a Craft Show

Jeweled Horizons will have a booth at the Maine Boat, Home and Harbor Show this weekend in Rockland, Maine.  This is a huge show, with several tents, and exhibits  going on.  Thousands of visitors are expected.  In order to be ready I have to plan carefully what I will take, and what the booth will look like.  This time I am going to try something new .  Usually I set the necklaces out on the table, grouped by color; sometimes by price.  This time I am going to have several "necks" out, and will stack several  pieces on each one.  Then the extras will be piled up in trays.  Potential customers will have to lift them up to separate them and decide what they like.  The display will be (hopefully) eye catching, and (certainly) a bit chaotic.  The idea will be to create a booth that is clearly foreign and exotic because the jewelry I design is like that.  It appeals to those who have traveled, or who have a taste for ethnic and collectible pieces.  I anticipate that people will either pass it quickly, or come and spend some time.  I will take some furniture, maybe a carpet , certainly a background screen, to add some atmosphere.  I have several baskets and a check list so that I don't forget something important. Inevitably I will forget something; hopefully it will be minor.
Oh! Which reminds me:: The car is packed, but I almost forgot to include the mirror, which , for a jewelry booth, is not minor.   

Two Seasons

In Maine, people say there are four seasons, summer, fall, winter, and mud.  However, in some ways, there are two:  summer, and the rest of the year.  More than any other place I have lived, there is a deep separation between these two times of the year.  First of all, it is well known that the population expands exponentially in the summer.  Let's face it; it is a vacation state.  And that has real implications for the year round population.  While the year rounders have their lives, their routines, their meetings, things go topsy-turvy come June.  People VISIT.   Naturally jobs must continue, but club meetings and nonprofit board meetings stop. Routines change.  One may live in the same house, but lead a very different life style, see different people, and do different things from the rest of the year.  And this is accepted and expected.  One may as well say goodbye to one's winter buddies as if leaving on a cruise ship in mid June, only to return after Labor Day.  It also has something to do with the dramatic climatic differences.  All of a sudden folks are outside, gardening and swimming , hiking with their visiting friends and relatives, instead of  watering indoor plants, going to an indoor gym, or taking walks bundled up in several layers.

I admit I may be overstating this because I lived so many years in  one-climate locals.  Actually,  for eighteen years we had Christmas in 100 degree climates.  Oman and Sri Lanka have year round tropical weather, and Peru is in the southern hemisphere, so December 25 is the middle of summer. Near the equator the sun rises and falls at about the same time all year.  My book clubs and charity board meetings met every month, and life went on at a steady pace.  People may have taken their own time off, but the system never  just stopped.

Actually, it's true that Europeans just stop everything in August, as unknowing American tourists quickly discover.  The difference is that they get up and leave.  Here in Maine, the locals stay; they just live a life as different in routine from the rest of the year as their summer wardrobe.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Garden Video

My daughter, who knows a thing or two about making films, made this short film of my garden last week.  It's a bit corny with the clothes, and the dialogue--and was made spontaneously--but it gives one a feeling of this place in Maine.  Between the garden and my jewelry studio, I can stay absorbed for long periods of time. 

Often I wonder if I want to travel again, or find a job overseas .  But the problem is that it's hard to leave such beauty and serenity.   It must be my ruby slippers...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hot and Cold; Hot or Cold

The other day I popped into a family grocery store.  It was middle June, and we were having an unusually chilly day—temperature in the fifties.   Unlike the winter, when I resemble a walking rummage sale (albeit a color coordinated one), I was wearing summer clothes.  Feeling cold,  I blurted to the checker, “BRRRR.  What’s with this weather?”

The young man looked at me, and said, “I love it!”  Speechless, I stared at him. “I love it”, he repeated.  “My favorite temperature is between 30 and 40.  But not snow.  I don’t like snow.” 
Knowing Mainers as I do, he is probably naming the 30’s and 40s as his T-shirt weather.  “Yea,” he continued, “I can’t take it when it gets to 60.”
As I had been silent he looked at me and said,” You probably like it hot.”

How to make a long story short!  My mind flashed back to another experience I had had in Maine, about sixteen years ago.  I had just come back for the summer from Sri Lanka, and was on the tennis court. My friend on the other side of the net, suddenly exclaimed, “OH I just can’t take this weather!”  It startled me; my mind reeled.  I came up to the net and said, in all sincerity, “Keith, tell me.  What is it for you?  Is it hot? Is it cold? Is it dry, or is it humid?”  I honestly had no idea.  For me, coming from Sri Lanka, it was chilly, and dry.  But sure enough, he was wilting under the heat and humidity.  After that experience I shook my head when I learned that Mainers were being sent to the Persian Gulf.  In full military regalia they would be more trouble than help.

So weather is relative.  As are so many other things.  Adaptability flexibility, “thinking outside the box”, etc. etc.--are important qualities to cultivate.   In my travels I have been on a personal quest for universals.  In 1991 I got a masters degree in Teaching English as a Second Language.  In the linguistics section, we learned about Transformational Grammar, which was Noam Chomsky’s attempt to find a universal grammar to relate the world languages.   It is an underlying grammar, a concept of subject and action, more than the “surface grammar” of a particular language.  That is how I approach relativism.  Though my experience tells me that manners and art and customs, and religions vary on the surface, there is an underlying universal.  For weather, and my Mainer friend, too hot is 60 degrees.  But still there is a concept of hot and a concept of cold.  It reminded me of something I had read many years ago: “Relativism has at its core one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”  

All this in an instant.  I told the young man that while I didn’t love hot weather, I could take it.  I had lived in a country which regularly registered 110F and 90 percent humidity (Oman).  For him that was hell itself. And I walked out of the store with his words ringing in my head; “I love it between 30 and 40”.

Can a string of pearls have quartz and brass and Tibetan pearls and still be a string of pearls?
Hard to find a necklace for this blog.  How’s this one?  Pearls with a twist.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A good life versus the good life

I live in a small town here in mid coast Maine.  Many of the cliches about small towns hold true.  Everybody does seem to know everybody’s business.  But the simple solution to that is to live an exemplary life.

Last week, a beloved member of our town was struck down by cancer, too early in her life.  As I sat in the packed church at her funeral I thought hard about well-lived lives.  She left a broken hearted  family, a sad husband of 39 years, grandchildren, and both parents.  She was a tireless nurse in the community, a very involved grandmother,  and a cum laude gardener and cook.  The packed church was a tribute to her character and goodness.

My children hated it when I said, every now and then that, “life is tedious”.  It’s a phrase I picked up from my parents.  I agree that it sounds negative, but I don’t mean it at all in a negative way.  What I mean is that a good life is one where you put in the day in and day out all the way through.   Little kids can be such work, and require patience; they get up early seven days a week, they have tantrums and colds and need to be disciplined and loved.  Marriages have their ebbs and flows.  Jobs aren’t always stimulating and rewarding.  But there is nobility in the perseverance.  It’s a lesson I learned in Jordan when I was teaching for the Jordanian Tennis Federation.  I was a 28 year old American female, facing off with ten middle aged Arab males.  Naturally we disagreed on some points.  But I told myself that no matter what, I would not quit.  They couldn’t drive me out.  “Winning” became simply staying in the game.

My friend passed away too early; that is for sure.  Yet, her life was celebrated by the town, and her good life made an impact.  Her family and friends will always remember her as the wonderful woman that she was.

     This necklace is made of Whitby Jet.  These are antique beads, hand carved in England.  Queen Victoria made jet famous when she wore it exclusively after her beloved Albert died.  Whitby Jet is an organic material, related to coal.  It can be carved and polished to a shiny luster.  French Jet isn’t really jet; it’s glass.  But as jet became fashionable, the black glass beads became popular as well. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mixed Message and Mix-Ups

This weekend the University of Maine Hutchinson Center will host the Festival of Art, where local artists, over 50 years old, will display one piece of art.  My entry, pictured below, is 'Mixed Message".  The beads and the style are a blend of several continents and cultures.

Mixed Message for Festival of Art
I was reminded the other day of  situations I would call "Mix-Up".  I guess with the demise of Bin Laden, and the fact that one of my book clubs is researching Islam, I am remembering some anecdotes about my experiences in Jordan.  More ironies.  In Jordan I met very well educated and accomplished women, who were Muslims.  They were not held back intellectually; and they embraced their religion, and felt it provided respect and dignity for women.  I remember that I learned  that for some in the Middle East,  "Christian" was a synonym, for "decadent".   For Muslims  who hadn't traveled,  Christians were the ones who got drunk,  gambled, committed adultery, and  crimes.  Christian women were loose women, evidenced by the way they dressed and behaved. Mix-Up.

In Jordan I learned about Arab hospitality, and had to learn to censor my American style of efficiency and abruptness.  I had to make calls to alert players about their playing time for a tennis tournament, and caught myself saying, "Hello? Abdullah? Hi.  Your match is at 9 AM on Saturday."  That was tremendously rude.  I should have said, " Hello?  Abdullah?  How are you?  How is your health?  How's the family? How are your children? (and he would answer and inquire after my health, family, children etc).  Abdullah, we are having the tournament next week and I have your time.  Your match will be at 9 AM on Saturday."  I had to learn the proper etiquette.

A friend named Issam told me a true story that illustrates this contrast  well:

Issam had to take a trip to visit the U.S.  He had friends in America and was going to see them first.  So he traveled a long time, and connections were good.  He had no time to catch his breath or even quench his thirst.  From the airport he got his bags, and took a bus.  From the bus station his friends picked him up.  He was dying of thirst by the time they reached the home.  His hosts said, "Issam, you must be  thirsty, can we get you a drink of water?"  Isaam (of course) said, "No thank you".  [In the Middle East, when someone offers you  something, you say  "no", they ask again; you say "no", they ask again; you say" thank you" the third time.  Even if you say "no" the third time, they bring it to you]  But then, for Isaam, they didn't ask again, and they didn't bring him water.  Mix-Up.

And I have a totally unrelated Mix-Up to relate:  I taught English for the British Council in Oman.  Naturally, I taught British English.  For the most part, it was fun to see the slight differences in the American and British versions, especially in the pronunciations.  But in one lesson we were learning the gradations of "good".  There I saw that in British English, there is , starting from the top, "great", "very good", "good", "quite good", "bad".  I was surprised.  According to my understanding, "quite good" was better than "good".  I have done several informal surveys and most--not all--Americans agree that "quite good" is  better than "good".  This could be serious because I can imagine the American President talking the the British Prime Minister about some third party agreement; and the President saying  it is "quite good", thereby approving wholeheartedly. But the Prime Minister would get the idea that the Americans don't think it's very good at all.  Mix-Up

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day

For most of my adult life I lived overseas, and for some reason, Mother's Day was a different day overseas than it was in the U.S.  For instance, in Jordan and Oman this year Mother's Day was on March 21.  So between the long and unreliable mail service, lack of internet in those days, and expense of phone calls, I was sorely lacking in attentiveness to my mother.  Certainly mothers of elementary aged children are the best celebrated moms of all because teachers take time out to have the kids make cards.

But regardless of the ambivalence of older American children and expatriate grown up children, make no mistake:  The South American mothers are not overlooked!  This is no Hallmark day for them.  The first year we lived in Peru, we learned very quickly that the biggest holiday of all  is not Christmas, not Easter; it is Mother's Day.

Mothers are revered, and not just on Mother's Day.  There is a custom in Peru where kids kiss their moms hello and goodbye. Yes.  Really.  Adolescent males kiss their moms hello and goodbye. What is also notable is that kids' friends kiss their friend's moms, as a matter of manners.  I had teenage boys, and I saw with my own eyes my boys kiss, in greeting (the equivalent of "Hello Mrs. Baldino") their friends' mothers.  Their Peruvian friends kissed me. (but alas, no, my boys did not kiss me hello and goodbye; some cultural boundaries don't break down).  The point of which is just to say that Mothers are revered all year long.  I'm sure it is related to veneration of the Virgin Mary.

So in Peru, on Mother's Day, there is no restaurant available for brunch.  There are no flowers left in the shops.  There is no mother cooking or cleaning on that day.

So mothers, at dinner sometime, tell your families about the biggest holiday in Peru. Then tell them that while they missed Mother's Day in Jordan and Oman and UAE (March 21), and Portugal and Spain (May 1), there is still time to celebrate the day again with Sweden and France (May 29), Kenya (June 26), and again with Panama (Dec 8)!

Your mother, or mother of your children, would love some Peruvian Opals for Mother's Day

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I also collect ironies

In my travels, (figurative and literal), I have enjoyed the hobby of collecting little ironies.  One finds them all the time if one is looking…

A few years ago I revisited a country where I had lived with my family for five years—Sri Lanka.  As I say many times, Sri Lanka is a cross between Hawaii and India.  It’s a marvelous place, full of history, culture, colors, and beautiful tropical beaches.  Its tourism industry though, has been badly affected by the bloody and violent Civil War that finally recently ended after twenty-five years.  

While we lived there, from 1989-1994, the prime Minister was blown up and there were bomb attacks in the capital of Colombo.  People’s ruthless and violent treatment of each other was  unfathomable.  We look back at our own Civil War in horror.  One wonders why Civil war-- war with oneself--is so very horrific.

These are all Sri lankan silver beads
On this trip, this “recherche” as Proust would say, the war was at a climatic pitch, as both sides were ramping up for an end.   My husband and I had driven south from Colombo for a beach weekend near Galle in the south.  We ventured out for a walk and witnessed something remarkable.  A bus, which had been barreling down the road at breakneck speed, leaning due to its overcrowding, suddenly stopped.  As we edged closer to get a look we saw the reason.  The bus had stopped because a small snake was crossing the road.  This is after all, a Buddhist country; and all life is sacred.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wedding Cake Venetian Beads, 1880-1920

These are called wedding cake beads.  They are Venetian lamp-wound floral decorated beads from about 1880-1920.  While so many Venetian beads were made for the African trade, these were primarily made for English and American ladies.

Glass beads are either wound or drawn.  Winding is the oldest method; hot glass is wound around a shaft of some kind.  Furnace-winding is done by thrusting a rod into hot glass which is inside the furnace.  The bead is formed in the furnace and then finished outside.  Lamp-winding begins with semi-finished glass canes.  The worker has a fire source in front of him and works the cane from its rod by winding it onto a wire.  He uses a paddle to further shape it.  The artist can continue to decorate the bead by adding glass in a swirling, or combed or feather design  These beads were never painted.

This necklace is 38 inches long.  I found a short necklace, 18 inches, in a junk market in a suburb of Lima, Peru in the mid 90's.  They were lovely so I purchased them for a good price.  Then, ten years later, I spotted a necklace on ebay featuring the same beads.  This time the price wasn't quite as good, but I obtained them in order to make the long piece in the picture.  While the necklace comprises beads purchased on two continents ten years apart, it is not as astonishing as it seems. The Venetians marketed their beads on cards, as if they were buttons, and they went out all over the western world.  Being as beautiful as they are, and immortalized by John Ruskin in his essay," The Beads of Venice" it makes sense that they would be retrievable by the persistent collector.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jane Eyre at the Strand

  Saturday night I went to see Jane Eyre at our wonderful Strand theater in Rockland, Maine.    Like so many others, I have seen several Jane Eyres, and, like so many others, the novel is imprinted on my soul. We probably all wonder why we go, since we know the story by heart.  I guess it's a pilgrimage of sorts; we must go.  And I guess the movie producers know that we will.

When I first read the book, I was a young adolescent.  Though I loved it I couldn't wrap my head around some of the features.  Why was Helen Burns in  a Gothic romance? How could Jane love a man who was bad tempered and hard to figure out? He suddenly appeared, then he disappeared. Why did he flirt with a frivolous society belle when he professed to really love Jane?   What about that telepathy?

This movie  got Mr. Rochester right.  Needless to say many of his idiosyncracies were Charlotte Bronte's rather clumsy way of moving her story forward (and it feels like blasphemy to write that).  But in this rendering he looked, sounded and acted in a way that was true to the book, and believable .  Mrs. Reed, Helen, Mrs. Fairfax, Mason, Bertha--the casting was right on.

Some felt it was a little much, heavy in melodrama and sepia, candle lit scenes.  But it was true to the essence of the book.  I just had a jolt when suddenly I saw Billy Elliot pretending to be the zealot St. John.

Jane Eyre might have worn black jet, like the black beads in this necklace. Only, of course, hers wouldn't have lovely glass flower beads.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A True Story about an Untrue Trade Route

There are some very scholarly books written about beads, and the history of beads.  Two that I recommend are, The History of Beads (Lois Sherr Dubin),   and, Collectible Beads (Robert K. Liu).    In The History of Beads, the author details trade routes and travels of beads around the globe in every chapter.  This explains similarities and differences one can see in beads found in different areas.  Within the Middle East I witnessed first-hand subtle differences and similarities of silver Bedouin beads.  But as painstaking as the research has been, it can’t be exact.  I have an amusing true story to prove my point.

Before I started designing jewelry, I collected it.  The souks of Jordan and Oman, and markets in Sri Lanka and India, provided tremendous pleasure in The Hunt.  I had a budget of $100 in those days and had a great time exploring and bargaining.  In 1995 we moved to Peru.  I was expecting to delight in the treasure trove of old Peruvian pieces, but found myself stymied.  The markets sold cheap ceramic beads, and the finer stores sold worked sterling silver, which were not to my taste.  There was one Peruvian woman who did design the type of jewelry that appealed to me.  I visited her shop and was delighted to see her stone beaded necklaces that incorporated antique pieces.  The problem was her prices.  They cost way beyond my $100 limit.  I eventually bought one piece from her, and visited her shows so that soon we knew each other. 
After a time, I decided that “Hey I can do this myself!”  I gathered up my loose Bedouin silver beads, broke up an amber necklace, found some dental floss and a needle, and on one cold dark day in Lima, strung my first necklace.  

Then  there was no stopping me.  I  quickly found Julio (see blog post 12/7/10) -- or rather he found me--and then found Peruvian silver smiths to reproduce my Omani and Sri Lankan silver beads.  Soon I was selling my designs in order to finance more beads.

At a craft show at the American Embassy, this same designer, who had shops in France, Germany and New York, came by my booth, looked, and then left.  A little while later, one of her shop girls left their booth, came by and flattered me, saying that her boss really admired my work and wanted to buy one.  That was odd.  Though she designed lovely work, I had never seen her wearing a necklace.  I sensed something was up.  “Oh no," I said, “She is the Master.  Why would she want one of my necklaces?”  But what could I do?  She bought a large quartz and silver piece. Naturally I was suspicious.
Then about six months later it became clear.  Some friends and I saw her brochure which was going to Germany. On the front was a necklace with lovely antique  hand cut sodalite, and my (copied) silver Omani beads.  The caption read:  "Pre-Columbian silver and stone designs".
These are NOT Pre-Columbian beads; they are Omani silver beads
One of my thoughts was, “Imagine how excited a bead sociologist would be to see this.  He will think he has discovered a whole new chapter in the history of trade and migration.”  You can imagine one of my other thoughts…

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sri Lanka, Languages, and Beads

When Americans think about a vacation spot, Sri Lanka doesn't come to mind.  First of all, it's far away.  But so is Australia, and plenty of folks have it on their wish lists.  Then there is that long bloody civil  war which would discourage anybody.  However, it didn't really discourage Europeans during all those years.  In fact, Sri lanka was a top destination for them throughout that period.

Our family lived there for five years, and the way I always describe it is that it's a cross between Hawaii and India.  It has fabulous beaches and tropical weather, which is not India's draw.  And, it has a rich and fascinating cultural history, which is not why people flock to Hawaii.  This is a small island country that contains four religious groups--Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist. And there was an advanced civilization there in 6000 BC, of which there are still traces for anybody who is sunburned, and bored of the fun-in-the-sun- beach- life, to go see.

Ceylon, as it was known before 1970, was colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British until 1948.  While the Prime Minister , Senanayake, tiptoed around the issue of a national language, English, the colonial language was used in the schools, as a common language.  In 1970, Bandanaraike, a Sinhalese  Buddhist, became the Prime Minister, declared Sri Lanka  a free republic, and took great pains to establish Sinhalese as the national language.  This immediately disenfranchised the Tamil (largely Hindu) population. Their children could not cope with the Sinhala texts in school, and subsequently lost out on good jobs.  This is a classic example of a language issue preceding a civil war.  English, though a symbol of the yoke of colonialism, kept the economic playing field level.  Tamils would speak Tamil and English, and the Sinhalese would speak Sinhalese and English.  Only with the intoxicating declaration of nationalism, and the symbolic hoisting of the en-slavers'  language, did Sri Lanka start down the path of civil war.
Above are two necklaces from Sri Lanka .  The one on the left features Sinhalese beads, and the one on the right was sold as a Tamil piece, though is has strong Islamic influence with its Hirz boxes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Knowledge and Experience to Identify Fakes

    A long time ago I learned my first lesson about fakes--the hard way of course.  I was on my first trip to India with a group of women.  We had already visited Delhi, Agra and Kashmir, and were headed to Gulmarg for a hike into the Himalayas.  In the town a friend, Susan, and I ambled in and out of shops.  I was looking at necklaces, and especially wanted to find a bargain in lapis lazuli.   While I had encountered plenty of turquoise on trips to Arizona as a child, I had very little experience up close with lapis.  The shops did indeed display the blue stone, and we enjoyed looking at it, but the prices were high.  Outside, a street vendor had a small display, and there I spotted the stone I was looking for.  He told me it was lapis and we determined that it was a bargain.  I bought the beads, very pleased to be able to bring home the deep blue stone prized by Nefertiti and Cleopatra.
    Some days later, I showed my strand to another shop keeper.  “You were cheated” he said.  My eyes widened and I said nothing.  I knew it was very possible I had been swindled because I had been impulsive.  “See,” he said.  And he took a cloth and rubbed my blue beads.  I watched the cloth become blue and the beads become white.  Oh it’s lapis,” he explained to me, “but it’s very bad lapis, and they colored it.” 
    That was over twenty-five years ago, and I still have some of those beads.  I am very fond of them.  It was not a terribly expensive way to learn about fakes.  Now I know that there are a LOT of fakes out there.
First and foremost there is fake amber (see blog post, “Let’s Talk about Amber”).  In the case of amber, the antique fake amber, indeed early Bakelite, is valuable and expensive in its own right.  Most the red coral nowadays is dyed.  On the street they will tell you that it’s coral, and it probably is.  It just isn’t naturally the red coral that is appears to be.  Silver, especially silver from the developing world, often has a very low silver content.  Jet, the black organic material, made popular by Queen Victoria, is often substituted by black glass.  There are chevron beads from the 14th century and there are chevrons newly made from India.  I have collected some old glass in Africa which is meant to pass as old carnelian stones.
The beads on the far left are glass, the other two necklaces are made of carnelians
    Often it is easy to know the difference by recognizing the prefix.  French jet is black glass; Whitby jet is the real deal.  Sterling silver is 9.25 silver; German silver has a very low silver content.  African amber is plastic, Baltic amber is 50 million year old resin.  But, as in many things, knowledge and experience are the best guides.  Looking back, my dyed lapis  had a lot of value.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Looking Out the Window in Late March

As I sit here, working on a new necklace—a short one of natural orange spondylus shell, I can’t help turning toward the window.  It’s bright out there.  The snow has all but disappeared, though large patches still linger even in late March.  But I can finally see my raised beds.And being able to see them naturally leads me to realize that it’s time, or even past time, to get serious about what’s going in them.   Except for the asparagus bed, I try to “rotate my crops” (and we are talking about five 8x4 boxes) every year.

Greens, meaning lettuce, spinach and arugula are givens.  So are tomatoes.  Last year I grew fingerling potatoes, and tried kale and chard.  I also had success with beets and carrots.  And I am very proud to announce that I grew my own garlic for the entire year.  Some things I grow simply because they are fun and beautiful.  Those are pole beans, scarlet runners, sunflowers, morning glories and edible flowers.  They stay.  I may trade beets for onions because I don’t really eat many beets.  Last year I tried  magda squash for cousa mahshi  (a Middle Eastern stuffed squash recipe,) but I put them in a spot that turned out to be too wet.  Consequently I will have to decide whether to move them or do something else. 

Gardening is my latest adaptation.  All my life I have had to adapt to my environment.  I moved from home in California, to the East (Boston),  to the Middle East, , to Southeast Asia, to South America, to here in the Northeast.  So I have changed languages, climates, religions, food and general lifestyle every  five or six years.  Here, in Maine, people garden.  And they don’t just garden, they GARDEN.  It’s serious.  In California, where everything grows all year long, people just plunk in their plants, build patios and pathways, and that’s it.  But here, one has to know one’s micro-climates all over the garden,  take soil tests, amend the soil, plan a color scheme for the May and June  “show”, the midsummer “show”, and the fall “show”.  (They are really called shows; I didn’t make that up.) The heights and bloom- times are all calculated in.  People go on Garden Walks all summer long and several groups put them on.  I found that I was so hopelessly behind in what obviously appeals to me very much, that I signed up for the Master Gardener course within a few years of moving here.

But of course there is always balance.  My California sisters don’t even know what a soil test is, and they just go to the nursery to buy yellow flowers to compliment the house, while I am studying my books, and poring through seed catalogs and trying write, produce and direct a Three Act play  in my garden.  There is a tradeoff:  Come about November, I’m inside making soup and reading novels, while they are out mowing the lawn, which grows fast, twelve months a year.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

This necklace is called "Mixed Message"

Every year Senior College and the University of Maine Hutchinson Center sponsor the Festival of Art.  It is a venue where artists 50 years old , amateur and profession, may exhibit their work.  I participate every year and have just finished working on my entry--Mixed Message.  I always have a name for my necklaces, and this show finally gives me a chance to follow through with that concept.  The necklace above comprises ancient spondylus shell beads from Peru, an old agate bead with silver caps  (which has obviously traveled from India and the Middle East), glass trade beads made in Italy and destined for Africa, old Bedouin chain from Jordan, ancient turquoise from Venezuela, and spectacular two- hundred year old white hearts from Niger.  The style is reminiscent of old silver Bedouin jewelry.  So this necklace has no real identity; it is a "mixed message".

While designing this piece I heard a tango melody on the radio.  Immediately I went to the computer to play one of my very favorite video clips--the tango scene from "Scent of a Woman" with Al Pacino.  I love it.  It's romantic, beautiful , lyrical,  and emotional.  It just carries you away to the very best place.     Try it:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Poya Days and Snow Days

People are often surprised to learn that I, a California girl, love winter.  The way I see it, it cuts two ways:  Either the California folks love it, or they won’t go near it.  There are plenty of Sun Belt natives who are fascinated by a phenomenon they only get to read about in books, or see in movies.  A snowy winter is practically magical to us, who only know a life where you get up and go out 365/12.  Sure—others can’t bear to be cold, or to ponder the added chore of shoveling. But I would gently submit to them that, in snow-covered climes, one doesn’t mow a lawn for half a year.

In Sri Lanka, there is something called a Poya Day.  This is a wonderful national holiday where the people celebrate the full moon.  That means that every month there is a day off from work and school, and shops are closed.  It is a religious holiday and practicing Buddhists visit the temple.  Alcohol and meat may not be sold. Sri Lankans consider the full moon an auspicious event.

Here in Maine, a snow day is our secular “Poya Day”.  On a snow day, the blizzard is so commanding that school and work and traffic stop.  We all stay home, cook soup, watch movies, and play games.  Our lives stop, as they do in Sri Lanka on Poya Days, and we are forced to reflect on our interconnectedness with the natural forces of our planet.

Snow days in winter are wonderful opportunities for me to create new necklaces in my studio.  Here is one from our January blizzard.