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…

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