May 14, 2020. Coronavirus Lockdown in Michigan.
Many, many years ago at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, I attended a show at the Doubletree Hotel. The company, ImpressArt, was selling customize metal “branding stamps,” kinda like a signature stamp that could be infused onto hot glass. I thought it was an interesting idea, using this tool to customize your glass, have your own little brand on it, so I picked one up. I do not work with hot glass, btw, at most glass mosaics and beads. I love Venetian lampwork beads and Murano glass, I’m just not interested in working with fire. In any case, I bought the metal stamp perhaps 15 years ago and since then it has been out of sight and out of mind. I’ve forgotten this tool even existed. But today, out of nowhere, it has turned up. The sudden existence of this metal stamp has prompted me to write this new post.
In 2016 my book was coming along and I was going to Murano frequently to do interviews and/or validate my research. I also had a lot on my mind during this period: meetings with my book designer, finding a publishing house, copyrights for the photographs, business cards, etc. I knew that once the book got published, I’d need a website. And with a website, I’d need a logo. Meanwhile, back in Murano, I stopped in the shop of a friend, Mario Cavagnis, whom I’ve known for 25 years. He makes beautiful fused millefiori/murrine plates, sometimes using old and rare millefiori/murrine slices or using his own murrine which he makes himself (versus buying or finding it). Many slices of the murrine cane are placed into a pattern (think of a puzzle ) and then put into an oven where all the separate pieces/slices are then fused together (like glue) to create, for example, a small plate or pendant. “Ciao Mario! Come va?” “Bene, bene” he says as he hands me a dog treat to give to Toby. Toby sees the treat and then “spins round round like a record baby.” (that’s an 80s song by Dead or Alive) The tourists love the dancing dog. They giggle and take photos. Toby loves the attention. He’s good for business. “Whatca’ been up to, Mario?” He shows me his new collection of fabulous, one-of-a-kind plates. Gorgeous. One is prettier than the other. He sells them for 120-160 euros each but most tourists don’t have the eye or appreciation for this rare glass so it oftentimes goes unnoticed. Besides, the plates are small and all too often tourists equate size with worth (unless you’re Japanese, who see the beauty in tiny details). Anyway, Mario probably made 12 of these plates. No two alike. Some were made with a rare cane! “I love these plates! Why don’t you put these in the window? They’re gorgeous!” But Mario, like many of us collectors or appreciators of art, aren’t always so eager to sell our stuff. Sometimes it’s nice to just have those things hanging around for a period. How often have I raised the price of a bead just so that I could enjoy it for a while longer? (and then I sell it ☹) So as Mario proudly showed me his new collection of plates, I took a few photographs. “Wow, take a look at this photo, Mario. It’d make a cool screen saver, no wait, bedsheets, not wait, jeans!” And then it dawned on me. Why not use one of his plates for my logo? I didn’t want to use the Murano Rooster (symbol of Murano) because then I’d have to explain to my customers I wasn’t born in the Year of the Rooster, nor do I raise chickens. I didn’t want a gondola either because I thought it looked a bit cliché’. I also didn’t want a bead as my logo because my company isn’t just about beads, it’s more profound than that. I was looking for a logo that could be timeless, genderless, something a bit historical, artistic, and something that could attract both the organic bead collector as well as the contemporary jewelry designer. Eureka! Serendipity! I found it in one of Mario’s plates. It’s amazing when you stop searching for something, you find it. It’s like God saying, “Geez o Pete’s girl, take it easy. Do you think I have a magic wand or something? Stay still! I’ve got this. ” I sent the images to a graphic artist, Robin Seger (contact: email@example.com), who works out of Florida. She added her magic touch to the image and designed a very attractive logo.
On the LEFT is the photograph of the glass plate that inspired my logo. © And on the RIGHT is the metal stamp that I purchased over a decade ago, L-O-N-G before Mario made the plate and/or murrine, long before I had my own business, the name of my business, the name of my book, a logo, a website, you name it. Hidden under a pile of random stuff, in a random box, on a random lockdown day (I don’t even know what day it is anymore. Maybe that’s a good thing?), somehow or another this object has resurrected. Initially, I thought it was a special tool that comes with IKEA purchases. Then I looked closely. And then I freaked out. I was amazed (and shocked) at the similarities. Take a good look at the three different murrine.
Do you see the second circle of murrine? Do you see what I see? How can this be????
I’m not a believer in coincidences. Everything happens for a reason. “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” says Albert Einstein. I thank God and the Divine Universe for sending me this “Message of Love” (song by The Pretenders, 1981). I love it when I receive messages from the heavens…or call it what you will . . . a Divine Energy, but I’ve received many of these messages and signal graces during my life and this is one of them. (Remind me to tell you about the praying mantis.) For whatever reason, I seem to attract this energy and it’s always a good sign. What does it tell me? I like to consider this “coincidence” as a post-it note from God. It lets me know of His presence; He’s closer to me than I realize. I’m where I’m supposed to be. Everything is going to be fine. “I’ve got this!”
I’m not a mother so I’ll never know the bond between a mother and her child. Have I lost out on something? Probably so. Yet just as God has chosen these women to be mothers, I truly believe God has chosen me, and many women, not to be mothers. If I truly believe that God’s plan is Divine and was prepared for me before I was born, then I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Not all of us are destined to be married, to have children, to have 9-5 jobs, etc. God is creative and perfect in His assortment of “characters”; we’re all here equally to fulfill His perfect plan.
Today my husband and I visited my dad and mom at their cemetery. They are in separate cemeteries. Notwithstanding today is Mother’s Day, I wanted to pay my respects to my dad. Each time I visit him, I see my mortality engraved on his tombstone. You see, when my dad died in the summer of 2009, I decided to be buried with him . . . share the space and keep the old man company. As such, when it came time to order my dad’s tombstone, I was choosing my own too because both of our names will be on one stone. From now on end, when I visit my dad’s tombstone, I’ll see my name engraved on it. It was a surreal moment as I turned the pages of the tombstone catalog. It was my first time looking through one. I didn’t even know these catalogs existed. The catalog showed various designs, add-ons, calligraphy, psalms, etc. I was thinking, “At this stage in my life, I should be looking at swatches for a new sofa, not choosing my tombstone. This is insane.” But I guess I’m where I’m supposed to be, right? The catalog gave you choices — praying hands, a cross, a bible, a tree, etc. along with the standard epigraphs. “Can I have it engraved, ‘I still rock’? Maybe have a little musical symbol in the corner there?” I asked. The Catholic cemetery would not allow it. Disappointed, I continued to look through the catalog until I found something that I loved. A beaded rosary! “Can any of these beads be engraved into chevrons or have a floral design put on them?” That too was a no. But hey, at least I got to “design” my tombstone (and I think my dad would’ve been happy with it too, especially since he had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.) Today I was reminded that I am surrounded by beads . . . and the choice of a rosary was a perfect fit, just as God’s plan always is. Happy Mother’s Day!
April 7, 2020 When I return from a bead tour, whether it be the Autumn Tour or the West Coast Tour, I must clean all the trays. I also like to re-design the assortment. If something did not sell, then it’s time to re-arrange it. I’ll put it in a different tray with different beads . . . or maybe it needs to stand alone in a smaller display? Hmmmm …. At this time, I’m in my Bead Cave. I love it here, btw. I have everything I need and more . . . couldn’t be happier. As I’m sorting through our beads, I’m finding beads that didn’t sell. I always question why a certain bead didn’t sell. Was it the price? The shape? The color? Or perhaps the customer just overlooked it? I choose to believe the latter. With such an assortment of beads, sometimes having too many choices can be difficult for the buyer. In any case, I never think of these unsold beads as “unwanted.” They were wanted (by me!) and now they’ve come home. Home sweet home. Notwithstanding I prefer to give our customers first choice, some of these beads will now become part of my collection (yayyyy) while the remaining beads will be re-arranged so that they will no longer be overlooked. No bead shall ever be forgotten or considered unimportant—not in my collection.
It’s a shame, due to the Coronavirus restrictions, we had to cancel five shows. Our trunk shows are our bread & butter. We will re-schedule these stores at a later date. We send our sincere apologies to Bead Studio (Rockport, TX), Sea of Beads (Austin, TX), Stony Creek Beads (Ypsilanti, MI), Bloomin Beads (Powell, OH), and Bead Haven (Frankenmuth, MI).
April 10, 2020 I’m going through my beads. Every bead I cast my eyes on is a future project. I like this one and that one, and this one and that one, and “ohhhh that bead would look really cool with this one!” I say out loud. It’s hard to stay silent when looking at beautiful beads. I also like to roll them between the palms of my hands, as if I’m playing a game of dice. (Hey, maybe this even cleans them?) I enjoy playing with a handful of beads. I like the sound they make too. The smaller the bead, the sweeter the sound. I find it interesting that with beads, we can look, touch, and even hear them. I’m reminded of my dad who used to play with the coins in his pockets. My grampa did too. Must be something in the family. I can still hear the jingle sounds those coins made. I’ve never pondered on this memory until now. What is so pleasurable about playing with coins, beads, or marbles for that matter? The sound? The weight? The fun of it? Like I said, must be something in the family. Some beads merit a good rub, give ‘em a little heat, while other beads are worthy of finer attention. I take note of the nuances in each of them. Many people look at these nuances as imperfections. But beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, right? So as I go through my beads, admiring each one, I’m seeing some beauties, many with a long history in the fashion industry, and many with the blemish of an imperfect execution, a silly nuance if you will, but cherished just the same. My heap of projects is getting higher and higher. So many ideas, so little time. Even during this Coronavirus period, I doubt I will ever have enough time to bead. When you do what you enjoy, there’s never enough time.
Back to my beads . . . . so happy to be cleaning, sorting, moving, playing, designing, etc. I’m going through all these gorgeous vintage beads and puzzled why no one bought (or saw) them. I don’t get it? Am I only one who finds these beads amazing? Many beautiful beads go overlooked, especially the vintage ones. The Italian vintage beads (50s-70s) may not have the shine and luster as their contemporary counterparts, but they truly have a unique tonality, texture, and shape. Many of these lampworked beads were made using a glass that is no longer being produced due to the toxic emissions during the fusion process (in the crucible). Chemicals such as arsenic, lead, and uranium oxides are prohibited to fuse . . . and there goes your favorite color. Many of these beads are rare and if/when I find them, I buy as many as possible. I am reminded of a woman who attended one of our trunk shows. She fell in love with some vintage beads and bought the whole stash. There must’ve been fifteen, twenty of them at most. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. I can only hope I will see these beads again. So when she said, “ O.k., I’ll take all of them” I was like “What? You want alllll of them? Like, seriously, what’ll be left for me? For my next show? For my other customers? You just can’t take allll them?” (Yes, you can. I know I do!) The thought of losing all my favorite beads in one shot was, and always will, be a bit of a shock – like a sucker punch, leaving you gasping for air. It’s That Sinking Feeling that you’ll never see those beads again.* They found a new home, a new owner. All too often, I don’t want to sell these beads, and more often than not, I don’t. But I enjoy their contribution to our inventory so I keep them in the loop. I know sooner or later, a discerning eye will appreciate their subtle beauty. The Italians have a proverb, “He who sleeps doesn’t catch the fish.” That day at the trunk show . . . when the customer bought my whole stash of vintage beads . . . that was a day I felt the fish got away. So as I continue to clean, sort, organize, label, etc. all my beads, I’m starting to put some aside for myself believing that maybe these beads are just meant to be mine. It’s not necessary to sell every bead, right? The utility bills will always be there for me, but my beads won’t.
*That Sinking Feeling — A 1979 British comedy film written and directed by Bill Forsyth. The film takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, the home town of Forsyth. The budget for this film was $10,000. Forsyth used young actors from the Glasgow Youth Theatre. I’d give this film ***** (those are beads, not asterisks).
April 22, 2020. SEED BEADS AND BEAD WEAVERS
My sorting system is now advancing to the cleaning, weighing, and packaging of seed beads. The seed beads that we carry come from the 1970s, some earlier. They are not recommended for bead weaving because they are irregular. The irregularity of these beads is not the result of the cut. The cut is perfect. (I talk about the precision of the glass cane cutting machine in my book, chapter six, page 96). The irregularity of these beads is the result of the irregular glass cane, pulled by hand (versus machine) allowing for a greater margin of error – – an imperfect (and human) pull. As such, the glass cane is not perfectly straight, it could be a little wavy, so when it arrives under the “guillotine” of the cutting blades, some parts of the cane are thicker than other parts. This results in an irregular thickness – maybe even size – of a seed bead. That said, the seed beads that are processed from hand pulled cane are more organic in nature, in that no two are alike. They are not suitable for bead weaving but are perfect to incorporate in a piece of jewelry, a tassel, or trimmings on scarves. The shapes and tonalities of these beads are very interesting too. Btw, I’d love to be one of those “bead weavers” just for the sake of saying (with a glass of wine in my hand) “I’m a bead weaver.” It’s like one step closer to saying “I’m a Dream Weaver” (remember that song by Gary Wright in 1975?) “Oh dream weaver, I believe you can get me through the night.” So kudos to all those bead weavers, who have the eyesight of hawks, the intelligence of an engineer, and a cool name. For those of us who do not follow patterns, I’ve been told we’re called jewelry designers or sometimes “stringers.” Really? A stringer? Now just imagine . . . you’re in a bar and a guy asks you what you do, and you respond, “I’m a stringer.” He’d be like “What? A swinger?” “No, (you, idiot) a stringer.” “O.k.,” he nods as he slyly looks at you up and down. “Like . . . what’s a stringer, darlin’? You play the banjo? The fiddle? Maybe fly like an angel on one of them trapeze things? Or do you do a little ‘cowboy lasso’ in the rodeo? So there you have it. Life is not fair. In any case, I encourage all bead weavers to check out our seed beads – you may find something you can work with. We buy the beads in old factories in Murano; they come covered in dust, dirt, pebbles, and wheat bran particles. The beads are then washed, dried, sifted for impurities, weighed, and packaged. The seed beads of the 1950-70s were polished with wheat bran in a tumbler. If you ever see tiny, brown particles in a bag of seed beads, this is wheat bran. It makes me very happy to have an interesting selection of vintage seed beads in our inventory. When I add them to a necklace, I feel they are the “glue” to the design. They may not be the focal bead . . . and they may not strike a pose. But these little ones, these little guys, they are the background music to a beautiful piece. Their color is a little “off” (but who isn’t?) – a testament of their age and artisanship. In my book, Chapter Two – The Chemistry Department, there is more information regarding glass recipes, the names of the colors and tonalities, the history of the chemists in the early 1900s, and more!