On December 17, 2020, the Art of the Glass Bead officially joined the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, by UNESCO. This award encompasses three divisions in glass bead production: a lume (or lampwork/flamework), cane beads (such as the chevron bead – grounded down using lapidary tools), and conterie beads (seed beads). Although this recognition doesn’t specifically mention the city of Venice and Venetian glass beads, Venice is the pioneer of manufacturing glass beads in all three categories. As such, the verdict of UNESCO was truly a grand celebration for the Venetians!
Venetians have been manufacturing and exporting beads since the 1500s. The Venetians are the masters of two things: shipbuilding and manufacturing glass beads. Put the two together and you’ve got fleets of magnificently designed naval ships transporting a cargo of treasures. These “treasures” were Venetian glass beads . . . and these beads reached all continents except Antarctica. Venetian glass beads were in great demand all over the world . . . long before the internet or Amazon!
The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, was very proud of this prestigious award and recognized it as “a way to demonstrate not only the value of this precious art but also of the great professionalism and skill of the bead artist.”
Included in this award was the recognition of the social and cultural impact the beads had on Venice. Hundreds of women were employed to string the conterie beads onto threads. These women were called the impiraresse (the term probably derives from the Greek word piron meaning to thread). The streets and squares were full of hundreds of these meek figures stringing beads of every color imaginable. The activity of stringing the beads came from the Castello district of Venice, whereas the bead artisans (lampworkers) were concentrated in the Cannareggio district. Venetian glass beads gave work to almost everyone living in Venice and Murano (the island where the glass furnaces were situated).
Some beads were given names such as rosetta (chevron), cornolia (white hearts), fiorato (wedding cake beads), and a specific pearly white seed bead was called, “the teeth of the Blessed Mother.”
“Through beads, their infinite beauty is inextricably linked to their extreme fragility, just like our city. We want to remind the whole world that we must protect the fruit of man’s ingenuity and creativity. Only in this way will we be able to hand over these noble arts to future generations ». (Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro)
The glass bead, now officially recognized by UNESCO is an honor and a blessing. For many years, cheap reproductions of Venetian glass beads have been mass-produced and sold for pennies, resulting in the decline of this artisan industry. It is a blessing that the ART of the glass beads receives a universal stamp of approval, protecting and acknowledging its history, culture, and authentic production.
Venetian glass beads are collected by many people all over the world. They can be found in museums and galleries. They are worth their weight in gold because they are beautiful and come with a rich history.
To learn more about the history of glass beads:
Author of “The Glory of Beads — The Rise & Fall of the Societa’ Veneziane per l’Industria delle Conterie.” www.thegloryofbeads.com
This prestigious award acknowledges the social and cultural implications it brings to the community.
A new record that confirms the richness of the widespread national cultural heritage and that enhances the commitment of the communities in the enhancement of that set of traditions that distinguish them “.
The works were coordinated by the Ministry for Culture. “The Italian Unesco sites rise to 69, of which 55 are registered in the world heritage list – commented Minister Dario Franceschini – and, with the two new ones of today (together with the art of pearls there is art music of Piedmontese hunting horn players n.dr ), 14 enrolled in the list of intangible heritage.
UNEhe fifteenth session of unesco’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which met today on Thursday, December 17, 2020 in web conference, officially included L’Arte delle perle di vetro in the Representative List of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. SCO Throughout the course, the work was coordinated by the ministries of culture of the respective countries. For the city of Venice it is the first inscription of an intangible element in the UNESCO List.
The art of glass beads is closely linked to the richness of knowledge and mastery of a material, glass, and an element, fire. This art brings together shared knowledge and embedded techniques, refers to particular artisan processes and tools and includes different processing phases. The candidacy focuses on know-how, on the social and cultural implications of this art and not only on the object created, It is a source of great pride – underlines the Mayor of Venice Luigi Brugnaro – such a prestigious award on the eve of the celebrations for the 1600th anniversary of the foundation of Venice. A journey that lasted several years and that led to an important goal. A way to demonstrate not only the value of this precious art but also the great professionalism and dexterity of the Perleri artists.ed.
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!