Tuesday, December 9, 2014

House Mala number one: Poetry to touch.

This is my first “house mala”.

Like a wind chime or mezuzeh, it is meant to bring spirits of harmony and energy to a place by stringing together symbols of those spirits in a beautiful little choreography. Mala being sanskrit for “garland, it is a universal decoration of life, with a prayer inherent in it. The first malas were used as altar decorations, as a gift for the Spirit.

Permit me to explain the arrangement and the participants.

Six strands are suspended from a handformed bar or bridge made of cassius basaltic black clay by my friend Steph Brouwers in Belgium, incised with special magical marks that I think represent rain and growth in a potent numerology and shipped to the New World.

Anchoring each strand to the bridge is a blue rain bead hand-baked in Indonesia or a bauxite earth bead.

Each one of the beads has a unique persona and meaning within the whole. Like an instrument in an ensemble whose unique tone blends with the music of the group.

Malas are like haiku- an art form with limitations of dimension within which infinite variety and meaning can be cultivated. Taking this power from ancient makers of beaded objects that carried spirit power, they are amuletic poetry to be touched and heard with the inner ear.

Each mala is meant to carry an encoded message or prayer which is unleashed by the act of fingering or hanging by the user.

The Basha bead hangs in the center with a tail made by a river stone: this magical orb is the centerpiece around which the mala was designed. Made in the 21st century by an flamework artist who has studied and I think perfected the look of ancient glass, long buried and gleaming with the reactions of glass in long contact with earth.

Below it hangs a counterbalance made with a mini-cairn (wheel-shape) and a flat triangular token of drilled beach stone, both so perfectly eroded they seem to have been waxed.

Above the Basha bead symbolising the planet is a Mexican tin sunburst bead, well, symbolising the sun.

At the top of the center strand, just below the bridge that holds the mala together, is a deep indigo bead from Mali, made in the 1900s, of cobalt blue, representing the vault of the sky.

The six strands are organized in this way from left to right:



earth, sun and sky



There is no seventh strand because the Maker rests after the sixth string.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Soul Beads

 I do believe that spirit is everywhere and is ongoing, and that souls cycle through being and immateriality.

 So when the urge to embellish lovely humble little wooden beads overtook me and I found myself adding paint and pigment feverishly - inexplicably really - I waited to figure out why this effort was pouring out of me.  And why I took such pleasure in it.

 Like many creative ventures, there was no forethought. Everything that happened seemed inevitable, as if I was following an invisible set of instructions.

 Each one of the beads gets a bath of color and is brushed and lustered in a way that feels as if I’m the agent of some gentle directive force.

 And here is what I’ve observed in the months that the painted soul beads have been flowing from my little work bench:

 Each of the beads is the representation of a soul, traveling far and going through much. The pigments represent lives and experiences that color, taint and disguise the true soul.  Some beads get coats of hues that match their original pure untouched shade, and they glow and glisten more, exude a softness.  Other beads receive colors opposite and sometimes clashing with their native shades; for those, the applied pigments define and reshape them.  Patinas invoke age and experience, and these beads express the travels of ancient beings touched, rubbed, worn and enriched by uncountable events.  Although there are many with similar shape and colors, each has an individual surface and spiritual statement to make.

In the making of every one is an unfolding act of contemplation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Beading is building. There are connections, links, channels, and the tiny  (or not so tiny) building blocks just as there are in the creation of cathedrals, tombs and skyscrapers. Something is made that had no physical form before.

And every time, I am surprised how the real thing differs from the imagined thing.  Coming into being changes everything.

My abilities, my frailties, time and material contort ideas.

Any work of one's making bears the marks of this struggle to become material, to overcome mere idea.  The toolmarks, the imperfect measurement, the transformative meeting of structure and desire.

Is that not a lesson that applies to life beyond beading?

These little earrings, made of very old, if not ancient, mummy beads (so-called because similar ones have been found among grave goods in the middle east and Africa) turquoise, Native American trade beads and modern seed beads are my building project this week.  At first, the upper part of the design seemed like a tiny naos, the door through which the spirit enters and leaves this world. From that gentle pyramidlike shape hang graduated dangles that dance like the limbs of marionettes. 

Miniature puppet dolls, wind chimes  - it is up to the cultural viewpoint of the wearer to decide what these earrings reference.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Heads Will Roll

 Or perhaps, heads will just turn.

 I can’t seem to explain why I am drawn to the odd, the quirky and what some would dub the grotesque.

 I’m not a fan of horror movies , of ugly for ugly’s sake, of gore, or sci-fi when the focus is monsters and mayhem.

 Just the same, this little disembodied head drew me in- mottled greenish glaze and all.  His troubled, somewhat pensively vacant stare derives, appropriately, from a wonderful artist’s studio called Wondrous Strange

 But “grotesque” doesn’t mean ugly.  You must look into it’s etymology: it refers to being of a grotto-  a deep place, like a cave, or a crypt.  Aha! Reference to something buried-  ancient, treasured but lost and found again. And like “cryptic” - hidden, mysterious. Something whose original meaning is lost, like its maker, and so needs decipherment.

 That’s it. That explains it.

 Made a nicely articulated body for him using a roundish clay color bead as a spinal column and a dramatic wrapped tube (replete with mystic patterns that look like paw-prints, leopard spots and pentimento remnants of ancient writing) from my treasure trove from StillPointWorks.
 He looks a little mummy-like, but his head bobbles nicely as he dances.

 So to go with it, a long necklace of stones (matte prehnite, butterscotch chalcedony, amazing crystalline refractive citrine) and the irrefutably beautiful beads of Basha and Ikuyo whose poetry sits front and center in the design. 
 And a tassel of miscellanies - micro versions of toys and tribute. Something to jingle and dangle like prayer flags and windchimes do. Something to hang like the gifts of those who come to pray at a temple.                                                 

 So many disparate treasures, like the bounty at low tide, strung together.

I think of my wonderful artisan friends who made this happy collection come together. Dorcas, Claire, Barbara, Ikuyo.  Thank you for sharing the fruit of your talents.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Limits of What We Know

Making jewelry is a process of building.  As wearers, we can carry microcosmic structures built to enshire the unique, the quirky edifices of power that we inhabit when we don beauty.

When I make a necklace, using components I've not used before, shaped differently and with different accommodations for attachment, it is a voyage of invention.  I love a world where there are no pre-made patterns, no drawings to follow, and few rules. Where  the resources are looking at things that have been done before and then going out and building a bridge to where you want to go.
Often the result of this kind of thinking for me is metaphorically falling a long distance when the bridge doesn't cover the span of my limited knowledge to the realization of the object I was trying to create.  Sometimes it's a new morph of what I meant to do, which I can happily claim.  Or just something that I will spend remorseful minutes ripping apart, beads flying everywhere.

But when it works, and I've invented a way to make something join to something using fiber, cable, tiny bits of metal and thousands of little beads, my rolypoly minions, that's reward enough.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Trip to the Stillpoint

If you are a maker of things, you know one of the greatest thrills is to come across new supplies to inspire your making.

If you are a devoted thrill seeker, you will luxuriate in supplies that are rare, even singular, and that will make your work unique by their incorporation.

And there is one more level to step up the stimulation: collaboration with an artist whose works are so inexplicably beautiful and varied that thinking of them makes you dizzy.

This is the creative nirvana I’ve touched this week when a magical box arrived from Gatineau Canada stamped “Stillpoint Works.”

How this fascination began I can’t remember. Somewhere in the making playground that is Etsy I saw a piece that gave credit to Stillpoint Works, and I was immediately fascinated by the name. The poetry of conception of the word “stillpoint” combined with the intense concept of a foundry: what could that mean? I looked up the term “stillpoint” - in itself an invention of biological reverie that fits with my belief that part of making is finding a dream state where the body drops away.

And then... I engulfed myself in all the images of things made by the marvelous artist that is Stillpoint Works, Claire Maunsell . I pored over all the pieces that had ever been in her Etsy shop and drank the intoxicating flow of photography at her Flickr site. I immersed myself in the glimpses of her bucolic life she shares on her blog “The Next Bend.”

Right. I am an art stalker.

I learned that Claire’s invention - the hollow polymer clay pod (a form that allows for endless organic variations and infinite surface embellishment) was published in a new arty how-to compilation called Polymer Clay: Global Perspectives.

I immediately purchased it to gather insight into the impossibly difficult route Claire took to arrive at an evolutionary achievement so completely original. Knowing what I know about podmaking is like the curiosity of knowing about deep sea creatures that thrive in the dark inferno of thermal vents miles beneath the world of waves and sunlight: I will never go there, but I cannot escape the desire to contemplate their existence.

The process of artstalker, from admiration to photo curating to just plain breathless staring is one that took me months. I bought my first few components from Stillpoints works’ Etsy shop and greedily devoured them. People who buy my jewelry snapped up those pieces. This is part of the secret of making things with components from artists whose work makes you break out in a cold sweat: you know you’re going to make something in a higher register when part of what you do is focused on understanding this sort of new life form in your toolbox.

A little aside: that’s why I use the name “Alien Beadings.” While the original name of my endeavor, "Human Beadings", is a play on 'human beings', Alien Beadings is a phrase that reminds me that the business of making is about looking at things as if you’d never seen them before; you have no idea how they work or what they mean. Your touching, taking, combining and enshrining of these supplies (beads, paint, fiber, components) is what shapes symbols and makes meaning. Playing with Claire’s components is like a safe landing on the dark side of the moon to find a cup of good tea on the art table in the midst of an alien landscape devoid of gravity. I’m transported, unbalanced, provoked and comforted all at once.

As part of the creative dance into which I’ve been drawn by the polymer clay miniature masterpieces of Stillpoint Works, I recently asked Claire to make a bundle of orphan pieces for me. I find it difficult to choose from the pieces in her online shops (Zibbet & Etsy), great as the photography is. This challenge of asking Claire to send me her choice of beads and components allows for the collaboration of another maker in my work, and I am greatly honored by that opportunity.

The package that arrived was a Pandora’s box of goodies that will be causing mischief on my worktable for weeks to come.

The pieces range from tough and primitive to exquisitely ethereal imitations of life forms that inhabit ecstatic daydreams.

I am touched by the wand of the Muse.