By Diane McMahon
Each woman can completely lose herself for hours in the challenge and joy of designing a piece that makes her happy.
Six creative women jewelers gathered in Maxine Oliver’s living room to talk about their “love of beads” and the upcoming exhibition that will showcase their work (available for purchase) from December 8-January 2, 2016 at the Art League of Hilton Head Gallery inside the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.
Sitting six strong women together to talk about what they love had two possible outcomes: 1. An incomprehensible “tower of babel”; 2. A collaborative insight into the world of beading from women as unique and diverse as their jewelry. Nancy Apy, Carol Geraghty, Linda Raih, Caroline Alderman, Lydia Chojnacki and Maxine Oliver come from different backgrounds, different parts of the country and different artistic backgrounds, but in Hilton Head they found a common joy. As a group, their voices fused into a layered celebration.
The beading phenomenon is not new; human beings have been adorning and embellishing their bodies and their clothes with beads for more than a millennia. But in our fast-paced world, beading has become a hobby, as well as a livelihood, which provides self-expression, inspiration to create beauty and art and connection to others of like interest.
There are numerous types and methods of beading, running on a continuum from the simplest—stringing beads on a wire or cord—to art and jewelry as complex as the human mind’s imaginings. All six women artists are definitely on the advanced end of the spectrum, but insist deep enjoyment can be experienced at every level.
The group agreed on several points. Beading is a form of play; each woman can completely lose herself for hours in the challenge and joy of designing a piece that makes her happy. Beading enables each woman to explore her creativity and stretch herself outside of her own box. While beading is intensely private, requiring hours of solitary concentration, it is also an opening for collaboration and communion with other people who bead. As a craft, the art of beading has become wildly popular, with clubs and groups and classes in almost every town. With the Internet, there is almost unlimited access to materials, tutorials and chat rooms around the world. Sitting at home in their studios and workspaces, these women feel connected to a worldwide community. And to each other.
This is a fun group of women. Nancy Apy, the first in the circle to talk, was introduced to bead designing when a friend took her to a simple necklace making class five years ago. As a bathroom designer, she had developed a love for natural stones, which translated into her bead designs. She says her goal is “to stretch the limits of beading materials to achieve something extraordinary.”
Carol Geraghty, who teaches adults at a local bead shop and children at the Boys and Girls Club of Hilton Head, has a background in jewelry design, having grown up in her parents jewelry business. She creates elegant, beaded, knitted purses and has gradually transitioned into bead weaving—which incorporates sewing, stitching and weaving—to create unique jewelry for today’s woman. Carol actually has a fantasy of sinking into a tub filled with sensuous satiny smooth beads.
Linda Raih began beading seven years ago. She describes herself as a seed bead artist and loves the detail work of bead embroidery. She is the quietest of the group, but her friends exclaim that her work is “exquisite” and they “can’t wait to see what amazing thing she’s created.”
Caroline Alderman has the distinction of making her own beads. She has been making intricately patterned polymer clay beads since 1990. She combines these with beads she’s collected in travels around the world. Lately, a Mayan tribal influence is evident in her work, which has been described as “wild, whimsical and wonderful.”
Lydia Chojnacki says the “bead” bug bit her in the 1990s. Previously, she was an art teacher in the public schools in Toledo and York, Pennsylvania for 10 years. Her beadwork now involves complicated classic designs that incorporate semi-precious beads, wirework and a variety of beading techniques. She is known for her quality craftsmanship.
Maxine Oliver was already an award-winning quilter when she was drawn into a bead booth packed with colorful sparkling beads of all shapes and sizes. She immediately recognized the limitless possibilities of incorporating beads into a new art form: “art quilts.” She also began bead weaving elegant jewelry and in 2008 one of her necklaces won 1st Place in a juried art show.
They all laughingly acknowledge that creating bead art and jewelry will never make them rich. Like most artists, they spend hours on their one-of-a- kind creations and the marketplace simply doesn’t compensate for artistic time. Maxine said, “People constantly ask me how long it takes to create a particular piece and I finally came up with a great answer: ‘It took 20 years.’”
What became clear is the myriad ways beading has given other valuable rewards to each of these women. There are meditative and spiritual aspects to communicating through creativity and art. But basically it’s a way of spending leisure time on what you want to do for yourself because you enjoy it. What better gift is there?
All six women will be available during the exhibition to talk about themselves, their work and to give demonstrations of their different techniques. Each artist will be putting out new original pieces throughout the duration of the exhibition. Having had a preview of the gorgeous pieces that will be for sale, I plan to go early and often. That’s my advice to everyone!