Society of Glass Beadmakers, Under the Magnifying Glass

By Brian Kerkvliet, Copyright 1996

The Society of Glass Beadmakers Is going through yet another growth spurt! This is the third year of their existence as an organized group, and already it has grown more than expected. In August SGB will be holding a special conference in Seattle, the annual “Gathering”. I want to take this time to look back over the few years that SGB has been around and see what their role is in the glass art world is. How have they created a a better understanding and appreciation for beadmakers world wide? What is SGB’s role in the future of beads? Last but not least what is the ” gathering” happening in Seattle this August?

Lets look at how SGB formed, a brief history:

Early on in the contemporary beadmaking seen, when I was first making beads there was a small group of people who wanted to form a bead gild for many of the same reasons that the current SGB formed. Needless to say there were several reasons it didn’t get it off the ground. I have heard other stories from people who said the they were thinking of forming some kind of group that focused on glass beads. Well it was inevitable that a group like SGB was to be formed, eventually in Prescott 1993 it happened! The time was ripe for emergence!

Why was the time ripe? Let take a look at the series of events that led up to this momentums occasion. I believe that it would have taken SGB much longer to organize had it not been for Gabrielle Liese, director of the Bead Museum. She saw what was happening with contemporary glass beads and wanted to have an exhibit show casing glass beadmakers. At the 1990 international bead conference in Washington D.C. I met Ms. Liese and introduced her to some of the contemporary glass bead makers that were present at that historical event. The artists were; Patricia Sage, Tom Holland,Patricia Frantz, Julie Clinton, Will Stokes, Art Seymour and myself. At that time there weren’t too many of us out there showing our work. We talked about the possibility of doing a show of some sort at the Museum and over the years…. the show eventually happened! It was around this show that many people got excited. Finally contemporary glass beads were starting to get the recognition that they deserved. As a result of this exhibit there were many other galleries that became interested and eventually had a show of their own featuring the works of prominent glass beadmakers. These shows have become so successful that some of these galleries have made their bead show a annual event. When news of the Bead Museum show spread a group of people took it upon themselves to organize an event that would coincide with the opening of the Bead Museum show and change the bead world forever, It was the first “Gathering”.

This is what Gabrielle Liese had to say about the show.

“The Bead Museum has always had a major interest in the glass beads of ancient times; Egyptian, Syrian, Roman, the later Islamic periods and those beads which have crisscrossed the trade routes from Europe to Asia and Asia to Europe and the Middle East posing questions that excite the scholars who are working to trace their origins. Glass beads go back to the third millennium BC.

The idea behind this exhibit, to present the work of contemporary glass beadmakers, had its birth in discussions with some of the artists who, although involved professionally in other forms of glass production, expressed enough fascination with the techniques of early beadmakers and the aura surrounding beads in general to try their hands at producing their own versions of ancient designs and developing new ones. The results are truly extraordinary.

Timed to join the 1993 Year of American Craft celebration, this juried exhibit gives the Bead Museum the opportunity to amply demonstrate the great skill and ingenuity involved in the making of these small objects of art.”

Donna Milliron, the editor and publisher of the Bead Release a newsletter of the Society of Glass Beadmakers, reflects back and remembers how she was drawn to SGB. (The Bead Release is published semi quarterly and can be obtained by becoming a member of SGB. )

“It all started on a dark and rainy night back …….. the door blew open-creak- and in stepped 14 soaked students….. to the Camp Colton beadmaking class…. who would have guessed there would be that many? This group, all women, (geez) signed up for the two good torches and the rest of the time, got to know each other pretty well. As the class was closing…Shari Hopper and Nancy Potek and I were talking….Shari mentioned the competition at the Bead Museum for an upcoming show and suggested we all enter….

Nancy and I continued to talk…about self promotion and networking..etc. and she said she could get a group together at her studio and we could converge and network (like we were here) at the Bead Museum Exhibit and I said I would put together a newsletter to keep everybody in touch and informed. We all went home and went to work…to submit our beads to the jury for the Bead Museum Exhibit.

Three people were asked to be on the jury for this exhibit. They were asked to base their selections on quality, craftsmanship, originality and esthetics. They were:

BRIAN KERKVLIET who has been working with glass since 1977, first with stained glass and then focusing on goblets, perfume vessels and larger furnace blown pieces. More recently he has used the time honored technique of lamp wound beads and is famous for his face beads. His studio, Gossamer Glass, is in Bellingham, Washington.

JOANNE RAPP, long time director and owner of the well known and highly respected craft gallery, The Joanne Rapp Gallery, The Hand and the Spirit, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

JAMEY D. ALLEN of Rohnert Park, California, bead scholar, historian, lecturer, designer, teacher and maker of spectacular polyform beads.

This was to be a pivotal exhibit for our group and probably for the whole bead movement…..

As we made plans for our get together (not yet the gathering) we each entered our works and crossed our fingers and hoped to be accepted…into the exhibit. Nancy recruited Jana Burnham, Stevi Belle, Linda Huneycutt LeGrand, Shana Kaplow, and Alessandra Scamardo who owned a bead shop next door to the Museum offered the “group” space to have workshops….and the newsletter went out to “everyone” even remotely interested…..and we waited to hear …..if we were in the show…

We were notified of our acceptances and we proceeded whether we were in the show or not. With only 3 months to plan…and many things going wrong along the way. By the time we got there the Minneapolis group had managed to have numerous “luminaries” agree to demo- a friend had wrangled a space for us at Yvapi College for torches -Lewis Wilson took that one step further and got an open torch night set up….. we all just had so much fun.. that by the time we got to the business meeting…there were about 75 people out of the group of 94 registrants…from nothing to group: just like that. We elected officers (actually, we accepted anyone who wanted to volunteer), named ourselves…and set our goals. They were: To network, educate ourselves to be better artists and glass workers, to educate the public about our art…. to share……..what a concept with glass workers!….and to get together like this each year for a conference gathering.”

So it happened, out of the business meeting approximately 50 people signed up and paid their dues to the fledgling Society Of Glass Beadmakers. In a short 3 years that membership has grown to almost 500! Not bad for such a small, specialized organization. The past Gatherings have had more than 100 registered participants and have inspired and educated thousands more. One important feature of the conferences are the gallery shows that happen during the conference. These shows enable people to create new and challenging work and show them in a setting where a large audiences get to view (and purchase) the small wonders that are so varied and intriguing. There is generally one main exhibit and several smaller shows that are up during the conference. Like the show at the Bead Museum there is usually a color catalog that accompany the exhibit. This catalog has been a very important tool for SGB and its members. It was because of the catalog that the Bead Museum published that other galleries nation wide took notice of what was happening with contemporary beads and had shows of their own. It has also been a tool for members and bead societies to see what people have done before.

These gallery shows have nurtured collectors who are getting very sophisticated in their taste and have no qualms about spending $250- $350 for a bead! Like many of the group goblet shows that are happening these days, the more there are, the more the collectors see the variety and feel compelled to add to their collection. They are also wonderful educational opportunities both for the gallery manager and the public. Many of these show have one or more of the bead artists attend the openings. Where they can talk with people and explain the process or discuss the history of beads and their role in contemporary culture. Some times the gallery is even inclined to set up a area where a featured bead artist can set up a torch and do demonstrations to heighten the effects of the education. The equipment needed to do this is minimal so it is relatively easy to set up. This is always a big hit with the fans.

Before SGB had formed people were working alone and in isolated groups. Now that the society is formed people have a strong avenue of communication open to them through the conferences and the Bead Release. We have become like a family in some ways. When there is a show or opportunity that is relative to our members we do the best to let people know. Milliron has this to say about the effect of the society.

“we are being “noticed” by other glass folk now and it is my opinion that since most of us came to lampworking from unusual ways (mostly cold glass) and not the direct, “hey, I wanna be a lampworker” way. We were drawn to the hot glass for the artistry of the bead….the smallness of them. The incredible detail…..we are bringing fresh new insights based on our miniaturization of hot glass that is almost an involuntary rebellion to the “bigger is better…. and that makes it art!” mentality of the Studio Glass Movement up until now. We are the forerunners of a new wave, if you will. Look at Glass Art Societies (G.A.S.’s) schedule this year and say it ain’t so! ”

Where will it go from here?

The society will continue to challenge artists to reach new limits. Educate the public, collectors and galleries that beads can be small works of art, rather than a small “crafty” element of the glass art movement. There is a lot of potential to expand our networking to the international community that we will look at as our strength grows. Many of the European countries that have a history in glass beads look on the manufacture of glass beads as a cottage industry, rather than an individuals artistic expression. I think that we have lot to learn from them, and a lot to share as well. The international membership is small but there is a growing interest. We will continue to make the annual Gathering a fun educational event that everyone can get something out of. The talk for the 1997 conference is to coincide with the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference so that the “metal” element can find some kind of integration with the glass and vise versa. There should be plenty of opportunities for cross pollination.

There are currently several web sights that focus on beads and the number is growing. There is talk of SGB hosting a web sight in addition to publishing the Bead Release. Through theses avenues we will continue to educate and network and promote contemporary glass beads. So in short we are no longer a small unknown group – we are a “movement” and are here to stay!

Contemporary glass beadmakers share an ever evolving language which makes networking critical. Quality and integrity are the foundation for expression. We’re making time capsules for the future. It may be safe to say that our era will become known as the most advanced. Gathering IV will honor this thought by offering demonstrations and presentations by some of the most widely acclaimed experts and emerging authorities in the expanding glass bead world.

Important addresses:
Join us as members of The Society of Glass Beadmakers.
You’ll get 4 news letters per year, each containing valuable information
about flameworking techniques, shows and events. With a national membership
of nearly 500 strong, you will never find a more wonderful group of sharing
people. The Society was founded by people wishing to network in order to
learn and share in all the enjoyment of glass beadmaking.
Membership is $35 for individual, $45 for family/business.
Send to: Shari Hopper, 2902 Neal Road, Paradise, CA 95969.
To join SGB and Bead Release subscriptions
or get the ’94 color catalog contact:
I wanted to clarify some of the points that I made in my last column “Society of Glass Beadmakers Under the magnifying glass” There were many factors contributing to the formation of the society. The main point that I was trying to make is the time was ripe for the creation of this group to emerge. Many people contributed to the formation of this unique group. I mentioned some of them in the article and because of space and time constraints I wasn’t able to credit everyone involved. I do want to add some of my major omissions from this bit of history.
Jana Burnham has been the president of the society for the past several years and was recently succeeded by Kristina Logan. Jana did a lot to pull the group into a clearer focus before she handed it off to Kristina. I want to personally thank her for the work that she did for the society, before and during her position as president. Many other people contributed to this first Gathering, Nancy Potek, Stevi Belle and Linda Huneycutt LeGrand to name a few. With out their efforts and those of many others it may have taken longer for this group to get off the ground. Thanks goes out to everyone who has played a hand in this group and my apologies go out to those who I haven’t given proper credit.
Please feel free to write down you views of how this group formed and send it to the Societies’ Historian!:
Ruthmarry Pollack P.O. Box 6609 Hamden, Ct. 06517
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