My Adventures in Lamp Work, The Very Beginning.
Posted on June 18 2019
MY ADVENTURES IN LAMP WORK, THE VERY BEGINNING.
It all began at the Second International Bead Conference in Washington DC1990. I had been making bead jewelry for years and was attending both to sell my work and as one of the teachers. During registration for the Conference, I saw a tall woman with long dark hair wearing a long strand of the most beautiful glass matching beads I had ever seen. More importantly, I had no idea where they came from. Having been a student of bead history for many years, this was fascinating. The beads were different shapes, Rubino Oro with white centers and leaves curling around them. I introduced myself and asked her where they came from. The lady was Patricia Frantz and she told me she had made them herself. My life was about to change for ever.
At the 1st International Bead Conference in 1985, on the Queen Mary, I did not see a single contemporary glass bead that had been made in the United States, so I had no idea any one was making them.
I remember looking at those beads on Patty's neck and thinking " if she can do this, so can I!"
The next day, while rushing for a quick bathroom break during one of the classes I was giving, I popped my head around the door of another class room. A glass bead demonstration was in full swing, given by Donavan Boutz, a famous lamp worker, and there was a large screen on the wall with work being projected. Oh yes, from that moment on I knew where I was going next in my bead life.
I went to stay with Linda Hunnicutt Legrande outside Cleveland Ohio for a week. She taught me tank and torch safety and how to melt glass rods around a mandrel to make simple beads, and how to pull stringers.
At the time, my then husband and I were preparing to leave the country on a journey to Belize. I had a 67 Airstream, to be pulled by an old Argosy.
When we left, I had a nice stash of Moretti glass, the torch, the glasses, a small oxygen tank and propane. Almost no tools, but I did have some vermiculite and a crock pot.
Colin and I set off full of dreams about life in sunny Belize.
We camped every night and I waited for the opportunity to try my hand at bead making. We made it to a campground at Lake Mead, and I carefully pulled out my card table, tanks, glass and crock pot and settled behind the Airstream, out of the wind to make beads. Imagine! Out of doors, no protection from the slightest air current, and I made my first beads. I had fallen off my bicycle the day before, and had a huge haematoma on my brow, but I could wait no longer. I still have the necklace made with those first beads.
We traveled on and I made beads at every opportunity. It was possible to put up the card table in the Airstream, and work, sitting on my bed. At one point we settled into a beautiful aqua park campground in Mexico for a month and during that time, I made and sold beads and gave lectures on bead history in the local club house to the international group of tourists also camped there.
I met a Mexican business man at a party called Francisco and we talked about my beads. Colin and I were invited to visit him at his business outside Guadalajara. When we got there, the weather turned nasty and we camped in a field on his property. I had sent samples of my new beads to the Nature Company, A chain of stores, with an international line of educational toys and nature related books, videos and even jewelry. I had been working with them for years, making semi-precious and silver jewelry. The buyer was excited by the idea of my making glass jewelry at a time when nobody else was embarking on anything like that for such a large company. Colin and I moved into the guest house of a German painter on a private estate nearby and I set up my table in my bedroom, straining to get better at glass bead making. I knew so little. I did not even know about the problems of co-efficiency in glass at that time and did not need to understand it because I was simply working with Moretti rods. At one point I got very frustrated because my white glass kept getting dirty as I worked. I called a fellow glass worker in the USA, who told me to reduce the propane.. duh. that is how little I knew but was still ready to think about embarking on some kind of huge order from the Nature Company. I cannot believe now that I had such nerve.
The Nature Company buyer asked me if there was any chance of my working with re-cycled glass, because that would fit in with the current policies of the company. I knew I could not work with broken bottles, that much I knew at the time, although I do make beads out of bottle glass these days.
Francisco and I went into Guadalajara and toured the stained glass studios, asking to buy their scrap glass. We sent for torches from the USA and set up a small working studio at his little factory. He found five locals and we worked with the scrap glass, holding it in the flame with large tweezers to heat it enough to punty up to a clear rod. It was crazy, haphazard and fun, and the younger ones found that they could actually hold a shard up to the flame, heat one end and attach that to the punty with their bare fingers! Having been a bead historian for many years, I knew that these pupils were the very first to make lamp work glass beads in Mexico. I will certainly appreciate any news from anybody out there in glass land who can prove me wrong! It was pretty chaotic but I persevered, found a local metalsmith to make some basic paddles and tools for us and started to see the possibility of landing an order from the Nature Company if I could design jewelry suitable for them. I sent off samples and lo and behold, I received an order for 450 necklaces with 36 glass beads in each.) This represented about $40,000 dollars.
I have to say, although I believe that in any project, one is ideally committed to enjoying the process, this turned into a nightmare.
Each necklace was hand knotted on 4 ply polyester thread and each bead separated by 18 copper hishi, with a silver bead on each side of the glass beads, stabilizing them and protecting the thread from the glass.
Now we get back to the compatibility factor. The glass beads were naive in form and made with soft organic colors. My glass workers broke up the glass shards and often mixed browns with white, green or blues at my instructions. It turns out that the flat glass scrap I was working with was a mixture of Spectrum and Bullseye. In those days, most of the stained glass you could buy in Mexico was made and exported by those two companies.
We were using Vermiculite to "anneal" the beads. I didn't even know at that time that a kiln was essential basically. I knew that vermiculite was better than nothing and hoped to find a way to have a kiln one day. I did not know that real annealing would make my beads as hard as stones. Thank goodness I did not know too much in those days, I would never have pulled off that job. It was really difficult anyway.
Every evening, I would take the day's work off the mandrels. Each worker was making about 100 beads a day! I cleaned them and then sat under a bright light and searched for cracks... A third of them would have to be tossed out. Francisco found someone who was making copper hishi in Mexico City and I was importing my silver beads from the USA. The silver manufacturing city of Taxco was not making small round beads.Well, to cut a long story short, The necklaces were completed and the order arrived at the Nature Company in time. That was the beginning of a number of huge orders I succeeded in filling for them!