…A Guide For The Aspiring Bead Artist
by Warren S. Feld

Excerpts From This Ever-Evolving Tale.....

I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine china store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around.

The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is “Rogue” makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, our Elephant. It’s not our muse. It’s not our Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of our craft room forces upon us a completely different logic, so that we can make sense of it all.|


A Society of Bead Artists

You would think that if you were having so much fun as a bead artist by yourself, that you would have that much more fun if you did it with others.

Sometimes this is true. And other times it is not. In pursuing my Rogue Elephant, in trying to pin him down long enough to bead him, I’ve experienced both. Sometimes the challenge of beading a Rogue Elephant is too great for a group that can not come to terms with the how’s, wherefore’s and why’s.

We had been in business quite awhile before deciding to join the local bead society – The Cumberland Valley Bead Society. We had created exquisite and stylish jewelry for many customers for many years, some well-healed, some not, some famous, some not, some country music stars, some not. We were very caught up in it. But we reached a point where we wanted to learn more things, share more ideas, and share feelings of accomplishment. We needed a group.

We were very excited to have found the local bead society. When we joined, the society was discussing how to become more of a professional group of bead artists. They would teach new techniques. They would spread the word about the joys of beading to the general community. They would work with groups in need. They would work to attract many members who themselves could contribute to the developing synergy of the group and the more general bead community at large. They would bring in nationally recognized bead artists to conduct workshops and otherwise share their talents and insights with the group.

We participated in the bead society and its development. As part of a bead society committee, we all worked hard at developing by-laws. We set up a web-site. We computerized the membership list. We reconceived the layout and content of the society’s quarterly newsletter.

A strong bead society of bead artists was good for the store and good for our souls. The focus was on beads and the artistry of construction. The meetings were a mix of organizational business, event planning, and intellectual instruction. More advanced beaders assisted beginners Bead weavers expressively interacted with bead stringers AND wire artists AND lampwork artists AND metalsmiths AND clay artists. New members were greeted warmly. The society built itself up on the skill sets of all its members. When things needed to get done, people stepped up to the plate.

I wax nostalgic for a bead society like this. My favorite bead society out there is the Portland (Oregon) Bead Society. Extremely professional and business like. They have a meaty newsletter, with many paid ads that support it. They offer grants to researchers interested in pursuing things bead-related. They run bead swaps and bead shows and many workshop events. I suggested to our bead society officers that they contact the Portland folks, and ask how they got started, and what worked and didn’t work. Unfortunately, no takers.

The reality of our local bead society was very different from my ideals. The local bead society was founded in turmoil, and bounced in and out of it for years. The personalities of its original founders clashed, and was only temporarily resolved by some quitting and some moving away. But other personality conflicts filled the void.

The commitment to lofty goals was shallow. Some members wanted a broad membership and a professional society. Others wanted to have more of a club – a Stitch-And-Bitch. People who came to meetings resented those that did not. Those that didn’t come to meetings felt that those that did purposively set the times and location to be inconvenient. Bead weavers resented bead stringers resented wire workers. More advanced beaders were unhappy when programs targeted beginners. Beginners were overwhelmed when programs targeted advanced beaders. Beaders loyal to one bead shop were at odds with beaders loyal to the other. Wealthier beaders, while not intentional, often, through their behaviors, snubbed those beaders who were not. Beaders who were not wealthy resented those who were, all the while trying to emulate their behaviors – these very same behaviors they had come to resent.

And no one seemed to manage the money. Receipts weren’t kept. Ledgers were incomplete. Officers never got their signatures on the bank accounts. No budgets were developed. No program priorities were set. No strategies for raising funds to cover costs were worked out. No leadership development strategies were in place. For a year, a policy was in place that any program could not lose money, and must have a drop-dead date at which it would be cancelled, if it looked like it would in fact lose money. This policy was short lived, and in the year we separated from the local bead society, they had one money losing program after another, spending a bank account of $8000.00 down to less than $3000.00.

You’re never going to bead a Rogue Elephant if you lose sight of it. It just ain’t gonna happen. You have to plan your strategies to find it, corral it, bead it, and let it go free – displaying a wonderful beaded artistry that will not fall apart.

If this is to be accomplished as a group, this group needs to have certain sensitivities. Our local bead society did not. They did not want any elephants in the room. They did not want to hear about elephants.

So it was no wonder that in the last years of our participation, the bead society, as ever finding its lowest common denominator, began to make us feel very uncomfortable. At the end, it felt that we were witnessing something akin to the rise of fascism in Europe in the earlier part of the 20th century. Participation was restricted. Some businesses and individuals were allowed to join free, and others were not. Policies were dictated to the group. Funds were unaccounted for. History and recall of events were rewritten daily to justify whatever the current ideas, desires and beliefs of the bead society officers. The leadership was particularly dishonest. There was a deep mean streak running through this group of people.

The bead society President had met with me at the beginning of her term. We discussed the society and types of things that she could do.

She expressed concern that more members did not participate. I suggested she look into moving the meetings to a more centrally located place. She did not want to do that.

She was worried that more members did not volunteer to head committees. I suggested she appoint and cajole people. Committees are especially important as ways to groom and replenish new leadership. I suggested she phone each member, identify their specific interests, and assign them to a committee. There would be no option to do nothing. She declined. She said she felt uncomfortable talking with people. Her solution was not to set up any committees.

She believed that participation during meetings made the meetings run too long. I suggested that she could either start the business part of the meeting 30 minutes earlier, or set rules to limit discussion time. But I emphasized how important it was for any organization to encourage participation. She chose to approach the situation differently. She ended all participation, and instead, at each meeting, handed out a list of pre-made decisions regarding policies and programs.

At another meeting several months later, I raised my concerns about the money. No one was keeping track of it. The Society President was putting bead society funds into her personal bank account, spending at will, but not tracking any incoming or outgoing transactions. They were selling things like mugs and T-shirts, but not collecting or reporting state sales taxes. They told a representative of the State Department of Revenue that they were a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, when they were not. Their programs were losing money right and left, and the yet-to-be programs on the schedule appeared to be money losers as well. There were no up-to-date accounting ledgers. The officers seemed to be spending on some lavish gifts for themselves.

Yet again at another meeting, I asked what happened to the education program and the community program as required in our bylaws. A group had been organized to set goals and objectives, but their report had been ignored. We were all told that “they (the officers)” had met and decided to make the society responsive only to the needs of the people who showed up for the meetings. There was no need for an education or community-service plan. I pointed out that their bylaws said otherwise, but that was not of concern to them.

It was at this point in time that I had decided not to rejoin. The society was forcing me to lose sight of my goal – and of my yet-unbeaded elephant.

Things got worse at the society, and I am glad I left. I know a lot of bead society members were glad to see me go. As one wrote in an email:

“Why couldn’t you leave things alone? I don’t care about all these problems. I look forward every month to be with a group of beaders, and that’s more important to me. I’ll never step foot in your store again.”

I don’t know what happened to the bead society over the past many years. The bead society stays away from our store. I don’t ask anyone about them. There most certainly was a big disconnect. Everyone loses in a way. I wasn’t, however, ready to give up my Safari.



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