HOW TO BEAD A ROGUE
…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.|
CURRENT ROGUE ELEPHANT BLOG ARTICLES
THE CENTER FOR BEADWORK & JEWELRY ARTS
A Jewel Of A Design Program
Kill The Elephants!
Forget teaching about Design. Let’s get real. No one wants it. Not really. Beaders and Jewelry Makers just want to have fun. Follow a set of steps, and end up with something. Pick the cheapest clasp. A not-so-durable stringing material. Colors to mimic the picture in the book. Succumb to paying to take One class, and One class only. Or even better, just buy one how-to book.
And here come these Rogue Elephants, pushing their way into and through your craft room. Trampling your beads. Stomping on your works in progress. Spoiling everything you’ve used to organize your mess. Your playroom. Your meditation room. Your respite from the outside world. Your safe place. Aren’t these elephants extinct yet? Send them back to Africa or India or whatever zoo they escaped from.
How dare someone, or some elephant, try to force “design” into your life. Not needed. An onslaught of charging elephants is not what you signed up for. You took the color class, you really didn’t want, and you took the intro to bead weaving class, that wasn’t your cup of tea, and you learned to tie special knots with thread in your bead stringing class, and you could have cared less, and make coiled wire loops, which you don’t have time for.
Moreover, you can never seem to hold the pliers right. You can’t figure out how to wax your thread – pull the bar of wax or pull the thread, you don’t know. And do you twist your wrist clockwise or counterclockwise to make a coiled loop – you can’t remember. One crimp or two, 16” or 18”, sterling or plated, 11’s or 8’s?
Kill The Elephants!
Yet, the whole situation is so bizarre, that you are driven, in spite of yourself, to make sense of it. An elephant in your craft room. You want to scream. You’re angry, yet intrigued. Frustrated, but curious. Wondering Why, but thinking Why Not. That call to design, however feeble and faint, curdles up inside you, driving you mad – that desire for functional beauty, elegance and resonance in jewelry – it’s difficult to bury and push back. So these Rogue Elephants keep coming at you, ubiquitous, powerful, primal and inescapable. They feed on your innermost desires for something more.
How do you stop them?
The Center for Beadwork & Jewelry Arts
A School In Search for Its Muse
At this point in time, I was used to elephants – lots and lots of elephants. All different colors, political persuasions and with various personal Freudian issues. I liked jewelry with a hand-crafted edge. I wanted our customers to like it too. And wanted them to achieve this ability to hand-craft jewelry themselves. With confidence. And creativity. And panache.
My professional training had been in planning and design. While it was health planning and urban design, and although I hadn’t worked in a professional capacity for 20 years, everything I learned seemed very appropriate for jewelry design and beading. But what I saw around me in Bead World – the types of classes taught and the types of books available and the types of articles in beading and jewelry magazines – none of these things seemed quite on the mark. None of them taught about design. None of them challenged the beader or jewelry maker to step out of some very constricted boundaries and rules. None of them seemed to result in teaching beaders a set of transferable skills.
Everything seemed oriented around sets of steps. Buy books with sets of steps. Take classes to learn sets of steps. Take more and more sets of steps. The more steps you complete, the more supposedly you learn. How many steps do you have to climb before you reach the top? But, no matter how many steps you complete, you really don’t learn how to make the kinds of choices you need to make, in order to decide what to include, and what not to include, in your pieces of beadwork and jewelry.
I kept thinking of an idea of a Bead School that provided classes and other learning opportunities more in line with my own professional training in health care and urban design. Not to teach sets of steps. But to teach skills. Not to learn things randomly and at will. But to learn things in an integrated ordering. However, I didn’t have the depth of beading and jewelry making experience to pull this off. It was a BIG project, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take something like this on.
Little beading experience, wants to form School. That would be my talk bubble headline, at the time. The audacity.
Who was I? My motivations were simplistic. I wanted my customers to be more informed. This would make the “selling” process in the store more pleasant, rewarding and interesting. I was literally ANGRY, and very frustrated, that so many of our customers had taken so many classes around town, but still could not really do much on their own. I kept thinking EDUCATIONAL MALPRACTICE. (This phrase came to mind, partly because I had been in health care, and saw so many instances of medical malpractice).
But surely, if you’ve taken 6 bead weaving classes, you ought to know a bit about threads and how to choose among them. If you’ve learned to pearl-knot, surely you know what “bead cord” is, and how to buy it. If you’ve worked through three wire-wrapping classes, surely you were taught what tools you had used, what wire sizes were needed, and how to tuck in that sharp wire end as you finish your piece. Jewelry maker after jewelry maker after jewelry maker had been taught at a local bead store to make loops at the tops of hard-wire head pins by grabbing the end of the pin with the tip of a round nose pliers, and drawing a circle in the air with the pliers, and the wire following. Try it. You end up with a very lumpy, bumpy, hippity-humpy loop. That’s what I mean by Educational Malpractice.
So many experienced beaders would shop in our store, and think that “fire polish” meant “round beads”, or that “fire polish” meant “AB-finish”, or that “black” was a “transparent” color, or that “sewing thread” was the same as “beading thread”, or that 11/0’s were larger than 10/0’s, or that you used crimp beads with thread, or that “stainless steel” was the same as “sterling silver”, or that gold-filled meant plated, and on and on.
People who took class upon class were never taught how to make choices about materials to use. They were taught techniques which were incorrect, and led them to make imperfect pieces. They were clueless about their options. They were either afraid or naïve to the fact that they could question the instructions they read in books, or that their instructors gave them. They stood paralyzed when they entered the shop. Clueless about how to shop the shelves. Unable to make choices among myriad selections of clasps and beads and stringing materials. Wanting to be told what to pick and what to do and how to do it. Impassioned with fear when informed they would have to make a substitution, or somehow otherwise deviate from their instructions or picture in hand. And all this got me angry.
It’s so difficult to wait on customers when they can’t tell you what they want. They can’t clue you into what they need. They beg for pity and sympathy in their quest, then get fuming mad that you can’t help them. It’s much, much, much more fun to work with people as they apply their creative skills and develop intriguing projects in very positive, growing, self-actualizing ways.
I thought we needed to train our customers to be better customers. One way was that we could take a more thoughtful approach to our classes. But I wasn’t sure where to start, or what questions to ask. I had hoped that I could encourage at least one of our regular customers to think about creating a more organized curriculum. For a long time, I wasn’t having much luck. I wasn’t confident that I could take the lead myself. I really didn’t have the time, either.
And there was that headline again -- Little beading experience, wants to form School. I found that people thought I was very presumptuous. That I was treading into areas I had not earned the right to be in. That whatever I did, was too complex – either why bother, or why struggle? That there were enough classes at the other beading shops in Nashville, and there would not be any measurable demand for something different, more involved, more demanding.
Who did I think I was? This situation I found myself in reminded me of Picasso’s drive to create cubism. It took him 10 years to define it well enough, create enough attractive and desirable examples, and get it accepted as a force in art. I had visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain several years ago. Picasso spent his boyhood years in Barcelona. The museum showcased his early-early work through his “blue” period, and up to before the cubism painting style everyone knows him by so well. It showed the development of Picasso’s inner drive to create something great and to be famous.
What the Museum’s story told was that Picasso was basically a shit in search of a reason. Pushy, arrogant, intense. He’d work a color or motif to death. He was intent on fame, or perhaps validation. As a young man, he moved to Paris for awhile, and associated with all the new exciting artists that Paris attracted in the late 1800s, early 1900s. He learned from them, socialized with them, fraternized with them, shared political and artistic views with them, imitated some of their works, and intently developed rules for a new personal artistic style.
At one point, he was determined to create and define a new style of painting. He collaborated with George Braque over 10 years to refine ideas about cubism. At that point, he was discovered, and became the primary focus of cubism as an artistic style.
I don’t mean, in telling the story about our beadwork and jewelry making school, to compare myself to Picasso. The audacity. I don’t think I was a shit. Though I imagine some of the people I worked with thought so. I never thought it would take so long to feel that our program ideas had “clicked.” It took 7-8 years. Or that I would stay the course, despite set-backs and estrangements. Perhaps that’s for posterity to decide, or another writer, like myself, writing about me.
And I didn’t think my efforts would generate such antagonisms or divisions in Nashville. I thought they would either work or fall flat – nothing else.
The School – The Beginnings
One of our friends and customers at the time – Dottie – said that she was interested in this Bead-School idea, and wanted to pursue it. She had the time, motivation, and was a very experienced beader. This was in the late 1990’s. We talked about forming a Community Advisory Committee to do some research and planning. She contacted some other beading instructors in the area, we had some people we wanted to include, and thus we started to see if this kind of idea might be workable. So we started with Dottie, James and myself, as well as Connie, Kate, Julia, and Tammy. Later on we added Linda and Denise.
First, came the research. This group was great at this task. The group spent 1 and ½ years looking at beading and jewelry making training and education across the United States and in Britain. They looked at what was going on in bead stores, in craft stores, at professional associations, in workshops, at trade shows, and in the English Bead Guild. They conducted a few internet surveys to get feedback on things people as students thought worked, and did not work. They reviewed training in other crafts, including knitting, crochet and quilting.
At that time – the late 1990’s -- not many people that we surveyed, no matter where they lived, who took classes or workshops had positive things to say about these. They liked taking workshops and classes. But we asked questions about the learning process. Here the responses were mostly negative. Did they leave the class feeling they could repeat the project? No. Could they apply what they learned to other situations? No. Were the teachers prepared? No. Were teachers clear? No. Did they have written instructions, samples? No. If they had instructions, were the instructions clear? No.
As a group, we began to define the kinds of things that must be taken into account, in order to have an effective training program. We listed names for different interest areas, and decided to separate bead stringing from bead weaving from wire working. We first tried to list all the classes offered in Nashville in each area, and organize this list in terms of what should be taken first and what next and next and so forth.
This exercise did not work very well. So we went back to the drawing board. Kate took the lead here. She decided to list skills that should be learned first, then next, and so forth. She took each major bead weaving stitch – peyote, brick, right angle weave, ndebele, loom – and created ordered lists of skills that someone would need to know, in order to master any of these stitches. This tactic seemed to work, and, as a group, we got much more detailed and expressive of what we thought an ideal training program might look like.
The things we began to elaborate on included:
- Focusing on “skills”, rather than “projects”. Although each class has a project, the purpose of the project is to rehearse the skills taught. The project is not an end in and of itself. It’s a means.
- Beginning with a common set of “core” courses from which the students could branch out to pursue particular interest areas.
- Structuring skills into a developmental hierarchy. Certain skills were more important to learn first, than other skills. Certain skills went together and naturally formed “skill-sets”. The hierarchy of skills/skill sets was similar, (although not exactly the same), across all the different types of bead-weaving techniques, or other types of beading and jewelry making. There certainly was a clear pattern and direction around which we could structure a curriculum.
- Creating a clear “map” showing the interlinkages and interrelationships among all classes, course progressions, skills to master how and when. Teach the core. Then teach the next set of skills, and show how they are linked back to the core. Teach a second set of skills, show how they link back to the first, and then back to the core. And so forth.
- Making each class more even/equal in terms of the skill-sets among students. It was too difficult to teach (and learn) if each class was made up of a wide range of abilities from beginner to advanced, or kids to adults.
- Creating opportunities where the teachers have more than one shot at each student. Or else teachers would try to cover too much in the class, assuming they would only have that one opportunity to impart wisdom
- Requiring that all teachers provide written instructions, as well as physical samples. If a project has more than one stage to it, to provide physical samples showing each stage. Train teachers to present their materials in multiple ways – written, visual and oral.
- Providing student certifications to indicate mastery of a particular stitch or technique
- Providing opportunities for more advanced bead/jewelry making studies, including on-going bead-study groups
Before we further elaborated upon our curriculum, we had to define what we wanted to teach, and we had to be clear about how we wanted teaching to occur.
It was important that students learn skills in context.
- That the connectedness among different types of skills, and different levels, styles and variations of techniques be clearer and more obvious.
- That classes be made up of students with more similar skill and accomplishment levels.
- That students have fun, but at the same time be challenged.
- That teachers be prepared to instruct students utilizing their read, see, hear, and touch senses.
Conceptually, we began to define each class in terms of where it fit along three continuums:
a. Project-oriented (PO) ---- Concept/Design-oriented (CD) ---- Applications-oriented (AP)
b. New to the skill (NEW) ---- Some experience with the skill (INTER) ---- Full knowledge of the skill (ADV)
c. Follows directions, diagrams, patterns (PATTERN) ---- Learns concepts w/simple applications and can expand on directions, diagrams, patterns (CONCEPT) --- Designs and creates projects, including directions, diagrams, patterns (DESIGN)
Thus, beginning classes would be PO, NEW, PATTERN. Intermediate classes would be CD, INTER, CONCEPT. Advanced classes would be AP, ADV, DESIGN. Between each level, this structure enabled us to conceive, structure and evaluate transitional classes, and organize these into coherent progressions. We would conceptualize a particular class in terms of where it fit on the three continua above. We’d score it, based on this fit. The score determined where between Beginning and Advanced, the class should be placed.
Our advisory committee, at least during this research stage, did a very commendable job indeed. And we are very grateful. They were able to set a tone and direction that would serve students well for a long, long time. The committee members were very cooperative with each other. Everyone took on a lot of work, and didn’t slack.
The Advisory Group felt different students would want to get different things out of taking courses. Some would primarily want to learn a lot of different technical skills at a project level -- what we call horizontal development. Others would want to explore a particular skill in more and more depth -- what we call vertical development.
It was from all this thinking that our curriculum program and its courses were derived.
Our fields of study would immerse the student in a series of interrelated and skill-focused courses, which take the student through the processes of technical proficiency, concept-learning, and design and application
If we were students in a college class at some university, the professor would have given us an “A”.
But this was really the calm before the storm.
ROGUE ELEPHANTS PAY ACUTE ATTENTION
WHEN ATTENDING CLASSES
Elephants know it is important to learn techniques in a hierarchical order. When you learn skills randomly, it often shows. Your pieces end up with problems of tension, finishing and control. You might bead for years, and never conquer these issues, because these skills were not learned developmentally. When skills are learned in a developmental order, they are more likely to be integrated into your thinking, thus intuitive. Elephants are very intuitive creatures, and they pass their intuition along to their young in very organized ways.
For bead weaving, the hierarchical order of skills follows this general form and pattern:
1. Holding the needle and thread and an introduction to thread tension
2. Learning a basic stitch
3. Learning to increase and decrease with the stitch
4. Learning tubular and circular variations
5. Learning to split the form or create negative spaces
6. Learning 3-dimensionality with the stitch, and issues of structural integrity
7. Embellishing the piece with fringes, edge treatments and straps or connectors
8. Understanding the stitch in the context of jewelry design principles
9. Understanding the stitch in comparison to other stitches
10. Experimenting with the stitch, including variations in thread tension, choice of beads, colors, textures, patterns, stringing materials, and integration with other stitches within the same piece.
At least, this is how Rogue Elephants learn it.
A lot of great ideas. A LOT of great ideas! The research and planning group had truly done their homework. After a year and a half , there was a lot of positive energy. Dottie said she had spoken with everyone, and everyone was on board. We were ready to go to the next step - Implementation.
And it was at this point that the planning group started to bicker and fight and complain, and the program ideas began to lose their footing. We weren’t talking about Rogue Elephants then, but we should have been.
At the first meeting of our now “Implementation Group”, there was some tension in the air. Yes, Dottie had spoken with each committee member individually. She explained the next steps. She documented each person’s agreement to continue. But Dottie, it turned out, had told each member what each had wanted to hear. Each person’s understanding of the situation was very personal and different. Dottie had created a situation where we were all interacting on the basis of illusions and misplaced expectations. In actuality, there was no group consensus about what we were to do next. Up until this point, no one had to change their views or position, in order to participate.
Dottie herself envisioned the school as a large not-for-profit organization where teachers taught from a design perspective. Teachers would focus on a limited number of skills-based classes. These classes would complement, not compete, with other types of more project-based classes offered by other bead shops around town. She did not see any conflicts of interest having teachers teach for CBJA as well as particular bead stores in town. She wanted to rely on the teachers who already taught at the other bead stores as our core set of instructors. This not-for-profit school would have a formal board of directors. These directors would include representatives from other bead stores, beaders, jewelry makers, and other prominent people in the community.
My idea wasn’t as elaborated. CBJA could either try to become a non-profit or be an appendage to Be Dazzled Beads. To become a non-profit, the people involved would have to have much more commitment and a much more positive commitment, because this would be a very involved path to follow. I did not trust the owners of one store to be involved at all. I felt they were dishonest and would try to harm the idea. I did not see a conflict of interest in teachers teaching at CBJA and elsewhere. I thought CBJA classes would serve to support classes elsewhere, rather than supplant them. I did not want to allow teachers to teach who did not fully support our design approach.
Two members of our group wanted to expand the implementation group and were insistent that we include other store owners, particular the owners of The Beaded Bungalow. Those owners – Phil and Victoria – tended to be, in my opinion, very negative. They felt our new school would threaten their classes, or be associated too much with Be Dazzled Beads, our store. They were at war with our ideas – why include them?
One person who would be teaching some classes said that she would Not have written instructions or project samples. She didn’t believe in these. [This had me falling off my chair because only a few weeks before she had voted to include these things as critical components in the school’s curricular design!]
Two other people, also prospective instructors, indicated that, although they had agreed to teach, they would, in fact, not teach.
Another member questioned the purpose of offering classes in a particular order. [Again, I fall off my chair, because a few weeks ago this person voted to approve what is at the core of our proposal – a developmental sequencing of classes.]
What was going on here? There was such a gigantic disconnect. Was this the same group of people? Weren’t these the same people who had done all that research, and spent all the time breaking up beading and jewelry making into skill-sets, and then sequencing these skill-sets? Weren’t these the same people who had outlined specific classes which would incorporate these skill-sets?
And if people had such widely differing agendas and concerns – unrevealed over 1 ½ years of working together – what about what we were doing kept them together, and now what about what we were going to do next became so divisive? Why had we all agreed on a very specific, elaborated, and extensive program during our research phase? On the surface, it felt like the motivation of all these people to participate was to make sure that nothing came of our efforts. There was no agreement now. Just turmoil.
What makes some ideas thinkable at particular times – and unthinkable at others? For answers, I turned to a higher power. I recalled the work of Thomas Kuhn about the structure of scientific revolutions. The ideas we were working with and the people we were working with seemed to be very much revolutionary. How did ideas get accepted, and made legitimate? Kuhn had some answers, I was sure of it. When I was a professor at Ole Miss, I would lead a graduate study program each year about Kuhn, paradigms, revolutions and science. I thought some explanatory insights would be found in his book.
Kuhn wrote that change does not result from an accumulation of facts. We were experiencing that. We had accumulated a lot of facts, analyzed lots of facts, and made recommendations based on these facts. Yet no change.
Change is not something that is straightforward, or evolves in a straightforward manner. We were experiencing that too. Everything we did seemed like fits and starts, fits and starts, fits and starts. And no change.
Change results – or is squashed – from a set of changing intellectual circumstances and possibilities. And we were experiencing that, as well. We were about to have our whole idea and concept squashed because the circumstances had changed from planning/research to implementation. I, at least, wanted some change, and the possibilities seemed to be fading. Quickly.
Kuhn formulated a concept of “paradigm”. A paradigm was an organized amalgam of thought that is acknowledged as normal, right, correct, basic, foundational, and the like.
In beading and jewelry making, there are at least three paradigms or approaches competing for attention and legitimacy – the Craft Approach, the Art Tradition, and the Art and Design Tradition. Each of these are sets of ideas about how to teach beading, how a person can become a good beader, and what the products of good beading should be like.
Each set of ideas is supported by different constituencies. The Craft Approach is found in most bead stores and all craft stores, most bead societies, most specialized magazines, and most how-to books. The Art Tradition is found at community colleges and universities and most jewelry-design schools, one or two books and magazines, and some bead societies. The Art & Design Tradition – what the Center for Beadwork and Jewelry Arts and our programs are all about – is found at some bead stores, some jewelry-design schools, few books, and some professional beading or jewelry making guilds. It wasn’t until around 2008/2009 that Bead & Button included some short articles about design by Diane Fitzgerald.
Each set of ideas is reinforced and supported by the actions of their constituencies. In the Craft approach, the student follows a set of steps and ends up with something. Bead stores and craft stores sell “steps” in the forms of how-to classes and kits, and most how-to books are written as compilations of sets of steps. Bead magazines run contests in which the winners have projects that can easily be translated into sets of instructions publishable in their magazines. The better beader is one who goes through many steps, so one who takes more and more craft-based classes and buys and works through more and more craft-based books.
In the Art Tradition, the student learns theories of art – like color, pattern, texture, perspective, dimension, etc. – and how to intuitively apply them at each emergent step of the way as a piece is created. The programs that support this approach or paradigm are in the business of selling classes that teach art theories. The better beader is one who learns more and more art theories.
And in the Art & Design Tradition, the student learns strategies for constructing pieces, based on definitions of quality, appeal and function. The programs that support this approach or paradigm are in the business of selling classes that teach this information. The better beader is one who learns this information in a developmental and integrative way.
It’s important to understand the different approaches or paradigms for teaching beading and jewelry making. It’s important to understand where each approach is coming from, so you can understand the advice each gives about what kinds of choices you the beader/jewelry maker need to make. It’s important to understand each approach, because this understanding makes it easier to appreciate the kinds of dysfunctional interpersonal behaviors going on in our advisory groups. And it’s important to understand what each approaches tells and teaches us about Rogue Elephants, their beading and be-jeweling and all that.
Teaching Jewelry Design - 3 Approaches
I’m sure, when you’ve taken classes at different places, that you sometimes come away with some questions, if not concerns. Why didn’t they tell you about such and such stringing materials, or the problems of using one type of thread over another? Why didn’t they more fully explain the directions? What do I need to do next? How can I apply what I’ve learned to other types of projects? Why does one teacher at one shop tell you to do a bead weaving stitch in a different way than the teacher at a 2nd shop?
There are 3 different approaches for teaching “Jewelry Design”. Each approach makes different assumptions about the process of making jewelry and about the skills/ abilities/ and capabilities the jewelry designer will require. If your goal was to bead a Rogue Elephant, each approach would suggest different strategies, techniques, materials and skills-to-bring-to-bear. Designing is about making choices. Each approach gives you different advice.
It’s important to understand how you are being taught and led – that is, where the teacher (or how-to author) is coming from – so that you can appreciate what the teacher is saying and trying to accomplish, and how this may or may not apply to your own goals as a jewelry designer.
THE CRAFT APPROACH
A customer came into the shop. She wanted to buy a pattern book to make a small amulet purse that would hold a credit card. She wanted to peyote stitch part of the purse. Bead-net the bottom. Spiral rope the strap. Bead-embellish the sides. Do a very elaborate fringing, to create leaf patterns in the fringe. And she wanted a single pattern. One in a book. With detailed instructions. When I told her that, for something like that, she would have to invent the pattern herself, she balked. “I don’t want to have to think,” she opined.
A crafter! The example above isn’t a put-down. It’s a fact. Crafters want to have fun. They’re not inventors. They don’t ride elephants. They want to have fun.
When looking for teachers and/or instruction books, by far, the most typically-encountered approach is called the Craft Approach. Here you are taught a set of specific steps to follow in order to complete a very defined project. You might be expected to follow a set of step-by-step instructions in a class or read a pattern in a book. You are not taught how to apply those steps to any other project. You are not taught the consequences for choosing one type of bead or clasp or stringing material over another. You are not provided any kind of evaluation about the steps -- for example, are they clear, well-written, relevant, pertinent, user-friendly?
You find the Craft Approach taught most often in a bead store or crafts store, or as the basis of how-to books. Most bead magazines are written from the craft perspective. These stores (and books and magazines) are in the business of selling classes, books and kits -- basically, selling you "STEPS". If the student has difficulty completing the steps, the Crafts Approach teacher usually suggests going back and re-doing the steps, buying another book of more steps, or taking another class to learn more steps.
Many students enjoy learning from this approach. It's relatively straightforward. It's easy. There's no pressure to create "Art". It doesn’t matter what clasp you pick or what stringing material you pick, or what beads you pick. The only challenge is to finish. You don't have to make a great commitment to the craft. You can concentrate on having fun. “So many kits, so little time….”
The Craft Approach assumes:
1. That you are either born with creative talents or are not. They can’t
be taught in any way.
2. The only thing that matters when stringing is to complete the task.
3. Jewelry is a craft that anyone can do. It is not art.
a. No thought is given about the durability and functionality of the piece, or how, through the choice of parts and stringing materials, the student may enhance this durability and functionality
b. Appeal and beauty are based on simply completing the project – no
matter how it looks or feels or holds up with wear
c. The jewelry artist is taught to start with a set of instructions or a pattern, and follow these mechanically. The teacher is there to pace the class as they move through the steps, and clarify any of the steps, where there is some confusion of interpretation.
d. No concern that the beader truly learn anything. A better beader is one who does more and more steps (that is, follows more and more patterns). In most of the places that teach from a Craft Approach, the primary enterprise is the selling of kits and beads and collecting class fees.
e. Easy to define an acceptable outcome. Easy to respond to a student who says s/he doesn’t understand the directions for the project. Tell them to go back and re-do the steps, or take another class to practice some additional steps. The steps may be incomplete or poorly written. The student may learn better with other techniques than following steps. No matter. Blame the victim! Because the only thing that matters is finishing the steps.
No elephants in the room here.
THE ART TRADITION
A second approach to teaching jewelry design is called the Art Tradition. If you were studying beadwork or other fine crafts at an art school or most jewelry design programs or community college or university, you would probably be taught from the Art Tradition. The Art Tradition believes that you need to learn a set of rules that you can use to apply to any situation where you are making jewelry. Artistic expression cannot be learned as a set of steps. It is less important that you follow a set of steps. It’s more important to know how to apply art theories to your project at each stage of the process, whatever that process is, and wherever that process takes you.
The types of “art theories” or “rules” you are probably most familiar with are those involving color. What colors go with each other? Which colors are “spring” and which are “fall”? There are also rules involving texture/pattern, shape, balance and harmony, distribution of sizes and colors, interplay of light and shadow, perspective, dimensionality, and the like.
These art theories detail what defines successful (and unsuccessful) manipulation of design elements within a piece of art. The Art Tradition, however, very narrowly defines what it considers an acceptable medium for art work. "Jewelry" is understood either as a subset of painting or a subset of sculpture, and subjected to those theories only. "Jewelry" is not seen as its own discipline and medium, with its own special rules, theories, techniques and approaches.
Art, Jewelry Design and Fine Craft programs teach from this perspective because they are in the business of selling classes where they teach art THEORIES. The student is encouraged to learn more and more theories, and to experiment with different ways and strategies for applying them.
The Art Tradition views jewelry as a subset of either painting or sculpture. There need not be special jewelry design classes, per se, because learning theories from painting or sculpture is sufficient. Achieving "beauty" is paramount. What matters most is how successfully the student has incorporated art theories within the final piece -- as it sits on a pedestal or rests on a mannequin.
Thus you see in magazines, galleries and museums, many pieces that are visually stunning, but often not wearable. For example, the bracelet with spikes that would kill the wearer, should she let her arm down; or the ring so tall and top-heavy that would never stay upright on the finger in real life; or the 35 pound necklace that would drag the wearer down by the neck.
What is nice about the Art Tradition, is that the goal is Beauty. The artist is not encumbered by having to follow specific steps or patterns. Nor is the artist encumbered by the structural and functional properties of all the pieces she or he uses -- only their beauty. The artist does not have to compromise Beauty for Functionality.
The Art Tradition assumes:
1. While different people have different creative abilities, everyone has some
creative ability, and can be influenced in how to apply these creative talents.
2. What matters in bead stringing is how you approach the process. If you apply the rules correctly at each step of the way, your end result will be a very beautiful necklace.
3. Jewelry as art is really a form of sculpture or painting, and should be judged by the rules of sculpture or painting. The focus is on how you think through the process. There is no concern about following a set of steps. It doesn’t matter if the jewelry sits on an easel or on a person.
a. While some thought is given about how to choose parts to achieve beauty, little thought is given about durability and functionality of the piece, or how, through the choice of parts and stringing materials, the student may enhance this durability and functionality
b. The beauty of the piece is as if it had been painted or sculpted. This is
c. The jewelry designer is taught to start with a palette of colors and textures. She or he can either follow a set of steps, or let the project emerge intuitively. The teacher is there to “reality-test” – did the artist apply all the rules of art theory at each step or point along the way? Could the artist have made different choices about art theories and their applications?
d. The beader should focus on the process of making jewelry. More insights about the process (meaning how to apply rules of art theory) makes a better beader.
e. An acceptable outcome is one that is beautiful and appealing. It doesn’t matter what specific steps you went through to create your jewelry. It matters how well you applied the rules of art theory. It doesn't matter if the piece would hold up or wear well, as it is worn.
Some corralled or more tame elephants in the room, perhaps circus elephants or those in a zoo. At least elephants which are very patient with the artists who are trying to capture them, and have them pose.
THE ART AND DESIGN TRADITION
A third approach to jewelry design is what we teach at Land of Odds, Be Dazzled Beads and The Center For Beadwork & Jewelry Arts – the Art and Design Tradition. This approach isn’t widespread. This approach began in Schools of Architecture.
These Schools of Architecture originally were “Departments of Architecture” in Schools of Art. Their students were initially taught in the Art Tradition. They designed and built buildings and bridges, without thinking about and dealing with how people, cars, the weather, and the surroundings and context interacted and were mutually interdependent with, with-in and with-out these buildings and bridges.
These buildings and bridges often turned out to be “failures”. People couldn't find the entrances, or the elevators. Buildings, like one in lower Manhattan, were set on vast plazas that people were afraid to walk across. Ultra-modern buildings were set in the middle of historical districts. Buildings suffered the fates, such as when the John Hancock Tower in Boston lost all its window panes to the winds, or, in the high-rise apartment building in Chicago, where residents replaced the installed white drapes with those of various colors, and ruined the outside aesthetic. Bridges, like one in Tacoma, Washington, undulated in the wind and collapsed, or other bridges that had to be closed to small cars for fear of them blowing off. Aesthetics were more important than functionality and usability and workability and durability and environmental fit and appropriateness. Buildings and bridges were judged as models sitting on a table, or three-dimensional images depicted on a computer screen.
"Departments of Architecture” rebelled, and became "Schools
of Architecture”. And hence, a new teaching philosophy – Art and
Design – was born. Design was merged with Craft was merged with Art.
The focus became teaching design principles and their applications. Some of these design principles are applied in similar ways to all art forms, such as painting and sculpture, no matter what the medium. For other principles, architecture (and in our case, jewelry) creates its own challenges, because all architecture (and by extension, jewelry)
- functions in a 3-dimensional space, particularly sensitive to position, volume and scale
- must stand on its own as an object of art
- but must also exist as an object of art which interacts with people (and a person's body), movement, personality, and quirks of the user (wearer), environment and context
- serves many purposes, some aesthetic, some social and cultural, some psychological
The Art and Design Tradition believes that you teach steps, like in the Craft
Approach, and you teach rules, like in the Art Tradition, but that you approach
teaching and learning from a developmental perspective. That means, that certain
steps and rules should be learned before others, and that continual learning
keeps building upon itself. The focus is on the process of construction, so
a lot of attention is paid to all the parts, and how they should be chosen,
how they should/could and shouldn't/couldn't be used, what happens to them over
time, and how they may or may not be integrated within the whole.
The Art and Design Tradition is very relevant for the education and training of jewelry designers, as well. Here, the Jewelry Artist is seen as a multi-functional professional, similar to an engineer who designs and builds bridges. The jewelry designer must bring a lot of very different kinds of skills and abilities to bear, when constructing a piece of jewelry. The professional has to be able to manage artistic design, functionality, and the interaction of the piece with the individual as well as that person's environment. This approach also believes that “Jewelry as Art” should be appreciated as its own discipline – not a part of sculpture or painting. And that Jewelry can only be understood as Art as it is worn.
The Art and Design Tradition assumes:
1. Everyone has creative abilities, but for most people, these need to be carefully
groomed and attended to. Expressing creativity is not a matter of turning a
switch on and off. It’s a process that can be influenced by ideas and
situations. The challenge is to teach people to become more intuitive in expressing
their creative abilities and ideas.
2. What matters in bead stringing is that your project be judged as a work of art. In this case, the definition of “art” is specific to jewelry and its design, in anticipation of how it will be worn.
3. Jewelry can only be understood as “art” as it is worn. This means that the wearer’s own body, clothing, hairstyle influences the sense of the piece as art. The context influences this sense. How the jewelry moves when the wearer moves influences this sense. How the wearer, as well as any viewer, feels and thinks about the piece, when worn, influences this sense.
a. This approach focuses on design issues. Functionality, wearability, durability, context, movement are all key considerations in selecting parts and interrelating these parts in a design. Very concerned with how you select parts and materials.
b. The beauty of the piece involves it’s construction, it’s lay-out,
it’s consistency with rules of art theory, and how it holds up (physically
and aesthetically) as it is worn. The focus is on how you organize your construction,
piece by piece. The beader needs to bring many talents to bear in order to achieve
a successful outcome. Here the beader is similar to an architect or engineer,
with bits of artist, anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist, planner and
marketer thrown in for good measure.
c. The jewelry designer is taught to start, not only with a palette of colors and textures, but a palette of parts and components, as well. She or he approaches the project in an orderly fashion, where the choices to be made are strategically ordered. The teacher is there to raise questions about choices to-be-made and choices made – to help clarify.
d. More experiences – especially learning skills developmentally – are required to be a better beader. You learn how skills and techniques are interrelated. You start with a core set of skills. Then you build upon these, and learn how to link your new set of skills to the core. You learn the next set of skills, and link them back to the second set, and link them back to the core.
e. An acceptable outcome is one where the piece of jewelry maintains a sense of itself as art, as the piece is worn.
Watch out for the Rogue Elephants, especially if they start to stampede.
Where the Craft Approach is systematic, and
the Art Tradition methodical,
the Art and Design Tradition is systemic.
Each Teaching approach has its own traditions, rituals and adherents. And, apparently, it’s very difficult for anyone to break with tradition. It’s difficult to see another point of view. Or acknowledge it. Or study it. Or empower yourself to step out of your box for a bit.
I think this was at the root of most of our problems. Most of our group were “crafters” and a couple were “artists”. Probably just two of us were “designers.” We were asking our people to shift paradigms, and as Kuhn writes, your ideas have to be sufficiently unprecedented to attract enough people from competing approaches and to keep their attention long enough, so that they can redefine themselves in comfortable, predictable and controllable ways – and change their thoughts and ways. At the beginning we used many similar words to describe our developing educational apparatus. But as our ideas gelled, these words took on many different meanings for each person at the table. We were losing it. I plodded the group on.
The audacity. And do you have to be a Picasso-type person to get this done?
I used to live in Mississippi for awhile. One of my friends was a gentleman in his 70’s. Ralph had grown up in Oxford, Mississippi, moved away for 40 years after college, and had been a physician in Manhattan. When he retired, he returned to Oxford. It was at that point I met him. In Oxford, he worked as a physician in several mental health and primary care centers, helping the poor, primarily black, population. He tutored three black adults in his home several times a week, teaching them to read. He was very vocal about protecting human rights and dignities.
Yet, one New Year’s Eve, he was very distraught and upset. A black physician and his wife were going to attend one of the local society’s New Year’s Eve Ball. “That just wasn’t done,” he told me. There had never been a black couple who had attended. And he didn’t think it was right. It violated tradition. “I wish they had never done this,” he complained. I would never have thought that Ralph had a racist bone in his body. But when confronted with “tradition”, he became a very different person. Their attendance would be very disruptive, and bring up all kinds of buried thoughts and tales and actions. Not a way Ralph wanted to bring in the New Year in Oxford, Mississippi.
In a similar, but much less dramatic, example, was the time my mother decided NOT to make turkey, stuffing, yams, dressing and cranberry sauce for a Thanksgiving dinner she was having for a dozen of her friends and another dozen of her relatives. She decided to go with veal, stuffed with a lamb and wild rice dressing, a pasta dish, and a fruit compote. The food was delicious, but very few people touched the food on their plates. Their faces and mouths were frozen in horror. This just wasn’t done. On Thanksgiving. To them. Or anyone else. They wouldn’t do this to anyone. And even though the smells were wonderful, they couldn’t possibly let anyone else there know that they were nothing less than horrified.
What a disaster. My mother’s shameful Thanksgiving. And what could people say afterwards, as they left? Nothing really. Just a quick exit. No one said “Let’s do this again next year.” And all left with some mad and scrambling strategy for finding some Turkey. This year. Now. Somewhere. Some place. So, when their friends asked them how their Thanksgiving was, they could respond in some very traditional, yet very reassuring way, that it was fine. They had had Turkey. And the fixin’s. And stuffing. There was the usual conversation and arguments at the table. What mama did, and how aunt Gert upset Cousin Edie, was the same this year, as the last, and the year before that. They needed to say these things. Every year. At the same time. To the same people. Thanksgiving. That’s the way it was done.
Jewelry artists and beaders get caught up in their traditions, as well. It’s hard to break out of the mould. But occasionally, you need to, if you want to grow and develop as a successful jewelry designer. I know this now, but I didn’t know that then.
CBJA most decidedly comes from the Art and Design Tradition. It does not support a craft-orientation to training, where the student merely learns a set of steps to complete a particular project. It’s more focused on functionality and its interplay with beauty, not beauty alone, as is the Art Tradition. But, many of the courses and training provided still acknowledge the Craft and Art Traditions, because CBJA needs to attract and retain students. And most students, either are unfamiliar with the Design Approach, or are wedded to the Craft or Art approaches, and don’t necessarily look for courses and training embedded in and infused with the Design Approach.
More Goings On At CBJA
Let’s get real. Beading and jewelry making education must take a design approach, if it’s ever to achieve the status of hand-craft as art. It’s got to get beyond simple functions as adornment. It’s got to get beyond something to play at. Jewelry has got to be judged, not as it sits on an easel, but as it is worn, acceptably and adequately meeting the needs of both wearer and viewer. And each piece of jewelry must resonate with the personality, sensitivity and skill of the designer, designing in context and with purpose. We need to let those Rogue Elephants come into our craft rooms so we can bead them.
So, the question for me was how do we find a tool or weapon big enough to push beaders and jewelry makers into design? The problem is big, the resistance intense, and the solution largely unrecognized and unsupported and insufficiently unprecedented. Our Center for Beadwork & Jewelry Arts was a product-driven idea, rather than a market-driven one. We had ideas in search of students, not students in search of our ideas. We had teachers ill-prepared and unmotivated to teach in a different way. Perhaps this doomed it from the beginning.
So, we were at the point where we had delineated a very elaborate program of skills-based classes and the fee-structure and administrative structure to support it. Our plan looked great on paper. We thought we had lined up our teaching staff. We thought marketing our program to potential students was a slam-dunk. And we were off on what we thought was a clear path in our search for Rogue Elephants.
Implementation: The Melt-Down
As we continued our voyage, the Advisory Group role changed from planning to implementation, and things began to break down. This surprised me. I had thought that everyone would value and want a more professional training program, and want to see it get off the ground. I thought everyone wanted to search for their Rogue Elephant. That was not the case, however. People were very rooted in the Craft Approach to teaching. They made their reputations that way – in Craft. They made their money that way – in Craft. They identified their power, rank and status in reference to how various bead stores implemented the Craft Approach – yes, in Craft. Our approach would rip all this away from them.
Again, one teacher and member of the committee suddenly informed everyone that she was not going to write up instructions or provide samples in the classes she taught. She had never done this, and didn’t see the need for it. Where did that come from? Another member said she wouldn’t teach any classes unless other bead store owners were added to our advisory group. Yet another member – another teacher – said she only wanted to teach a couple of courses she personally liked. She did not want to teach a whole curricular track. She wasn’t interested in working with anyone through the whole skills-based progression.
Another teacher made extra money teaching a pearl knotting class, and selling supplies afterward. She had a supplier of bead cord and needles, and she repackaged these with her business name on them. From a Design perspective, these were not the optimal choices, but she was very upfront that she was not going to tell students there were other types of bead cord or needles that they could buy, and she was not going to stop selling what she was selling.
As an intellectual exercise, planning a Bead School was fun. Everyone got a chance to think aloud how things ought to be. They got to see how all the pieces of a broad curriculum would fit together – like solving a giant puzzle. They gained a lot of personal insight into their own strengths and weaknesses as beaders or jewelry makers. They talked out loud with the group how various instructors, workshop leaders and books along the way, not only influenced them artistically, but affected both their strengths and weaknesses with skills and techniques.
But implementation meant re-defining who in the community might end up competing with whom, and who might step on whose toes, and all these political considerations and changes were too much to overcome.
I think our new style of teaching would also have exposed these people to a public test of what they really knew and could do, or didn’t know or could not do. They didn’t want to end up in this situation. The Craft Approach would never put them in this type of situation, to begin with. Nor did these instructors want to learn another approach -- how to teach in a different way than they were already doing.
Rather than work to shift paradigms, people became very shifty instead.
It Was Difficult To Attract Teachers.
At first, I was under the general impression, a mistake as I was to find out later, that our new group of teachers seemed very willing to meet our high “teacher standards,” including creating written instructions and physical samples. We began with about 12 teachers, and this number of instructors has been very consistent, even today. We saw the teacher as an Artist-Teacher of Art and Design – thus, teaching insights, how to make choices, and a “vocabulary and grammar” of beading and jewelry making.
We did not see the teacher as Artist-Artist. Achieving beautiful pieces alone
was necessary but not sufficient. Nor did we see the teacher as Artist-Teacher
of Crafts – that is, we did not want the teacher merely to teach a pattern
or set of steps. All our new teachers seemed to understand and agree with our
general approach. We met with the teachers as a group once every month.
In reality, however, most of the teachers had a shallow commitment to this big endeavor. Most of them refused to teach with fewer than 2 students. There was a lot of attitude and short-sightedness here. Several felt that they were too good, too experienced, too established as a bead artist, to settle for fewer than 2 students. I explained to them that all this is new. The program did not have a history in the community. Potential students were not used to having to take classes in a general order, or to have to take more than 1 class to learn a technique. “Word-of-mouth” was the best marketing, I kept telling them, and there would be no word-of-mouth if teachers kept canceling their classes because of under-enrollment.
This was definitely stating the obvious. For those teachers willing to work with one student at a time, they began building up a following. Within a year, they filled most of their classes with 2-3 students and more. For those teachers unwilling to teach one student at a time, people stopped asking about their classes, because the reputation was that these classes were always cancelled. But this situation made the program seem like a program with missing teeth.
Most teachers wanted to make a lot of money and make it immediately. They felt their community status was getting compromised if they were not paid at the rates national-rated teachers get. I tried to explain to our teachers that they needed to recognize the difference between workshops (done by national-rated teachers) and classes (offered by local teachers).
In workshops, they could command a higher rate, but there were fewer guarantees that they would be able to schedule more workshops. In classes, while the going instructional rate was less, these were more likely to be regular, and easier to fill on a continuing basis. It’s the same as the difference between consultants and full-time employees – consultants make a lot more, but it’s harder to keep the cash flow going year-in and year-out. Full-time employees get paid on a regular basis.
I required each teacher to organize their classes into a hierarchy. That meant that they had to define the classes they wanted to teach as teaching “skill sets”. Then they had to rank which skill-sets should be taught before the others. And then they had to evaluate whether the Project they wanted to teach, actually was the best way to teach a particular skill set. They had to set learning objectives. They had to specify what skills the student should have at the beginning of the class, and what additional skills the student would have, after taking the class. They had to have a written set of instructions, and a class description. They had to provide a detailed supplies list.
Several teachers balked. Those who did not ended up with a much stronger, more coherent, and more attractive set of classes.
Many teachers refused to write instructions. Some felt it was giving too much information away to the students. Others felt that “artists” should not have to write instructions. I conveyed to each teacher that I would help them write and edit these instructions, but this offer often fell on deaf ears.
A few teachers would let me know a few days before a scheduled class that they decided to raise their minimum enrollment, even for the class about to happen. One teacher that had 2 enrolled in a class on a Saturday told me on the previous Wednesday that she required a 3 student minimum. On that Wednesday afternoon, I found a 3rd student, and informed the instructor. On Thursday, she emailed me that she really meant a minimum of 4 students. She wouldn’t be coming; I had to cancel the class. So typical.
There Were Too Few Students To Teach.
Almost everyone who inquired about classes wanted to make particular projects NOW. They didn’t want to have to wait to take 1-2 other courses before they could make the project they wanted to make. “What can I do after taking one class?” a student Leo asked over and over again, impatient to learn it all. All at once. Everything. To perfection. And sale-ability. Couldn’t wait for two classes. Or three. Or four. Must get it all now, in the first class. Everything.
Since students could always go around the corner to another bead or craft store and take that project at will – no matter what the skill level or the specific skills involved, or their previous experience, or lack thereof. They did not understand our “professional model”, and were too busy and uninterested to want to think about it. Let alone read about it. Let alone start pursuing classes about it.
Plus, I required more experienced students to start at the beginning of our sequence. It had become obvious that even more experienced beaders and jewelry makers needed to relearn and rehearse skills and concepts in sequence, to make better sense of them and better use of them. Not a popular position, particularly when we were trying to get our program off the ground.
A lot of potential students only wanted to make one piece of jewelry in their lives, and that was it. They just want to have fun. They were generally uninterested in discovering that excitement that comes from the process of discovery, the strategy of construction, and the beauty of the finished piece. They were generally uninterested in taking the time to pursue more in-depth study. They assumed that it’s easy to bead or make jewelry, and that there was nothing to learn beyond putting beads on threads or string or cable wire. Nothing more to learn beyond that first project. Nothing more to learn beyond that first class. One class will do.
And we had no word-of-mouth – no sufficient number of students out there extolling the virtues of taking classes from us and taking classes in our Art & Design Tradition. We were asking the general public to give us more of their time and attention, and trust in our ideas, which had not been community tested, rather than take the same entitled class at one of our competitors down the street.
Starting Again With A New Advisory Group
We were off to a bad start. This first wave of implementation bogged us down. I couldn’t figure out, with our current cadre of teachers and the difficulty and expense of getting students to find us, what to do.
“Disappointment” is a mild term for what I was feeling. I was crushed. Embarrassed. Humiliated. I felt this now going on 2+ years of activity was a big failure. Uncommitted teachers. Few interested students. And the tone of all the bickering and back-biting of our Advisory Group was getting very negative and personal.
Things were getting very reminiscent of my time working as a health policy planner for the State of Tennessee. Government is an interesting environment to work in. You are never fully aware of everything going on. This is functional, in that, if anything goes wrong, you can’t be blamed. You are not privy to the full story. You are never fully in charge. No one is. So no one can be blamed. There’s a lot of gossiping, back-biting, mis-information. And you don’t know who has started any of this. Accomplishing anything in this environment, at least anything from beginning to end, is very difficult, perhaps somewhat impossible.
When I was hired by the State, one of the main projects I was working on was about the health effects associated with living near a toxic waste site (Superfund sites). I was given a set of statistical analyses to do by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. I felt, given the very small numbers data we would be dealing with – parts per billion and smaller -- , these particular statistical tests would not do. Given the small numbers, all these tests would likely come up with the result that it was NOT hazardous to live next to a hazardous waste dump. I suggested some alternative, though not mainstream, statistical analyses (called nonparametric statistics), which would not be affected by using such small numbers. Thus, they would still be scientific, but not biased toward a particular outcome.
I mapped out the State of Tennessee into 7 square mile blocks, and the zips codes residing in those blocks. I combined data sets of people data, environmental data, health and medical data. I applied my nonparametric statistics. And in the area around New Johnsonville, Tennessee, the statistics showed a 300% higher rate of abnormal pregnancy outcomes – infant mortality, mothers deaths, premature babies, stillborns and the like, than what would be predicted from the State of Tennessee’s experiences alone. Only one other area in the State came up as a potential problem zone, but nothing to the extent of New Johnsonville. And New Johnsonville was the location of a Superfund hazardous waste site.
I presented my findings to my immediate supervisor, and she shared them with the CDC. Two CDC professionals, with the Center for Environmental Health, were rapidly dispatched to Nashville. They met with the two of us. “Stop our research,” they ordered. “Use their analyses,” they demanded.
I explained that their analyses would not be sensitive enough, to evaluate the problem. We did find a potential problem in New Johnsonville. According to our contract with them, the next step would be to investigate. The area was rural. The problem could be due to a lousy doctor, or a nursing failure, or many other reasons other than hazardous waste. The reliability of our health and environmental data could have been faulty. And they were the Centers for Disease Control. Wasn’t their job to want to find out things like this and explore further?
“No!” they said. “Stop this research!” They left.
Afterwards, I told my boss that they were asking us to cover up our findings. She said, “Cover them up.” I said, “You can’t use ‘professional’ and ‘cover up’ in the same sentence.” She said, “Yes, you can.”
And now we had a Governmental dilemma. Two many facts had leached out. Too many people knew too many facts. We had to re-obscure things.
My boss spoke with the Commisioner of Health & Environment. He needed to know some facts, but not too many, should he be forced to act, and should his subsequent actions not prove successful. Or, should he not be forced to act, then he needed fewer people to know of the possibilities of our potential public health problem.
Government achieves obsfucation – the general stupefying, mystification, bewildering of everything – by limiting what each person knows, and when they knew it.
I met with the Commissioner. He wanted to know if I could state with 100% certainty that there was a problem. I explained that these were statistical analyses, and I could not. Further investigation would be needed. “So, if I ordered an epidemiological investigation, and a reporter asked me why, I could not say with certainty.” He went on to say, “So, therefore, I do not want to know that there is a problem until you can tell me with 100% certainty. Understood?” What could I say, but “Yes, sir.” I left.
And the following events occurred, or at least I think they occurred, because I was only present at some of them, and was only told bits and pieces by many different people, to get a full story.
ONE: Dupont had a deep-injection-well in New Johnsonville, down which they had disposed of hazardous chemicals for years.
TWO: Someone on our staff, but not involved in this research project, came back from lunch one day – the day after my meeting with the Commissioner -- all excited. She was eating lunch, and a woman at the next table struck up a conversation with her. They apparently had a great conversation and some professional woman to professional woman bonding. The woman asked all about what Joan did in our office, what kinds of projects we were working on, what kinds of health issues we were focusing on, who else worked in the office, what were their backgrounds, and on and on. The woman at the next table was a lawyer with Dupont.
THREE: A few days later, the Commissioner met with representatives from Dupont. I was told that they discussed the situation in New Johnsonville. The Dupont people admitted that the well had been cracked for many years, and that hazardous waste had been leaching into the aquifer. The Dupont people indicated that they would fix the problem immediately. At least I had been told that this is what was discussed.
FOUR: The next day, the Assistant Commissioner of Environmental Health in the Department of Health & Environment, resigned. I was told he took a consulting position with Dupont. Don’t know this for a fact. I assume he was made aware of the problem by Dupont years ago, but did not act on this information.
FIVE: I started hearing from Vital Statistics that they were questioning my methodology, at least part of it. Someone from the Environmental Health office told me that he had sent up some bad data, which I had used in my analysis. Someone from another division told me he would not have the staff resources to validate some data – data I wasn’t using, so why the call? I received several other weird calls from people I did not deal with, or have much to do with, questioning one thing or another, or telling me about other people who had questioned what I had done.
SIX: My immediate boss and I were summoned to Atlanta to the CDC, Center for Environmental Health. In the morning, we met with the CDC, CEH Director. He scolded my boss vociferously for 20 minutes, calling her every name in the book. Very unpleasant. At that point, I chirped in that his name-calling was very unprofessional. He told me to “Shut-up”, and continued berating my boss.
He then led us into a conference room. Present were other CDC’ers in the CEH, along with a woman transcriptionist. It was her job to write down every word spoken at this meeting. This meeting went on for hours. One of the CDC folks went over to a white-erase board, and outlined the statistical analyses they wanted us to do. I explained again, that these were unreasonable methods, given the goal. He went back to the board. I reiterated my concerns. And back to the board. He was just out of luck – I knew my stuff. A “won’t-work method” will never trump a “might-work method”.
Then some more cursing from the various CDC folks. Shouting. Cursing. We were ordered to stop investigating New Johnsonville. My boss told them it was a State issue now. We did not come to an agreement. The end of the day came, and the meeting ended abruptly without resolution. We drove back to Nashville.
My boss and I did not speak much on the return trip. Nothing made much sense. The CDC contract employed 8 people. What to do? What to do?
She drove me to my apartment. “Polly,” I said, “There’s something very wrong here, and we need to get out of the situation. As a man,” I continued, and I knew that phrase as a man would get under her skin, “I would turn the contract back into them.”
SEVEN: The next day, Polly did just that. She spoke with the Commissioner of our department. He told her he’d find other money to keep everyone employed. And she called the CDC CEH Director, and cancelled our contract.
What a blow-up! You would expect that their first reaction would have been, “Thank God!” They’d be rid of us, finally. Or if they wanted us to stay with the program, then some response that was more pleading or empathetic or sympathetic, to try to get Polly to change her mind. But it was that same shouting, cursing, accusing that we had experienced in Atlanta. All during the day, one person or another from the CDC would call Polly. Sometimes they would shout and curse. Othertimes, they would try to influence and persuade.
The same thing the next day.
And the next day.
Polly’s defenses were breaking down. I advised her, “Don’t cave in.” I explained that this was very odd. They didn’t like us. They, for some reason, feared our research approach. They could very easily find someone in one of the other 49 states to take on the grant, and do it the way they wanted. Why were they so hell-bent on getting us to take the grant back? She said she would continue to wait to see what happens.
On the following day, Polly got a call from the Contracts Division at the CDC. He politely asked to hear the story of things that had happened, and why we were returning the grant. He explained to her, and now I’m hearing this from Polly’s account, that when a grant is turned back, this precipitates an audit. The audit found that the CDC CEH had skimmed off about $1,000,000 of money that was supposed to go to the State of Tennessee. They weren’t supposed to do that.
Polly was very emboldened.
From another researcher, and again I’m hearing this from Polly telling me, it seems that the CDC did not want to spend the Superfund money to clean up hazardous waste sites. They wanted to have a study that showed that living near a hazardous waste site was not hazardous to your health. The weaker statistical analyses would have gotten them that study.
EIGHT: Months later, and after the time when I had left my state job, the State of Tennessee sent in nurses and epidemiologists into New Johnsonville to study the problem. I don’t know what their methods or methodology were. They did not find anything.
Luckily, I was able to maneuver myself out of State Government, and into another job. You get battered from all sides. You hear only partial accounts, and get partial information, upon which you have to make decisions about what to do next. It begins to feel you have no allies, and that everyone is against you, whispering about you, telling you lies, steering you to the wrong places. And there is a dirty feeling. A lot of dishonesty. A lot of politics for the sake of politics, and a missing of the boat – the reason why we’re all working here in the first place.
And that was how our advisory board and our teachers committee were beginning to feel. Innuendo. Lies. Hidden agendas. Needs for retribution, revenge, conflict. The whispering campaigns. The inability to determine who said what when. The feelings you have no friends or allies. That everyone is turning against you. Using your words and actions to undermine you. A lost sense of goal and purpose. More and more contradictions, difficult to make sense of.
So, to avoid going down a similar path, as I had done with hazardous waste, New Johnsonville, and the CDC, I had to act. I disbanded this advisory group who had done the planning and research, and reconstituted another to do the implementation. I would see if a new advisory group could carry our ideas to the next stage.
This reconstituted new “Implementation Advisory Committee” worked well for awhile. We were able to define specific classes, find teachers for them, and schedule them. We began offering classes in 2000. We began scheduling classes, and trying to market these to the broader community.
We tried to work with and guide our group of teachers. These teachers met once a month as a separate committee of about 12 members. Unlike the current Advisory Committee, this teachers’ group was very dysfunctional. There was that ever-present desire on the part of many to disrupt the whole program and have it fail. They wanted to take our noble ideas and make them conform to the Craft model. The Craft model was easy, unthreatening, lucrative, and easily marketable. There was no pressure on teachers to do a good job in teaching. All they had to do was see to it that the group of students had fun and completed something. If a student didn’t get the project, so be it. Tell them to take another class.
Four of the teachers decided to create a list of demands for the board. They wanted a contract. They wanted to get paid immediately after teaching a class. They wanted guarantees of payment for 3 students per class, whether 3 enrolled or less. They wanted our new program to pay for all the supplies they used to develop samples and projects. And a few other things.
I explained that we were too new to be sufficiently organized to deal with contracts, and all the accounting it took to keep up with their demands. I pointed out that we always paid every teacher on the day they taught their classes. If we had to get more formal and add more accounting requirements, this would probably result in delays in cutting checks. No one had never gotten paid on time. Why make an issue of it? We did not have the monetary resources to guarantee minimum payment for classes, or reimbursement for supplies. We did offer a steep teacher discount on supplies, however.
Again, why make issues about anything at all, at this point? Why were so many teachers, who had been teaching awhile, resistant to leaving the Craft Approach, and trying something new?
At one teachers’ meeting, our functioning “implementation advisory board” asked the teachers to think about doing more self-promotion and “marketing” (with a little “m”). Things that didn’t cost any money, but were thoughtful things to do. These included things like,
- putting the program’s name on business cards and resumes
- telling their students about other classes they could take in the program; pointing out where the skills in this class can be applied in other classes or situations.
- telling friends, acquaintances, etc. about the program
- putting their work on display, including class projects or other things they might have done, even pieces for sale
- maintaining snail mail and email lists of students who take their classes, and notifying them when the teacher is offering additional classes, or related workshop events are coming up
- networking with other teachers, and generally being aware of what other teachers are teaching
- assisting at bead shows where CBJA might have a booth
- maintaining an up-to-date profile with photo on the CBJA web-site
Well, we ended up with a small riot on our hands. The majority of the instructors were personally offended that we asked them to do any kind of marketing – with a little “m” or a big “M”. They did not see their role as extending beyond providing instructions within a single class.
Three of the teachers refused to put their class projects on display. They didn’t want people to copy them. They didn’t want to physically let them out of their sight and possession. And these were the projects they were supposedly going to teach other students to do.
There was a lot of tension. We hadn’t even been offering classes for more than a year. If I had tried to organize a Safari, at this point in time, – (and I would Not have been successful) – to go find Rogue Elephants, these teachers would have gone out and shot the beasts, rather than try to bead them.
There was one final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
The disaffected teachers conducted a very pernicious whispering campaign. They convinced most of the advisory board members that they were going to take a hike, if their original list of demands were not met – contracts and payment guarantees foremost among them. The board panicked, and wanted to give these teachers everything they asked for.
I polled all our teachers individually to get their views on the situation. Many were unaware of what was going on. A few were aware, but did not want to say anything one way or the other.
I called a special retreat of this advisory board. I explained how, at this very beginning of the program, there was not enough money or staff to follow through on these demands. Since we paid people right away, and worked within the terms each teacher wanted, not necessarily what we wanted, these demands were non-issues. All fee schedules and enrollment requirements were those set by the teacher herself. We worked and lived within those parameters.
I very carefully laid out for this group a set of goals and priorities that would have to occur, should this Center For Beadwork & Jewelry Arts continue to develop as a big idea, one eventually self-sufficient in content and business organization. The board members, if we were to continue in this direction, would need to be willing to follow through with several tasks, with the additional task of fund-raising. And because the tasks would require additional expertise, we would have to expand the board over the next several months.
At the meeting, every advisory board member agreed. But two days later, board members and instructors were back to bickering. The discordant teachers, led by Tammy and Denise, hounded and frightened the board members. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there were many emails and phone calls back and forth. By the following Monday, we were back to where we had been before the retreat. I had had enough.
As I had previously done with the original planning group, I disbanded this implementation advisory board, as well. Dramatic. Necessary.
I also let all the teachers go, giving them an option to re-apply to teach here, if still interested. A few reapplied.
I gave up on the big idea of a school with a capital “S”. I decided to create an educational and school-like program with a small “s”, and follow the general educational principles that so many people – ironically, no longer a part of the project -- had spent so much time researching and figuring out for CBJA. I decided to give up on the idea of skills-certifications. And I decided to run the operation myself. No more “advisors”. Any teacher had to follow my rules, with little discussion, and they could work within the rules or teach somewhere else. Simple. Yes. Audacity? Maybe.
Our educational program idea sure generated a lot of controversy. Friendships broke apart. Relationships ended. People took sides. Very ugly. I didn’t get it. The ideas seemed pure of heart, well thought out and reasonable. But obviously not.
I wanted to continue with these ideas, even by myself. I liked our educational ideas. It was a challenge to try to make them real. I liked the challenge. People could take all kinds of craft-approach-classes in all kinds of stores and programs in the area. I didn’t need to duplicate those efforts. The craft needs of the local student market were already getting met. I wanted to concentrate on the challenge we had laid out before us – a professional training model for beadwork and jewelry making – an art and design orientation.
For the first few years, it wasn’t totally “Suppose you gave a war and nobody came”, but close. Hardly anybody came. Few people wanted to take a string of classes. Most only wanted to take one class, come out with something they could wear, and have some fun.
I had difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers. It was difficult to get teachers to teach the design approach. I had James start teaching more and more of the classes. I started to teach many of the classes myself.
As I watched those few students we were able to initially attract, working their way up through our curriculum, it was very obvious and reassuring that our educational ideas and objectives were on the mark. The learning objectives clearly worked. We didn’t have to worry about the elephant in the room getting bored, or distracted, or sitting staring off into the distance. The elephant was most assuredly learning to strut his stuff.
Macy’s brought in a line of designer jewelry with the label “Genuine Glass”. Whether this was to distinguish this line from their bevy of plastic jewelry necklaces and bracelets, or something to justify the $200+ price tags, we’ll never know.
But I’ve always thought of department stores as having the worst designed and constructed jewelry for sale – and always at outrageous prices. Department store buyers and department store customers want a LOOK. Nothing else matters. They are clueless about quality, finishing or functionality.
And for that reason, there are no Rogue Elephants in department stores, except for that freak occasion, that blue moon, that once-in-a-misstep chance. And should a Rogue Elephant, by these mistakes, find himself there, he’ll quickly run away.
Back To Revolution
The road to consensus was extraordinarily arduous. Perhaps it was never meant to be followed to the end. But it really was no different or less arduous than any person’s individual odyssey from crafter to designer. Enabling people in general, or a person in particular, to bead their Rogue Elephants, is a tall order indeed.
Our program of education at Be Dazzled Beads – what we loosely call The Center For Beadwork & Jewelry Arts, in 2009, from concept to implementation, was in it’s 11th year. The program began to click after its seventh or eighth year. We had 12 instructors, each committed to our professional and comprehensive and developmental approach to teaching. We could employ more instructors, but they are very difficult to find – given our high expectations for them. And we were able to attract a steady flow of students. This became easier and easier over time, as more people bought into our way of doing things. We’ve been around long enough that some of our original ideas had gained some local legitimacy.
We made many compromises along the way.
Over time, we added more “Craft-Model” elements to each class, to make marketing them easier, and to end up with more satisfied students. So classes are presented as “learning specific projects” rather than “learning specific skills.” Students want to leave their classes with an item of jewelry. We made sure that the class assignments would allow students to go home with a completed, or near-completed, piece of jewelry. We were, however, successful in building an expectation that students would need to take more than 1 class, and that the best approach was to follow one of our sequencing programs for classes. That’s what happens now.
It’s been extremely difficult to attract teachers, and educate teachers, in the Design Model. At first, I tried to let each teacher develop their curriculum, based on how they saw a logical progression of skills and their development. This went no where. Potential teachers were not able to develop a “curriculum,” at least in the more structural terms as we defined it.
Now, I do some homework and pre-think what skills development means for the particular type of beading or jewelry making any teacher might teach. Then I spend hours with the teacher, first identifying a list of skills that might be taught, having the teacher talk about which skills should be learned before others, and then matching this understanding to the specific projects the teacher would like to teach.
So, the teacher comes with preset ideas about projects to teach. I come with preset ideas about skills development. We negotiate the order of projects to be taught, given the skills framework. We modify, change, add to, or subtract from each project, based on an understanding of the skills-development goals.
The idea that not all skills are equally alike, and that skills should be grouped logically and taught in a logical order seems to be a hard concept for new teachers to grasp. I find I have to point out to them over the course of the year, how each of their choices they make, when instructing students, fits in with the overall Design Model. After 2-3 years teaching here, they begin to tell me what needs to be done --- in spite of the fact that everything they say, I’ve told to them at the beginning, and is spelled out in our Teacher’s Manual that I give them when they begin.
So eventually new teachers get on board, but they need some experiential knowledge to begin to incorporate the Design Model concepts intuitively. They need to see and feel and experience the consequences of their actions and the choices they make to conform to our Design agenda. And I have to allow the education content of our program to be a bit weaker as we introduce each new teacher, until they develop as better teachers of Design.
Because it has been so difficult to attract teachers, I’ve allowed gaps in our program to exist, rather than accept just any one person to teach. When my lampwork instructor retired, I was not able to replace him for years. When my silversmithing instructor retired, it took 2 years to replace him. And so forth.
I can find a lot of people who want to teach. Most freak out when I say that we require written instructions, and that we review instructions they hand out to students. Either they are not confident in writing instructions, or they think that “artists” should not be required to have instructions. Many refuse to provide physical samples of the pieces to be made in each class. They don’t want anyone to copy them. I need the samples to market the classes, and, I always think to myself, why do you want to teach if you don’t want anyone to copy your piece? Others shy away when they hear they need to create a logical sequence of 4-5 classes. A few out-price themselves for teaching local classes at a bead store.
Originally, I did not want to be a teacher myself. I’ve had to take on several classes, however. I enjoy teaching, but I never pictured myself teaching aspects of beading and jewelry making.
Because I took control of administering the program by myself, I haven’t had the kinds of interpersonal dynamics to manage, that I had had with our various advisory groups and committees. I’m somewhat of a benevolent dictator.
So Rogue Elephants watch out. Some of our students are going to be coming for you. And they are going to bead and be-jewel you like you’ve never been beaded and be-jeweled before.
Core Program Development
First, everyone began their program of study by taking two classes, which we later combined into one class. This was eventually called Orientation To Beads & Jewelry Findings. Even students with experience were required to begin at the beginning.
The Orientation class served several purposes. Most importantly, it put students on notice about the shared values and concepts in our program, and what it would take to buy into these. Students learned immediately that they needed to take classes in sequence, and that classes were primarily skills-based, not project-based, though they would make a project in each class. The purpose of our classes was teach them to make choices about what to include, and not to include, and what works and won’t work, in various types of projects. They learned that there was no perfect bead for every situation, no perfect clasp, no perfect stringing materials. Everything involved making judgment calls – an “It Depends” calculus.
This class served to weed out those who would not like our program. After taking our Orientation class, Art and Design students tended to see our program as welcoming, and Craft students not so much. Students who were interested in making only one thing would go elsewhere, as would students who thought our approach would be too challenging. And, looking at things from the opposite direction, the Orientation class tended to cement the loyalty and provide sufficient motivation for students who were more oriented to Art and Design, and who were looking for a more professional type of training.
We identified several Interest Areas. For each interest area, we delineated a sequencing of classes. In terms of the three major interest areas, we outlined the following.
For Bead Weavers, they began with our Stitch of the Month Program. We identified the 12 major bead weaving stitches. In each class, students would learn about the history of the stitch, the stitch itself, how to do variations on the stitch, such as increasing/decreasing, and then make a bracelet where they rehearsed what they learned. For each stitch, if a student has a more in-depth interest, there is its own sequencing of classes. Intermediate and Advanced bead weavers were also encouraged to join one of our Advanced Study Groups.
For Wire Workers, they began with a class that taught them about wire, metals,
and tools. They learned some introductory techniques about shaping and structural
Next they learned to incorporate beads with wire. Then they took classes on different techniques used in wire-working, wire-wrapping, and chain-making.
For Bead Stringers, they began their program with a class called Attaching Clasps. In this class, we went over all the clasps and what they are and how you use them, all the other jewelry findings and what they are and how to use them. We learned to crimp. And we learned to make a bracelet using needle and thread. Subsequent classes included Pearl Knotting and simple wire working, including how to make a coiled loop. Then came Color and Beads, and then Jewelry Design: Rules of Composition.
Stitch of the Month
One of our advisory group members and teachers – Tammy – came up with a very clever idea for teaching bead weaving to beginners. She called this Stitch of the Month. It was a package. It was fun. We could subtly build in our learning objectives. Its eventual success, however, evolved slowly. We had to redesign this class sequence a few times, in order to attract and keep students.
Our Stitch of the Month bead-weaving curriculum was designed to teach 12 major bead-weaving stitches/techniques in a comparative context. This is perhaps one of the best ways to learn bead weaving. You get a clearer understanding of what each stitch is, how to manage and control it, how to do variations with the stitch, and what your project and design options are, when you learn them comparatively, rather than in isolation from each other. Imagine that! Learning how to Do stitches, not just following instructions. We are very proud of our Stitch of the Month program and its design.
Each class is devoted to explaining a little of the history of the stitch and the how-to basics of doing the stitch. Students then practice with variations on the stitch, such as increasing/decreasing, flat vs. tubular, and the like. Students are guided in creating a bracelet, where they practice what they’ve learned about using the stitch, and usually one or more variations of that stitch.
The student will typically cover this information in each class:
1. The history of the stitch
2. Learning the basic stitch
a) How to start the stitch-project
b) How to implement the basic stitch throughout the project
c) The most appropriate kinds of materials (beads, findings,
stringing materials) for this stitch
d) The most appropriate kinds of projects for this stitch
3. Increasing and Decreasing using the stitch
4. Finishing off the piece (clasps, edges, embellishment, fringes, and the like)
5. How to read a pattern for this stitch
6. An introduction to other variations using this stitch
7. Making a bracelet, using this stitch
Each class is "in and of itself". Students may join the Stitch of the Month at any point in the 12-month cycle. You may do all of the classes, or only one or some of them, as you desire. If you miss a class, it will be repeated in the next cycle.
We teach bead weaving differently, (and I believe much more effectively), than most other places. At other places, you typically take a class and learn to do a set of steps to create a very specific project. You don't learn how to apply these steps in other situations. And you probably forget how to do the project.
In our Stitch of the Month, we take a developmental and design approach. You learn about the stitch and how to make choices about the stitch. You learn about how to choose materials (clasps, beads, stringing materials and the like) appropriate to that stitch. Then you practice what you learn by creating a bracelet. By taking more than 1 stitch over the year, you also begin to learn in a comparative way, which reinforces what you have learned.
The Twelve Sessions
1. June: BEADWEAVING PRIMER, and Introduction to the SQUARE STITCH.
2. July: NETTING
3. August: NDBELE STITCH (also known as Herringbone)
4. September: PEYOTE STITCH
5. October: LOOM
6. November: BRICK STITCH
7. December: SPIRAL ROPE
8. January: FRINGE
9. February: RIGHT ANGLE WEAVE
10. March: BEAD EMBROIDERY
11. April: PETERSBURG CHAIN
12. May: BEADED BEADS
Stitch of the Month – The Fits and Starts
The first teacher – Tammy – originated the idea. She didn’t execute it well. For each stitch, she had her students make a sampler. At the end of the 12 classes, she had them put the samplers together in a fancy, well-designed shadow box. As we found out, students preferred making something to wear, so this sampler box wasn’t the best project.
She deviated from the content, and ended up teaching very little technique or history, and using the class time for students to work on their samplers. As far as I was aware, she was teaching from the lesson plans, and I assumed students were receiving this information, as planned. Since students were creating their sample pieces, and that was something that I could see, I assumed the more substantive material was getting presented as well. Since students were having fun, and probably getting more than they would, had they taken classes elsewhere, no one complained. Tammy was not a happy camper, but I did not find out about this right away. Perhaps she short-changed some class substance because she wasn’t making enough money. Perhaps she wanted to sabotage our program. I’ll never know.
She refused to teach with less than 3 students. We were new. Getting people to take classes was challenging, since we were new, and here we were asking for a commitment to a sequence of 12 classes. So what happened, was that I was having to cancel a lot of her classes. And because many classes ended up canceled, fewer students were willing to register for these. At one point, I told her I’d guarantee payment for two students, even if only one registered. She agreed to this. And I guess she decided she would curtail even more of her instruction and effort, to make up for the monetary difference of 3 vs 2 students. She refused to do any kind of self-promotion.
She never let her students know that, for any one stitch that they might have a more in-depth interest in, there was a sequence of classes to pursue. This was a problem because I had two other bead weaving teachers teaching the intermediate and advanced classes, and Tammy wasn’t channeling her students to them. The three bead weaving teachers, it turned out, did not get along, and refused to coordinate.
It came the time to let Tammy go. She was a brilliant bead-weaver herself. She was capable of teaching. But “capability” was not enough.
The next Stitch of the Month instructor was Caren. Much better. She re-worked all 12 classes, and had students make wearable jewelry in each. The jewelry varied a lot in type, look, and sophistication. All students did not like all the projects, so there was resistance to taking certain classes. Students focused on the projects; we focused on skills. There was not a great meeting of the minds.
Caren provided a LOT more instruction for our students, but she did not delve much into design issues. Her students did not cover much about variations in stitches, and the why’s and how’s underlying these variations.
Caren preferred not to do a lot of self-promotion. She too would only teach with 2 or more students. For her Stitch of the Month classes, I guaranteed payment for 2 students, even if there was only one. Caren moved away after her first year and a half.
We hired Kathleen. Kathleen was perfect. She’s both artist and designer. She re-worked these classes, so that each project would be an attractive bracelet that students would want to wear. Within each bracelet’s design, were incorporated the variations in stitches that were getting taught. She emphasized the types of across-each-stitch skills, such as managing thread tension, embellishing, and finishing off.
She believes in self-promotion. She was willing to teach with one student, but for the Stitch of the Month classes, I also guaranteed a 2-student minimum payment. She added those extra and intangible “personality” and “leadership” qualities that the curriculum required.
Advanced Bead Study Groups
We needed something for our more advanced beaders. Something motivating and creative. Something freeing. We wanted to retain the presence of these more experienced beaders. The typical situation at the shop was that we attract newbies, but as people get more into beading, either as a hobby or craft, they tend to purchase more of their supplies through catalogs and on-line, and they prefer to take workshops with national-rated teachers. As a business, you end up losing a lot of your investment in the human capital of your customers and students, and this, from a business standpoint, is not a good thing. This is your pool of people where you find your next teachers, where you have a knowledge base that you can tap into, and where you have people that can, through word-of-mouth, promote your business to the community.
Connie came up with the idea of our Advanced Bead Study Groups, partly to solve this business problem.
The purpose of these groups is to provide a long-term experiential process during which to explore different stitches, and examine the historical and cultural contexts in which these stitches were developed or in fashion.
Each study group works on a particular subject or topic. The groups are made up primarily of beadworkers with intermediate and advanced skills, with some others interested in bead research. These groups, however, are open to anyone interested in advanced study.
The members of each group share in the teaching responsibilities.
We typically have 1 or 2 groups going at any one time.
Examples of Previous Study Groups:
a) Native American Beadwork (following the work of Horace Goodhue; may expand
to the work of Barth)
b) Zulu Chains (following, among others, the work of Diane Fitzgerald)
c) Victorian bead weaving
d) Russian bead work
e) Japanese bead work
f) Latticework and lace patterns
g) Ndebele Stitch
h) The work of Carol Wilcox Wells
i) The development of a bead weaving artist - Cynthia Rutledge
j) Contemporizing Traditional Bead Work (and the work of Valerie Hector)
k) Multi-media beading
l) Dimensional Shaped Beadwork (primarily the work of Diane Fitzgerald)
There are no fees for these study groups. Participants are responsible for purchasing their supplies, tools, books and the like. Participants may join into any study group at any time.
The Bead Study Groups was Connie’s idea. It was a good one. It was one way we had to keep more advanced beaders as part of the works here, and not lose them to the winds. It was a way to show experienced beaders how “design” issues were important to beadwork. It was a way to build in a visible beader’s “career-ladder”, where beginners could see and sense and feel where they might direct themselves to, and where more experienced beaders would have opportunities to mentor and grow and further challenge themselves.
A couple years after we had begun our advanced bead groups, we had had Diane Fitzgerald here to do some workshops. One evening at dinner, Diane described an advanced bead group that she had organized at her shop in Minnesota. She was describing how the group, for one of their projects, decided that everyone would create something associated with butterflies.
The rest of us at the table looked at each other. We had the same thought. Our advanced group could never follow through on an open ended assignment like this, at least at that time. Wouldn’t it have been great if they could.
That’s how our advanced bead study groups started out. Most of our advanced beaders had done more and made more, than our beginning students, but they didn’t necessarily know more. All of them were weak in managing thread tension. We required our beginning beaders to learn about managing thread tension, so they already had a head start. Our advanced beaders had not learned about the differences among beads and other related parts – how the materials held up over time, which were more appropriate than others. Our beginning beaders were required to learn this information up front, and in a very organized way. The advanced beaders were very craft oriented, and had few design skills or ambitions.
We started with Horace Goodhue. Indian Bead Weaving Patterns. There are perhaps 200 stitches and their variations detailed in this book. We took one at a time. And, as a group, we went through the entire book. Horace doesn’t write the best directions, or provide the most obvious diagrams. For a few weeks, we struggled as a group to get each stitch to work. It was confusing figuring out what was in vs. out, and up vs. down, and back vs. forward.
Dottie decided that we should re-write the instructions, and draw new diagrams. So obvious, yet so obscure to us at the moment. This strategy worked. So we daisy-chained, and ogalala’d, and laddered, and peyote’d, and spider’d, and interweave’d, and zig-zagged, and had a heck of a good time.
We noticed that everyone’s pieces were not turning out exactly alike. So we analyzed the situation and discussed the kinds of things that might be happening. We quickly discovered the issue of “thread tension.” Ok, so some people held their thread loosely, and others so tight, it might have been good if Freud were in the room, just in case. We looked carefully how each one of us was holding our thread and holding the piece while working through the steps. There were differences here.
Not everyone’s 11/0 seed beads were the same shape and size. The beads varied within a tube or on a hank. They varied from brand to brand. They varied from country of origin to country of origin. They varied from finish to finish. This size/shape thing, too, influenced how pieces were turning out.
Sometimes, when you took your needle and thread through a bead more than once, it “cleared” the previous thread. Othertimes it “speared” it. This too affected the differences we were seeing.
Each week, we would share internet and book research we had done on particular stitches or authors or cultures or bead artists. With Horace, we looked at the history of various Native American groups, their styles and motifs of beadwork, and if similar stitches were also done in other cultures, like the Russian daisy chain.
We sat several months with Horace, and were better for it. Connie kept saying we should ask the publisher if they would like to publish an annotated Horace book, where all the instructions and diagrams are re-done in plainer English. No one took her up on this. We were exhausted.
Next we turned to the Zulu stitches described and illustrated in detail by Diane Fitzgerald. Unlike Horace, Diane is especially clear and concise in her instructions. We were very thankful for it, and this made this study unit more enjoyable and fun. We did a lot of research on Zulu stitches.
After learning about 8 or 10 of the stitches in her books, we got to the square tube. At first no one liked this one. Then Ruth, the sweetest and most unaffected of the group who always gets everything right, made some square tubes at home, and decided, first to put a twist in them, and second to attach a magnetic clasp to the end. What had originally looked unflattering, suddenly seemed haute couture. So we spent some more time on the square tubes, experimenting with different beads and stitching strategies. We also experimented with thread tension, making them loose, and then making them very tight. “Experimentation” is the key word here. We were “experimenting”. We were breaking out of the box a bit, and deviating from the Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 in the book.
Originally we had wanted to study beadwork in different cultures. One of the cultures we turned to in subsequent years was Russian beadwork. We tried to go through the Russian Bead Weaving book – written in Russian, but with great diagrams – but to no avail. It must have said something in the Russian directions that was missing in the diagrams. Most of the projects were variations on right angle weave. Each piece we tried to do as a group suffered greatly from lack of thread tension. We couldn’t figure out what the Russians were doing to get their pieces not to droop, and fall flat. Did they use “straw” instead of thread? Were the pieces beaded over something, like a wooden dowel, that was removed for the photographs in the book? At that point in time, we gave up and went on to the next culture to study.
We had done a pretty thorough fantasy learning trip around the world. We decided, then, to turn to specific bead artists, and study their work in depth, and research their backgrounds as extensively as we could. We began with Carol Wilcox Wells, and her two extremely important books – Creative Bead Weaving and The Art and Elegance of Bead Weaving. We spent more than a year working chapter by chapter on every project in her two books. I highly recommend this. Comprehensive. Comparative. Current stitches and fashions. Good documentation.
Carol’s instructions are not as clear as Diane’s. The photos in her books show projects that seem firmer, more complete, more even, than you can achieve following the instructions. But it was definitely worth the struggle to work through both books, page by page. We decided that for each type of technique, we would first do it according to the instructions. Then we would experiment and vary the pattern and/or the materials.
We learned here that varying the materials can have a big impact on the result. Take the simplest beaded bead, usually a netted-type stitch over a wood bead. If you do the same stitch over an acrylic bead, you get a more satisfying beaded bead, since the power of the seed beads to reflect and refract light is enhanced. You can get still better results, if you do the same stitch over a glass bead. The stitch over wood can look very crafty; the stitch over glass can look very elegant. Varying the type and the shape of the glass can also result in significant changes.
At this point, we had sort of studied the artistic life and development of Diane Fitzgerald in a surrogate way through her two Zulu books. We more directly studied Carol Wilcox Wells as a bead artist by more closely examining her in relationship to the materials in her two books. We decided, next, to see if we could even more directly study the development of a bead artist. We approached Cynthia Rutledge, and she very graciously agreed to be interviewed frequently and at great length, as we worked through several of her projects. We organized these projects into an “early Cynthia period”, a “middle Cynthia period” and a “current Cynthia period.”
I’ll discuss more about our experiences here in a later chapter.
At around the 8th year of these groups, I’d say they could handle an open-ended assignment, like Diane Fitzgerald’s bead group in Minnesota. They learned to do bead and beading research. They learned to question the clarity and validity of instructions. They learned to experiment by varying instructions, materials and stitching strategies. They began to understand the differences among craft, art and design, and to use this understanding in evaluating the work of many bead artists.
Connie had always beaded incessantly and for years and years. But her pieces, though pretty, would typically suffer from poor thread tension, poor choices of materials, weak clasp assemblies. Somewhere around 2007, things clicked for her. Suddenly, these weaknesses disappeared. Her pieces took on a design sense. They began to resonate. She noticed that I started complimenting her work, even suggesting she put some of it on display or for sale in our The Open Window Gallery.
Our advanced beaders had and have come a long way.
Working Hard Wire Into The Curriculum Was Hard
There are two main types of wire jewelry – wire work and wire wrap. In wire working, you use hard wire to make shapes. In wire wrapping, you create structural supports that can hold onto a stone, or lock in beads, or some other structural purpose. Most people like to learn wire wrapping. I initially had two teachers to teach here – Tracey for wire-working and James for wire-wrapping. James lost interest in the wire-wrapping, and that wasn’t something that Tracey did. Wire wrapping teachers were few and far between, and most wanted to charge prices somewhat higher than I thought the market would bear.
So, the beginning of the wire program was carried by Tracey, and focused on wire working. Tracey was willing to teach with 1 student at a time, so, within a year, she built up a small following to take her classes. But the following stayed small over the years because most people interested in working with hard wire, preferred wire wrapping.
Tracey’s beginning class introduced students to wire and tools, and then she had them make various shapes, using brass, sterling and copper wire. These included ear wires, hook and eye clasps, s-clasps, connecting rings and the like. Students took home with them a handful of jewelry findings that they had made from scratch. Students liked Tracey, they liked learning to make findings, but they would have preferred to make earrings or a bracelet. They didn’t leave satisfied. Tracey’s other classes focused mainly on chain-making, which also was not of interest to most of our students. And that’s why Tracey’s following remained small.
In 2005, Tracey moved to upstate New York. I had difficulty replacing her. I approached several wire artists. I could not, however, find someone that was willing to meet our requirements – written instructions, samples, and an ordered sequencing of 4-5 classes. One prominent wire artist in Tennessee was very positive when I offered her the opportunity to teach here, but then I never heard from her again, at least not directly. Over the next several years, I would be told over and over again by our students and customers how she would tell everyone who took her workshops, that she was personally insulted by the fact that I required written instructions. She was an “artist”, and we disrespected her. Lions, and tigers, and bears, Oh My!
Another terrific wire wrapper – one of the best I’ve ever seen – was resistant to my invitation. She had taught at another bead shop in town, and had had so many bad experiences, that she vowed never to teach again. They let all ages and experience levels into each of her classes. They required students to buy $100.00+ of wire when $6-7.00 would do for each class, and she had to deal with the students’ anger about this. They would not pay her on time. And on and on. [It was something I heard often from other people I wanted to get to teach here, as well.] I tried to make real the fact that we were different, but I couldn’t make it real for her.
The next wire teacher I eventually found was Elesa. Elesa’s specialty was wire-wrapping, and the two of us worked out a new curriculum. Elesa was very experienced, and her instructional fees were on the high side, but students got that core skills training, that Tracey was only able to touch upon. I was crushed after a few years when Elesa, too, had to move away from Nashville.
I found a good replacement, but not yet up to Elesa’s standard.
Adventures in Attaching Clasps
The first class for Bead Stringers was The Basics of Bead Stringing and Attaching Clasps. James taught this class at first, up until 2004 when he retired. The original goal of this class was to teach two things: (1) how to crimp, and (2) how to use needle and thread to make a bracelet.
Most bead stringers are generally familiar with using a flexible cable wire to string beads on. This is fast. It’s easy. Most bead stringers are NOT familiar with using needle and thread to achieve the same goals. Our purpose was to have them learn both methods, show how you got the best outcomes with needle and thread, and discuss with them some jewelry design tricks to use with cable wire, to compensate for some of its deficiencies, namely that it’s stiff, doesn’t lay right, drape right, move right or necessarily feel as comfortable when wearing.
People loved this class. James developed a special way to tie knots to the clasp parts using the thread, to give the student a great deal of control over the thread tension on the bracelet. It became a right-of-passage for students to master this knot. “I did it!” Everyone talked about this.
When James retired, I took over this class. At this point in time, I had been teaching the design classes, which were intermediate and advanced level, as well as the Orientation class. I re-conceptualized what I was doing, so that I could tie all my classes together into a Design Sequence.
So Attaching Clasps became a class that continued the Orientation by discussing in detail the pros and cons of and how to use various clasps and the pros and cons of and how to use various other jewelry findings. I took some of the Jewelry Design Theory, and moved it into the Attaching Clasps class. I hoped these conceptual ideas would help students better choose clasps, better choose stringing materials, and better understand some tricks and techniques used to make pieces drape, move and flow better.
It became a funny type of class. This class lasts 5 hours, with one break. When people leave the class, it’s like watching people with a string going through them, attached to a helium balloon at the top of their heads. They feel so accomplished, they literally rise to their feet, as if pulled up by the balloon, and float out of the classroom. We cover a lot of material during the class, and the students are extremely focused and intent. They return to the store, and are so driven to sign up for other classes, buy supplies, and try some difficult things they’ve just learned. My whole staff notices what seems to be a major physical and psychological transformation within these students.
I wish I could so tightly-knit and structure all my classes, to have this powerful impact.
The Design Sequence
The original design classes were intermediate and advanced. We had few takers. The sequence consisted of Introduction to Color, Jewelry Design I (principles of composition) and Jewelry Design II (principles of form and structure).
When I created my initial outlines for each class, I was very excited. I felt that I had captured what it meant to view Jewelry as Art, and The Design of Jewelry of Art, not Craft. Big ideas, big steps. No students. I really had not hit the mark. The concepts were too Art oriented. They needed to be Design oriented – things that are different than students could get elsewhere, or pick up on their own.
The Color class was first in the sequence. The original class was 3 hours – 2 hours of the same material you would get in an art school, and 1 hour unique to beads and jewelry making. Most students may have liked to have taken the Jewelry Design I class, but not the color class. Most people seemed to think they had already had a color class, or that they didn’t need a color class. I tried to differ, but the outline of my class was not convincing.
By 2008, I had had three separate opportunities to work with the Advanced Bead Study group on a series of color classes. The third time I did it, I was determined to rewrite my whole color class, and pretest it with this group. The class was to focus on the idea of “choice” of beads and colors, given an understanding of the bead as something that must assert its needs for color. The class I was envisioning would spend the full 3 hours on beads and color – things you would not have gotten in an art school or picked up easily on your own.
My changes worked with the bead study group. I translated these changes into re-outlining my Color and Beads class. And that class became very successful.
Also, in 2008, I changed the Design Sequence to begin with the Orientation To Beads & Jewelry Class, move to the Attaching Clasps class, then Color and Beads, Jewelry Design I, and Jewelry Design II. There was a logical flow. The materials were now things students could not get elsewhere – no classes, no books. And this Sequence was not only clicking, but finally teaching the right things, and teaching them developmentally and coherently.
The EDUCATED Beader
What Do We Mean By This?
What does it mean to be an “Educated” beader? Exactly what would it have been that you would have learned or learned to do, to earn the label “educated”?
What would be expected of this “Educated” beader?
What kinds of choices would we expect this “Educated” beader to be able to make?
Yes, we want the educated beader and good jewelry designer to create beautiful, wearable pieces of jewelry art. But how do they get to that point? If they are taking classes, what the most important content? How should it be presented?
If we do a Google search online for our educated beader, we find that the educated beader has ….
Been Educated about the essential tools and techniques
- Bead Unique Magazine
Promoted socially responsible retailing
- South African cooperative MonkeyBiz
Educated more people about the art of beading
Educated our customers from the very first purchase and continue to do so as needs and level of experience progress.
- Calebs Lighthouse
Informed and educated beaders of the beauty and versatility of beads
Educated yourself about bead finishes and types
- the Illustrated Bead Bible
We get a lot of generalities and platitudes, but we don’t get a more specific, detailed, enlightened idea of who we want to called an “educated beader” and who we do not. We don’t find out much on-line about what skills and attitudes and understandings this person needs to bring to bear, when created pieces of jewelry.
Is it someone who beads a lot? Learned specific skills? Can do specific things? Has knowledge of certain terms?
Is the beader who has taken 15 beading classes more educated than the beader who has only taken 3?
Is the beader who can do peyote more educated than the beader who can do right angle weave?
Is the person who knows the differences between lobster claws, toggle clasps, slide clasps and doorknocker clasps more educated than the person who cannot?
We need answers to questions like these, if we are to be able to define what we should teach and how we should teach it.
The Center for Beadwork and Jewelry Arts is our paradigm from which we find answers to these questions. It has become our Broadway Play, replete with drama, always needing lighting cues, not immune from the tensions between chorus and featured actors, needing several out-of-town try-outs, and fighting for every inch of space – front and center – on the Great White Way.
AN ELEPHANT CRACKUP
“We’re not going anywhere,” my driver, Nelson Okello, whispered to me one morning this past June, the two of us sitting in the front seat of a jeep just after dawn in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda. We’d originally stopped to observe what appeared to be a lone bull elephant grazing in a patch of tall savanna grasses off to our left.
More than one “rogue” crossed out path that morning – a young male elephant that has made an overly strong power play against the dominant male of his here and been banished, sometimes permanently. This elephant, however, soon proved to be not a rogue but part of a cast of at least 30. The ground vibrations registered just before the emergence of the herd from the surrounding trees and brush. We sat there watching the elephants cross the road before us, seeming, for all their heft, so light on their feet, soundlessly plying the wind-swept savanna grasses like land whales adrift above the floor of an ancient, waterless sea.
Then, from behind a thicket of acacia trees directly off our front left bumper, a huge female emerged – “the matriarch,” Okello said softly. …the matriarch stood guard, her vast back flank blocking the road, the rest of the herd milling about in the brush a short distance away.
After 15 minutes or so, Okello started inching the jeep forward, revving the engine, trying to make us sound as beastly as possible. The matriarch, however, was having none of it, holding her ground, the fierce white of her eyes as bright as that of her tusks. Although I pretty much knew the answer, I asked Okello if he was considering trying to drive around. “No,” he said, raising an index finger for emphasis. “She’ll charge. We should stay right here.”
I’d have considered it a wise policy even at a more peaceable juncture in the course of human-elephant relations. In recent years, however, those relations have become markedly more bellicose. Just two days before I arrived, a woman was killed by an elephant in Kazinga, a fishing village nearby. Two months earlier, a man was fatally gored by a young male elephant at the northern edge of the part, near the village of Katwe. African elephants use their long tusks to forage through dense jungle brush. They’ve also been known to wield them, however, with the ceremonious flash and precision of gladiators, pinning down a victim with one knee in order to deliver the decisive thrust. Okello told me that a young Indian tourist was killed in this fashion two years ago in Murchison Falls National Park, just north of where we were.
These were not isolated incidents. All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a whole new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem…..
- Charles Siebert, New York Times Magazine, 10/08/2006