Beads are big — so big that they are celebrated not once, but twice a year right here in Montgomery County.
Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10 and 11, mark the 68th Semi-Annual Bead, Jewelry & Textile Bazaar, a production of the Bead Society of Greater Washington (BSGW). The Bead Bazaar, as it is known, is like Beads & Beyond for crafters, historians and the curious. It features fabric beads, lamp beads, organic beads, textiles, jewelry, books, Swarovski crystals, and “findings” from vendors in the metropolitan area — as well as Pennsylvania and New York. What’s a lamp bead? Come find out.
Made of glass, shell, clay, wood, stone, plastic, metal, bone, coral, horn, ivory, seeds, beads can contain more than meets the eye. They are the oldest, most universal and enduring artifacts of mankind. They are things of beauty and adornment. They are used as status symbols and protective amulets in ancient, ethnic and contemporary cultures. Beads have been touted as bridges to cultural understanding.
All this in a tiny object, some as small as a grain of rice.
Bead Bazaar committee co-chairs Judy Carlsson and Elaine Robnett Moore have been beguiled by beads for decades. “Almost 40 years ago, my husband and I were living in Los Angeles while he studied for and received a graduate degree in gemology. We were invited to a meeting of the L.A. Bead Society,” Carlsson recalled. “The topic was coral… Members all wore their collections of coral beads; red, orange, pink, white and black; ancient to new; large and small; natural nuggets, smooth and carved. We learned the history of coral beads, their significance in ancient times to modern-day cultures.
“There was so much information and visual stimulation. We were hooked.”
Upon returning to D.C., they and some friends started a similar group. “We asked the L.A. Society for a copy of their bylaws, and we were on our way,” she said. “That was 38 years ago. “[Elaine Robnett Moore and I] were founding members and are still involved.”
Robnett Moore discovered beads through a relationship with a man from Senegal, her fiancé at the time. He introduced her to the West African custom of wearing “waist beads” around the waist and under your clothes. “I decided it would be fun to make some waist beads and went to shop for beads,” she said. “While looking for small African beads, I was introduced to the beauty, wonder and some of the history of African Trade beads by a bead artist in the first store I visited.”
“Fascinated with the history and allure of the beads,” Robnett Moore wanted to know more. She was directed to the BSGW as the place to go. “When I attended my first meeting, I found people, who like me, were enamored with beads,” she said. “In addition, they had a wealth of information about beads from all parts of the world that I desperately wanted. It was a match made in heaven.”
Now Robnett Moore makes beaded jewelry and teaches bead stringing. “To this day,” she maintained, “I believe it is important to know and appreciate the materials we work with in the art of bead stringing. The BSGW gives us that foundation. I have been a member ever since that first meeting.”
The co-chairs use the Bead Bazaar as a fundraiser for their passion and community of bead lovers. Proceeds from ticket sales go to the BSGW’s community outreach, history and cultural enrichment programs.
Carlsson and Robnett Moore are just two of many area bead scholars. Carlsson defined the term as “one whose educational and research focus is primarily on beads, their origin, historical significance, when, how and why they were made, and the trade routes that carried them across the globe.”
She noted that “historically, beads were used as symbols of status and self, cultural identity, display of wealth, the marking of significant life events, and of course, adornment. One significant change is the sheer range and amount of material available to today’s buyers.”
Event visitors range in age, starting in their mid-20s. They are collectors, jewelry designers and jewelry makers. They come to admire and purchase items from the show.
Bill Schulz of Washington, D.C. is a frequent attendee. “My first Bead Bazaar was 15 years ago, and I was afraid I was going to be laughed out of the room because all I knew was that I liked seed beads,” he said. “Instead, I discovered a community of vendors, collectors, artists and enthusiasts who have helped fire one of the great passions of my life.”
“It’s not just the beads that keep me coming back. It’s all of the wonderful friends I have made, and continue to make, in the beading and jewelry arts community” he said, adding, “Each bazaar, I find and learn about something new, bead-wise. Then I go home, and I can’t wait for the next show!”
The upcoming Bead Bazaar has expanded from eight vendors in a member’s backyard to more than 30 at a large local venue. “We have grown!” said Carlsson, who revealed that “plans for future bazaars include demonstrations, classes and a members showcase.”
The 68th Semi-Annual Bead, Jewelry & Textile Bazaar takes place on Saturday, Nov. 10, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 11, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 506 South Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg. Tickets are $6; $5 with coupon from the beadbazaar.org website. Children younger than 12 are admitted free.