Gail M. Brown, Curator

Linda Huey
Hand Made-Factory Made (detail)


Billie Jean Theide


Curator's Gallery Talk



Ceramic body adornment is as old as history and can be as new as today. Clay was smeared and patterned on tribal members for identification and ritual. Ceramic beads later accompanied these painted bodies. Internationally, through time, jewelry has included beads of all materials- from bone, horn, seeds, stones and shells. Think rosaries, worry beads, classic body adornment and extravagant fashion accessories from every culture. The pairing of clay and beads seems an ongoing comfortable fit. The tactile nature of the material and the form equally entices our touch. The seemingly limitless elasticity and nuances of the material offers untold possibilities. The preciousness will be generated by the works themselves through the imaginations, goals and skills of the makers. The scale and intimacy of wearable art can/ does create a unique communication between maker, object and wearer.

Historically, beads became tribal markers of status and identification, an important venue for symbolism, of 'luck,' as amulets, then as currency. "Bead," from the Latin, originally referred to the prayers said when counting the rosary. The name for the prayer became transferred to the object, and eventually generalized to include any object with a hole which can be strung.

Bead: a small piece of material pierced for threading on a string or wire. A component in a strand. A droplet, pearl, spheroid, pellet, pill. Consider some of the options: flat or three dimensional, globular, tubular, cubed, rectangular, like-size or graduated, faceted, carved, glazed or not, sleek or "finger-marked," geometric or free form, patterned, textured, abstract or figurative, minimal or baroque, uniform, in sequential size order, random or ordered, from forms purpose-made or recycled, decorative or narrative and/or small, unique objects formed and adapted as beads to tell the story, et al....portable objects, wearable beads, formed as reflections of unique vocabularies to adorn willing bodies.

When Karen Lorene, Director of Facere Jewelry Art, invited me to curate an exhibition during the NCECA Conference, I thought of juxtaposing jewelers who have/may work in clay with ceramic artists—both potters and sculptors—those who exceptional works and daring might be inspired to think in a small scale and a wearable format. My choices of invitees excited me—I sought those with strong identifiable vocabularies in their regular studio practice and juxtaposed the natures of their work, into my 'wish list.' The responses and the works are meaningful. I will introduce you to their studio practice, their identifiable vocabularies, as well as the jewelry which answered the challenge I had proposed.

Clay, the modest material from the earth, with little intrinsic value, and an unlimited potential to become what makers desire of it. Clay, a primal material which seduces the hands and affords limitless possibilities. Clay "remembers." It catches and keeps the unique imprint of each individual touch. It inspires and implements a remarkable breadth of human expression. Clay encompasses immediate material contradictions: being both soft and hard, appearing both fragile and strong, appropriate for exquisite miniaturization and surprisingly monumental scale, intrinsically rooted to the past, yet possible to always become something new, wearing a perfect, accomplished skin or reflecting the emotional and physical fingermarks of each maker. Its pliant variables allow and honor the panoply of human expression.

Consider its inherent relationship to the creative process—Clay is different than other materials which artists/jewelers choose to use—it may be manipulated entirely with the hand-as-the-single-tool! And this medium, unlike those materials which society and commerce have identified as "valued," offers the artist a means by which her own ideas and mastery "define and determine the resulting "preciousness."

I wrote to the artists:
"I invite you to participate. Have you made wearable ceramic beads or thought of doing so? I thought of you because your unique visual language, forms and the content of your studio work might translate well to small scale which can carry a big impact and become an intimate connection—between artist, object and audience! I invite you to challenge yourself accordingly. Consider the potential forms—strands, chains, chokers of beads as neckwear—short, longer, longest, torques and/or collars. Bracelet/s, wrist bands, armlets—single or multiple. Earrings as petite or dramatic as you will. Think—wearable scale, weight and forms. Think repetition, design and obsession. Think choices: fine porcelain/ gritty earthenware. Think form/s, color, design. Think scale and weight and tactility: what is/isn't wearable? I invite you to consider exploring the subject—making and exhibiting a feast for the eyes and the touch! Clay on the body/ not on the pedestal/nor the table."


Go back to the main Feast of Beads page or to Gail Brown's Home page.