Meet some of my favorite ethnographic beads!
|African trade beads, above, originally made in Venice and Murano during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The photo is enlarged to display the detail and colors.|
Millefiori, a bead with a past
Sometimes the beads above are called Viking beads due to their resemblance to a bead type found in ancient Viking necklaces. They remind me of the intricate designs seen on traditional ethnographic textiles from Central Asia, and some historic Sumatran ikat fabrics displayed in museums. The fine specimens above are vintage, and similar ones are made today, in limited quantities. (Most contemporary examples aren't as nice as those above, and have muddy, dull colors, simple patterning and sloppy application). These beads are glass, based on a type of antique Indonesian bead dating to 700 - 1400 CE, the end of the Majaphat dynasty. Majaphat beads are named after that dynasty. They are also known by the following names: Jatim (Jawa + Timur = East Java) and Pelangi, a word for rainbow in Indonesian.
|Late 20th century polymer clay beads designed and crafted by American polymer clay artisan Audrey Forcier|
|Above, the dark glass core of these antique trade beads|
is clearly visible beneath the mille fiore slice mosaic.
The canes are heated in a furnace, pulled until quite thin, carefully so the cross section design is not lost, and sliced when it cools. Cane is plain on the outside, but the slices will have a pattern on each slice resembling a detailed flower or kaleidoscope pattern. After slicing, the slices are pressed to a molten glass background, and become millefiori ('many flowers' in Italian) glass beads. After the thin slices of murrine are gently added to the surface of the beads, they are heated and the patches fuse onto the cane. See photo, above left. A glass artisan will be able to offer a more detailed explanation, or one of the online Youtube tutorials.
|Contemporary (oval beads) and vintage Italian|
millefiore (tubular) beads.
Antique trade beads can be quite large. They
have a dramatic appearance and show well
with a variety of other beads and materials.
Above design (sold) by Helena Nelson -Reed
|Necklace design and creation by Helena Nelson -Reed|
Millefiori polymer clay beads can be created the same way, but the materials (glass vs polymer) exhibit different tactile qualities and mass. At left, the beads are incorporated into one of my recent necklaces.
The vintage coin silver pendant is a heavy piece, and balanced it with the
mujaphat beads and brilliant lapiz lazuli rough cut nuggets and rounds. It needed just one more something...so I added the vintage carnelian and lapiz lazuli drops t its skirt. Now it feels right, with the warm carnelian at the base accenting the warm shades in the glass beads above.
Contemporary Mujaphat, lapis lazuli and carnelian beads,
vintage Afghan tassel pendant
Necklace and photography by Helena Nelson Reed
The colors of mujaphat seem to be more subtle than the festive, dramatic antique and Italian millefiore. I've a small hoard of muhaphat glass beads and just love working with them.
They are quite attractive paired with the silk road colors of lapis lazuli, carnelian and turquoise.
This design is inspired by traditional woven Central Asian carpets and saddle bags in their beautiful hues of madder, carnelian, and deep blue.