I have made a lot of beadwork for a lot of people and it has been wonderful. I have a day-job so I try and bead for others in my spare time and can be a little slow when my bread-and-butter work gets hectic.
I wrote the following a while ago when I had time to do a lot more beadwork for others, it still stands so here it is, my beading manifesto!
Over the years I have refined my methods and stick to my guiding principles. These are:
- Produce only the highest quality work. I never cut corners by using inferior techniques such as glue. I think glue is horrendous. If you are paying decent money for an object, you don’t want it to be smothered in glue. It doesn’t look quite right. It might be a quick way of turning out new items, but I feel it doesn’t quite do the orisha justice. Also, after a few years, the adhesive will start to crack, discolor and crumble which means the entire piece is either ruined to the point of no return or requires a complete makeover. I use traditional stitching and weaving techniques that took me quite a long time to master. When you “weave” beads to an object, they envelop it in a way that is much more alluring and tactile than when using adhesive. The technique uses tension to naturally and very firmly hold the beads in place. It is also suitable for producing intricate patterns and for covering any shape and size of an object (such as gourds, sticks, staffs, rattles, skulls, etc). Different sizes of beads can easily be incorporated into the design this way.
- I only use the best materials available. Fifteen years ago, the first ever mazo (large beaded sash used to adorn the shrines of the orisha) I made on my own was entirely fashioned from acrylic beads. My, how far I have come from those days! Over the years, I have studied the range of beads available, their manufacturing processes and their rich history and can now appreciate beads and their inherent quality. The foundation of most beaded items for the orisha is comprised of what we call “e” or size 6/0 (2mm) glass seed beads. The best and widely recognized source for these beads are from a place called Jablonec in the Czech Republic, an area renowned for their Bohemian glass-making industry. This area contains several centuries-old firms producing the beads that have been used throughout the world; they were the source for trade beads employed in Africa and some of the “pony” beads used in Native American beadwork. In recent years, modern Chinese factories have been pumping out their versions of Czech seed beads, and the Chinese versions, while being slightly cheaper, definitely cannot compete as their colors are not as vibrant, neither are they as uniform in size and shape as the Czech ones. So, needless to say, I use only Czech beads which also come in the widest variety of colors. They also have a huge selection of striped beads that are indispensable when I am making something for Babalu-Aye. They may be more expensive, but they are worth it. I also use real semi-precious stones and minerals like amber, jet, jade and carnelian. I use a LOT of red coral as coral has many positive benefits for the wearer, including drawing wealth, protection, purification and so on. It is also one of the greatest symbols of prosperity and blessings. I try and incorporate coral into the projects that I am working on using the appropriate colors.
- I keep in mind for whom the piece is being made. I get a genuine pleasure in making things for a person’s orisha. For me, it is a real honor that someone would want something I made to become a part of their religious devotion. So, as much as I hope that the person I am making the item for likes it, I keep in mind the orisha for whom it will ultimately go to and work my very best so that it may please him or her. As I am working with beads, I do so in a quiet and calm environment as it is not only the best way I work but also, I think if you are making something that has a sacred purpose, you must do so with respect and integrity from the moment you touch the first bead. I feel that the person’s intention when making or doing something directly influences the process and product. An example completely unrelated to beads comes to mind when I went to a new hair salon for a haircut and promptly vacated the chair when I realized that the stylist was not going to stop gossiping with her colleague. She had one eye on my hair while the rest of her was relishing, almost salivating, speaking to her friend about ridiculousness. I knew if I would have stayed I would have developed a headache and gotten a haircut infused with her bochinche! So, in short, I take the utmost care and responsibility in the sacred task at hand, probably something that the orisha rather than the person receiving it would pick up on.
- I stay faithful to Lukumi tradition. I am initiated as a Lukumi priest, and it’s what I know best. Within the tradition, there is an incredibly rich source of bead patterns and styles, both in Cuba and America. I particularly like making beadwork for specific paths of the orishas. I have been researching bead patterns and paths for many years, collecting the different styles that have accumulated over the years. One orisha may have several distinct styles from one lineage to the next, and the majority come with interesting explanations of why the orisha takes this or that. I use the rules to make a piece that is according to tradition. It is through the choice of beading materials, textures, and finishes that I update the piece and make something that is unique. I think creativity and invention are best expressed concerning tradition and the knowledge of the elders that have passed on this rich legacy.
- I make things on a commission basis, each one of a kind. A friend told me that one of the most famous bead workers in New York used to have the set pattern for each necklace/eleke specifically posted on his wall. When an order would come in, one of his assistants would look up, note the formula for the necklace to be made and never deviate from it. While this is undoubtedly a good business model (you buy a large quantity of a few beads to reproduce many standard issue items), I find that depressing as it sucks out the artistry and singularity one would want from getting an item made. I am constantly looking for new beads to expand my choices when constructing something. I often buy beads because I like them and know I will use them in the undetermined future on something for the orishas. I also go by instinct. Sometimes, a person will ask me to make something for their head orisha, and I will know that I have to go and buy x beads as they would best suit the person’s taste and expectations, even if I have a million suitable and adequate beads already in my possession.