Many spiritual traditions make use of beads, touched and held, in prayer or meditation, from Catholic rosary beads to Buddhist mala beads.
Here in the desert Southwest, as in much of the Americas, beads and beadwork have long held cultural importance as items for trade, storytelling, adornment and ceremony.
This week people in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area will have the chance through three separate events to learn more about the rich and fascinating history of beads and beadwork around the world, through a lecture, an exhibition and a class.
The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe is playing host to a jeweler and art collector named Earl Kessler on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 2pm for a talk entitled “And What Else About Beads.” Kessler began collecting beads 35 years ago, and it soon became an obsession. He has traveled the world in search of beads, and has studied their use and importance in a wide variety of cultures.
Kessler’s talk is presented as something of a grand finale for the current Museum of International Folk Art exhibit, Beadwork Adorns the World, which closes that same day. The show examines the way beads have been traded throughout human history and traces the various migrations they have made, linking them to global human migration and interchange.
“Even though it’s titled Beadwork Adorns the World, this exhibit is not actually about beads,” said Khristaan Villela, Ph.D, Director of the Museum of International Folk Art. According to Guest Curator, Dr. Marsha Bol, “It is about working beads resulting in beadwork, and what a collective of beads in a garment or an object reveals about the intentions of its makers or users.”
The museum’s program for this wonderful exhibition sums up the anthropological, historical and cultural importance of these tiny objects quite well. “In most parts of the world, beads, having value, are used at peak moments in life. With their luster and sparkle, used as an adornment or surface additive, they help to heighten the effect, the impact, the meaning. These special moments in the life of the community tend to revolve around: life stages and passages—such as birth, becoming an adult, marriage and death; power, position or status in the community; the high meaning of the occasion—as seen in fine dress, house and animal decoration; and, communication with the spirits.”
Beading is a living art form that, though it might have lost some of its meaning through the industrialization of garment-making, is very much alive for a retired Albuquerque La Cueva High School math teacher named Bobbie Yoakum.
Yoakum is a master beader who has turned her hobby into a second career as a beading instructor at The Beaded Iris, a bead store in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Coincident with the happenings at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe this weekend, though unrelated to them, Yoakum will be offering a beginning beading class on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 11am, in which she will teach students how to do a brick stitch with three beads. The class itself is free, but registration is required, as is the purchase of the materials used in the class.
For more information on these events, please visit internationalfolkart