Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Around The World In Eighty Years?

I have an intense fascination with beads. Quite possibly, an obsession. Beads have been around since the dawn of humanity. They were (and still are, in some places) our first form of currency. And, best of all, you can wear them! Our wise forefathers, deciding that the safest place to keep their valuables was under the woolly mammoth skin, on their very person; invented the hole. Which caused the bead. And eventually, led to Bling. Then again, it was probably our wise foremothers who invented the hole. After the forefathers whined one too many times, "Honey, have you seen my striated agate trade stones? I know I left them on the shelf by the entrance to the cave when I emptied my mammoth skin pocket. But they aren't there nooooooow..."

I love local beads. The ones made of recycled soda cans in Mexico. Lava, in The Ring of Fire countries. Moose poop in Alaska. (I did not make that up.) I have spent a great deal of time in Indonesia; consequently, I have a lovely collection of Bali silver beads, Indonesian "mosaic" beads, and recycled Java glass.

Indonesia - Java, in particular, has been producing recycled glass beads for a long, long time. These beauties can be found in a rainbow of colors. They are frosty and rustic; and I love to combine them with shiny sterling silver. It is a happy and balanced combination.

The last time I was on Bali, I stopped by a favorite beading haunt; where I found the yummy lemony-yellow beads I featured in my "Jumpin' East of Java bracelet", shown above. My shopkeeper-friend had only a handful of them; she had gotten them from a market on Java. They were clearly quite old; and not frosty, like typical Indonesian recycled glass. I was dazzled; I bought the handful. Made and sold several "Jumpin' East of Java" bracelets; kept one for myself.

Fast-forward to yesterday:

I have bunches of vintage crystals, and some of them have a secret. They are Vaseline Glass; which was made around the turn of the 20th century. For the amusement of those stuffy Victorians, who thought that having jewelry, and even tableware, that would glow under ultra-violet light might be fun. (Ooh, gut-punch to all the aging hippies - we did not invent black light to light up our Free Love posters! Johann Ritter discovered it in 1801! Way before posters!) So, glass artists added a little uranium to their glass recipes to make the glass glowy - no worries, it is not a dangerous level; and the glass is a natural barrier anyway - and made all kinds of fun stuff. Including some really awesome beads!

Most of the Vaseline Beads were made by the popular beadmakers of the times, the Italians, Bohemians and Czechs. Eventually, This War and That War gobbled up the uranium reserves, and Vaseline Bead production fizzled.

So, anyway. Yesterday I had this notion that I would like to make some Vaseline Glass earrings. I went down to the studio with my portable black light, to scan my box of crystals for glowy beads. Lights off, black light on, dozens of glowy crystals in the crystal box, and...whoa...what was that I saw out of the corner of my eye? The. Java. Beads. Were...GLOWING!!!???

Indonesia didn't make Vaseline Glass. I knew the shopkeeper who sold me the beads. I knew she got her stock on Java. How the heck did the Vaseline Glass get to an Indonesian island?

The plot thickens.

A little research turned up a strand of beads that matched mine exactly. They are Bohemian, made in 1915; for trade to Mali. Mali, with an "M"; close phonetically to "Bali" but far away, in Africa.

These rare little gems left Old Bohemia in the early 20th century, headed to Africa. Sometime between 1915 and 2007, they found their way to Java, and then to Bali. Then, via Singapore, to Atlanta, GA...and now they are scattered to the US winds. Oh, the stories they could tell...

Like I said,

I have an intense fascination with beads. Quite possibly, an obsession.

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