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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Bleil

My Life in Beads, Part Two.

Academia and the Farm 1980 to 1990

Crocheting in the TV Room

When I was 17 years old I went to Clarion State College, a small school about 2 hours north of Pittsburgh. I was the first person in a large extended family to go to college. I naively believed then that a college education would afford me the opportunity to live independently and comfortably. It was 1979.

The academic side of college was easy for me.  The rest of it, not so much.  One difficulty was that I was dating a young man at the time that I had left behind.  I missed him very much.  After my classes and assignments were complete for the day, I would go to the TV room of the old gothic dorm in which I lived.   There I would sit and pine for him while crocheting him a blanket that I planned to give to him as a Christmas gift. Counting stitches soothed my heart.  I made him a ripple stitch blanket in rainbow colors.  It turned out beautiful.  The relationship did not. I broke up with him not long after the holidays for several reasons, one being that he did not value education nor did his family.  They had an active disdain for people who chose to be educated.  It was not an uncommon sentiment at the time.  Many young men chose to go to college rather than be drafted into the military and fight in the Vietnam war. They were looked down upon for that decision.  At the time I was considering going as far as one can in academia, getting a PhD and knew I would need my partner’s support. 

The following year, I transferred from Clarion to another small college in the once booming town of California PA.  It was on the Monongahela River where the barges carried coal from the nearby mining towns with names like Coal Center, north to the steel mills in Pittsburgh when the mills were producing.  By the time I arrived the only thing sustaining the town was the college.

The Grateful Dead

I met some really cool people in California PA. There was a group of young men who lived off campus in a big Yellow House.  Mandala tapestries hung on the ceilings and walls.  I would often visit after classes and on the weekends.  We would drink Heineken, smoke bad weed, play Hacky Sack, and listen to music. That is where I first became aware of a band known as the Grateful Dead.  My first Grateful Dead show was in Harrisburg, PA, June 23, 1984. I attended only 10 shows up until 1990.  People in the parking lot before the show would be selling their wares.  Some walked through the crowd carrying jewelry displays.  I fell in love with the earrings with fringe I would see.

Life on the Farm

Between 1984 and 1986, I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. My studies culminated in a master’s degree in education.  During that time and for a few years following I lived in Montague on a strawberry farm at the end of Ferry Road.  I lived with five other people for four years. We travelled together to Grateful Dead shows in Maine, Massachusetts, and New York. Through housemates I met Robin who made and sold at Dead shows brick stitch fringe earrings made with size 11 seed beads. I was enthralled by her work. i remember sitting in her camper/bus as she showed me her earrings.

Bead Class

In Northampton, I took my first and only beading class.  The shop was called Northampton Bead Company and was located upstairs in Thorne’s Market.  There I learned how to make these seed bead fringe earrings that I had been admiring.  I began buying seed beads and bugle beads and would design and create these earrings.  My bead stash was portable then.  It has not been since the mid-nineties. 

Conclusion to part two

I met many wonderful, creative people during my time in college and graduate school. Some inspired in me a love for the music of the Grateful Dead and beadwork.

In my next and last blog of this series, I will describe what I have been doing in beadwork for the last thirty years.

I would love to hear your story. What inspired you to do beadwork or your art? Who were the seminal people in your life?


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