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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Bleil

Ooooh, Pretty Beads!

by Cynthia M. Bleil of Mt. Cynthos Beadwork

Some musings about why we humans are attracted to beads.

I am assuming that you, dear reader, are in some way attracted to beads, (or you are trying to understand someone who is). Perhaps, like me, you are an artist creating jewelry and other objects with beads. Maybe you are a performer, and your costumes are laden with beads. (Belly dancer? Drag queen?) Perhaps, you are a collector of jewelry made from beads. Whatever your connection is to beads, I want you to know that you are not alone. I cannot find a word for us people who are attracted to beads, but there should be one!

I wanted to understand better what it is about beads that make them so irresistible to so many people. So, I did a little research, quite a few Google searches, and reread some books and a few articles. I learned quite a few tidbits of information about beads (that I might share with you later).

What I discovered is that beads are known (as of 2021) to have been around for 142,000 years! That’s so long ago that it falls into another era, the Middle Pleistocene Era. The beads were mollusk shells with perforated holes found in the Bizmoune Cave in what is now Morocco.

This attraction to beads is a longtime, worldwide phenomenon. Why? Oh, I want to do more research to really understand the psychology behind it. But what I have gleaned so far is that beads are used in so many ways! An obvious example is they are used to decorate and express oneself. They can signify one’s status and rank in a given culture. They can be a measure of wealth. Historically they have been used as currency. They are often meaningful objects or talismans. I came across the idea often in my research that being able to attribute a symbolic meaning to an object separates us from other lifeforms. It makes us human.

Personally, I am drawn to beads and have been since early childhood. I think what cinched it for me was when I was a second grader bucking for sainthood in the Roman Catholic church. I would walk to St. Sylvester’s church on Sundays. During the Mass my mind and eyes would wander often settling on the stained-glass windows looming large in their dark gothic frames. There were stories told in the glass. People with long hair, halos, and pained expressions were depicted in rich saturated color. They were particularly beautiful when the sun shone through. I watched the dust motes and smoke from the burning incense through the multi-colored light beams.

When I was an undergrad, I took a stained-glass class as an elective one summer. Given that I was paying for my own education and support, I had very little money at the time. I made a mirror using the glass pieces cast off by the other students. I loved the medium. I enjoyed learning how to cut glass and how to solder the pieces together. I considered it as a hobby, but it was too expensive and the space requirement was too high. Glass beads, however, are relatively affordable and don’t require as much space (although you would not know that looking at my studio).

Everyone who is, like you, attracted to beads could tell a story as to why. What is your story? Why do beads appeal to you? How do you use beads in your life?

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Oct 27, 2023

Thanks for sharing your research and asking such an intriguing question.

I've noticed that often, when a person is involved in one of the fiber arts, they are involved in multiple fiber arts. What is it that attracts the weaver to knitting, the quilter to dyeing, or the embroiderer to beadwork? For me, there are two aspects. One has to do with the characteristics of the end product--it is often supple in some way, and can be either practical or an art object (or both). The second is that many fiber art materials provide a depth and complexity of color not often found in flatter surfaces. (No wonder Rothko is perhaps my favorite painter.) Beads, and even more s…

Cynthia Bleil
Cynthia Bleil
Oct 27, 2023
Replying to

 Hello coaster! Thank you so much for commenting on this blog. I appreciate you and the time you took to share your thoughts about the appeal of beads. I agree with you that beads and other fiber art materials have a tactile appeal! There’s the visual attraction, then the pleasure one derives from holding a supple fabric or crocheted rope. It is one thing to see texture, another to sense it with your fingertips. Also, yes, color is an attribute of the fiber arts that offers such broad potential for creativity and enjoyment. I wish you happy beading times and thank you again.

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