Our good friend Donna Gingrasso [Donna's site is: http://www.felixculpaartisans.com and our previous article on her is here: http://www.thebead.net/index.php/the-bead-blog/286-beading-through-adversity-donna-gingrasso] turned us on to a great story about beads from the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Beadwork Magazine – a feature written by Doris Coghill called 'India's Bead Riches'.
We also loved the story of Doris's sojourn through India's bead production sites (many just homes in remote villages), where she was fortunate to see first-hand the production of all sorts of beads – beads of pottery, glass, lampwork, semiprecious gemstones, sterling silver, silk, miniature paintings, and more.
[Note: The image on the right is of rough-cut stone and copper fringe fair trade earrings, handmade by a women's self-help group in the outskirts of Delhi, India. They can be purchased here: http://oldyakbazaar.com/shop/earrings/stone-henge-earrings/]
After the tour, which was clearly an eye-opener for her, she memorialized the trip in the article I will summarize here, and now calls beads "the lifeblood of millions of Indian craftspeople". In Jaipur, home to most of India's stonecutters and stone/silver beadmakers, there are open markets throughout the city where bangles are made on the spot – bracelets set with tiny mirrors and stones. Doris was taken with these bangle shops and how they were crowded with women shopping for special adornments, though she said the vast majority of the women already wore several on their wrists, sometimes dozens.
Here, the lapidary arts have been practiced for centuries – and the traditional methods are still used today. Many of the beads are handmade in one or two rooms of the artist's home or business. Even in larger operations, most are a type of live/work space, with what Doris calls "a decidedly domestic feel".
In the remote village of Purdalpur, the majority of the residents (about 17,000 people) make their living entirely with beads. Here, the primary technique is furnace-wound glass. Each small factory has a round furnace, and 12 – 18 workers crouch before it, using rods and tools or molds to shape beautiful glass beads that shimmer with silver or gold foil. Other enterprising villagers make brass molds, or equipment used in lampwork. The village virtually hums with beads or bead-making materials, with shops and carts full of colorfull glass rods, bags of finished beads, and glass supplies.
Doris refers to Firozabad as "India's Glass Hub", where "every second vehicle on the road is fully loaded with glittering bangles in vivid colors." This city, too, depends on the production of beads and other glass products for its survival. Here, 80% of its 300,000 population works in the glass industry. You can read Doris's entire article for fascinating details on the production of seed beads – a partially automated process employing many skilled workers. She also provides a feel for the incredible beauty of India, especially for the "uninitiated" who may otherwise be taken aback by the overwhelming noise, odor, and 'messiness' of the place, compared to other living environments. It is telling, though, that she says it only took a day to discover the wonders of its cultural richness. She speaks of artisans with mind-boggling skills, of children who go to school but also sit by their fathers' side to learn their trades, and of the sacred Ganges River where villagers ride on boats at sunrise to light floating candles.
She makes me long to go to India myself, to soak up the exotic sights and sounds, to learn more about the largest democracy in the world, the 7th largest country in the world, and one of the most ancient civilizations. Not to mention buying beads, beautiful beads! Does anyone out there know of a Bead Tour of India? If not, maybe someone can talk Doris into giving one. She routinely travels to study the beadwork of other countries when she isn't home, designing and teaching beadwork. You can learn more about Doris here:
Until Next Time,