The Wonderful World of Beads | Mingei International Museum

"Beads speak to our timeless human need to adorn ourselves and to appreciate objects of beauty."

In 2011, over 11,000 beads, bead strands, and beaded objects were donated to Mingei from The Bead Museum in Glendale, Arizona. Founded by Gabrielle Liese in 1986, The Bead Museum was dedicated to beads, beaded objects, and bead-related items. Over the past ten years, many Mingei staff members and supporters have helped process this massive collection. Ann Craig, a long-time friend and supporter of Mingei (and lover of beads and jewelry maker herself ) made a generous donation to support the digitization of the Bead Collection, and numerous staff members and volunteers have aided in the efforts to identify, preserve and share this one-of-a-kind collection. Just recently, Mingei’s Bead Committee completed the 10-year project of organizing and properly housing the beads, (even recently meeting via Zoom) to ensure the stewardship of these beads and bead objects. Currently, eight staff members participate in the Bead Committee, from a variety of different departments. Senior Manager of Visitor Experience, Jill DeDominicis, has been deeply engaged in this process and shares with us her experience and love for beads.

When were you first introduced to the world of beads?

I was an editor at Ornament Magazine for about 6 years. This is where my love for craft, and specifically jewelry and beads, really took root. I was not only able to visit with and write about many successful clothing and jewelry artists, exhibitions and publications, but I learned so much about the craft world from the publishers, Carolyn Benesh and Robert Liu. Robert is a well-respected bead scholar who wrote the book Collectible Beads, as well as hundreds of articles over the years on beads, bead histories and jewelry making traditions. Really all of my knowledge came from my time there and my bead obsession was born! At the same time, I was focusing on making my own jewelry, much of it out of wood scraps from a furniture business I was part of and began growing my own bead interests and collection.

What is mingei about beads?

Beads are objects of daily use created by cultures from around the world. Interestingly, beads are amongst the oldest art objects in human history, dating back to over 100,000 years ago! Because beads are easily portable, they were heavily traded across many cultures and generations. Beads speak to our timeless human need to adorn ourselves and to appreciate objects of beauty. They also speak to our resourcefulness as makers — crafted from materials found in the world around us, from shell to stone, metal, glass, clay, seeds, nuts, bone, teeth, wood, resin, plastic and manmade materials.

Beads are also a powerful communicator. They can convey messages about the wearer and are used as forms of currency, signifiers of wealth and power, as talismans and religious objects, for ceremony and ritual and for protection from a variety of threats and evils.

How long have you been working on the Bead Committee?

I think I formally joined the Committee in 2016. I was honored and excited, and so grateful that my supervisors were up for letting me join, even though it was somewhat outside of my job description and role.

Is there one bead you just absolutely love?

Ooh, that’s a tough one! We’ve seen some really incredible pieces in our committee meetings. I especially love silverwork and there have been some fantastic examples from India and parts of western Asia. Otherwise, some of the ones that stick out in my mind are a strand of chunky, round black and white African clay beads with little bits of ochre, some show-stopping Tuareg amulets and veil weights and some Czech pressed glass tanfouk/talhakimt pendants in vibrant colors.

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