2007.02.11: February 11, 2007: Headlines: COS - Ivory Coast: Beads: Art: Lansing State Journal: When Susan Simpson worked in the Ivory Coast as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she found herself unable to resist the antique beads offered by traders and sellers

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ivory Coast: Peace Corps Ivory Coast : Peace Corps Ivory Coast: Newest Stories: 2007.02.11: February 11, 2007: Headlines: COS - Ivory Coast: Beads: Art: Lansing State Journal: When Susan Simpson worked in the Ivory Coast as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she found herself unable to resist the antique beads offered by traders and sellers

By Admin1 (admin) (adsl-70-240-139-254.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.240.139.254) on Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - 9:43 am: Edit Post

When Susan Simpson worked in the Ivory Coast as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she found herself unable to resist the antique beads offered by traders and sellers

When Susan Simpson worked in the Ivory Coast as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she found herself unable to resist the antique beads offered by traders and sellers

Simpson said she hopes to continue making jewelry and selling it not only at Hankins Gallery, but also at fundraising events. She sold some jewelry at a Kellogg Center fundraiser for Sparrow Hospice, where half the proceeds went to hospice, and found it a rewarding experience. "If I get to the point where it's possible, I would like to pick a group in Africa to benefit from my jewelry," she said. "That would be satisfying." The experience has already brought Simpson creative and educational satisfaction. "This has been a huge learning experience," Simpson said. "It's been really cool. I never knew there were so many things to learn from something so small and, I thought, simple as a bead. ... They are such little things that had such value and magic associated with them. "I find it appealing that they're not sitting in someone's drawer. They're out there being worn as they were made to do."

When Susan Simpson worked in the Ivory Coast as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she found herself unable to resist the antique beads offered by traders and sellers

Artist breathes new life into antique beads

By FRAN WILCOX
Staff Writer

EAST LANSING ó When Susan Simpson lived on the Ivory Coast in Africa, she found herself unable to resist the antique beads offered by traders and sellers. Eight years ago, she began buying beads that struck her, with no purpose in mind.

"It was an incredible experience," Simpson said. "The bead sellers would put these huge piles of beads on the table. They were just so beautiful and old. I started buying some, but I wasn't sure what to do with them."

About two years ago, having moved to East Lansing, Simpson began making jewelry with the beads. At first, she was just making earrings and necklaces for herself and wearing them. People frequently commented on the unique pieces.

Simpson took a few classes and found she enjoyed making jewelry.

"I started suspecting I might be able to do something with this," Simpson said. "I held an open house to see, was I crazy? Were people interested? Not a lot of people came, but the ones who did were very interested."

Simpson started visiting galleries, looking for a place where her jewelry might fit in. Eventually, she hit on Hankins Gallery. She asked the owner, Wendy Hedeen, if she would be interested in offering the jewelry. Not only was she interested, she asked Simpson to be the featured artist at the First Sunday Gallery Walk. Simpson's jewelry has been at Hankins Gallery ever since.

"Wendy is so supportive of Michigan artists," Simpson said. "She gave me a huge chance, and my jewelry has done well enough that she wanted to keep them. I'm incredibly grateful for her and her support."

Simpson's pieces include earrings, necklaces, bracelets, barrettes and key rings. She has also made pony-tail holders, but has difficulty finding beads with just the right size hole.

Simpson has made pieces in as little as a day and as much as several months. Sometimes she will create pieces, wear them around, then take it apart and start over.

Of course, now that she is selling jewelry instead of making it all for herself, she has to think about what other people might like.

"I try to hit lots of designs and styles, because everyone has their own personal tastes," she said.

"I like the idea of the old with the new. I use older beads and combine them with semiprecious stones or Czechoslovakian glass. It brings the old beads alive."

Each piece of jewelry comes with a small drawstring bag. Simpson sews the bags out of African fabric she purchased in Zaire while in the Peace Corps. She also uses fabric her husband brings back from trips. When traders sell a piece of jewelry in Africa, she said, they put it in a bag for the buyer.

Each piece of jewelry also comes with a list of the beads used in it.

Many of the beads originated in Venice, Italy, Simpson said. Bohemia (modern day Czechoslovakia) was another center for bead-making. The Bohemian beads are generally solid colors and unique shapes.

"They all have different stories," Simpson said. "Some were used to trade for gold. Others were used to trade for ivory. They each had specific purposes."

Eye beads were used for protection, Simpson said. They were supposed to draw the Evil Eye to themselves and reflect it back to keep it away from the person wearing the beads. Other beads were used for fertility.

Simpson is fascinated by the workmanship that went into the beads. They were made by hand, and the craft secrets were at one time so valued that craftsmen were not allowed to leave the island of Murano.

Bead-making was a cottage industry, meaning several families would each work individually. Large orders commissioned by merchants would be divided among the families, so that there would sometimes be striking differences within the same set.

"It's a challenge, especially with earrings, because they're never exactly the same," Simpson said. "There are variations."

Style and color preferences also changed over time.

Simpson has thousands of beads, not counting the new ones she uses to offset the antique ones.

The name Simpson uses on her jewelry, Latitudes Antique Trade Bead Jewelry, reflects that they have traveled. She said it was her husband Brent's suggestion.

"Before there was an established currency in some of these areas, they were using beads to trade," he said.

The fancier beads, such as those with gold trim, often stayed close to home because the Europeans valued them more than they valued the other beads.

Most of the beads traveled from Europe into Africa and Ethiopia. They also made their way into the Americas.

Most of the beads Simpson works with are 100 to 200 years old, she said. She gets some from collectors and dealers who bring beads to the United States, but most come through her husband.

Her husband, Brent, works at Michigan State University. He travels to Africa fairly often for business.

"I try to duck down to the market while I'm there," he said. "I have to go with the idea that if I don't feel comfortable with any of the beads, I will go home without any."

Purchasers of beads have to know what they are doing, he said.

"In the market, they're often covered with layers of grime," he said. "You have to be able to know an old bead from a fake old bead. There are some beads that are thousands of years old and worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

"Sometimes bead sellers know where they got them and if they're authentic, and sometimes they don't."

Simpson said she hopes to continue making jewelry and selling it not only at Hankins Gallery, but also at fundraising events. She sold some jewelry at a Kellogg Center fundraiser for Sparrow Hospice, where half the proceeds went to hospice, and found it a rewarding experience.

"If I get to the point where it's possible, I would like to pick a group in Africa to benefit from my jewelry," she said. "That would be satisfying."

The experience has already brought Simpson creative and educational satisfaction.

"This has been a huge learning experience," Simpson said. "It's been really cool. I never knew there were so many things to learn from something so small and, I thought, simple as a bead. ... They are such little things that had such value and magic associated with them.

"I find it appealing that they're not sitting in someone's drawer. They're out there being worn as they were made to do."

Contact Susan Simpson at simpsonhome@sbcglobal.com.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: February, 2007; Peace Corps Ivory Coast; Directory of Ivory Coast RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Ivory Coast RPCVs; Art





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Story Source: Lansing State Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ivory Coast; Beads; Art

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