The practice of beadmaking is thousands of years old, but today few artisans possess the knowledge.
Drawn-glass beads have been called Indo-Pacific beads by archeologists who believe they may have been the single most widely traded item in history, unearthed at various sites from the Pacific islands to Zimbabwe.
Ania Kyte, vice-president of the Mission Arts Council and owner of Turtle Beads, is one such artisan who melts rods of glass into the beautiful strings of translucent beads with impressive precision.
Ania, who has been working with beads for 12 years, is also the president of Pacific Pyros, a group of beadmaking artisans whose collective crafts will be on display at the Fraser Valley Bead Show.
She says these sorts of shows are critical for educating the public about the quality of the handmade pieces. It was at a similar show in Seattle in 2001 she saw a woman creating her own beads. Ania was already assembling glass beads for jewelry, but never dreamed she could do it herself.
“I was mesmerized. I watched her for an hour,” she says from her studio just off Stave Lake Road, not far from the district’s city hall where she used to work as the mayor’s assistant.
When she returned from Seattle, she found a bead artisan, Barrie Edwards, who was teaching a three-hour class in Aldergrove. She was immediately hooked.
At first, Ania started with basic tools and a propane torch, practicing six or seven hours a day after work until 2 a.m. trying to get the beads perfect.
“It’s like anything else. Practice, practice, patience and then more practice.”
The basics of beadmaking involves coloured glass rods which are heated in an intense 760 C flame until they can be melted on a thin stick called a mandrel. As the glass drips on the mandrel, the artisan turns it slowly to find the centre of gravity in the glob and keep the shape round.
Using other glass rods, the artisan can then make shapes, patterns and designs that either melt into the bead or become colourful floral patterns.
Once the glass is cools, the mandrel can be removed and a diamond dremel polishes the hollow interior to allow for the string and assembly of the necklace.
The finished product is artistic and unique, but Ania hesitates to call it art.
“I think of myself as an artisan, not as an artist — yet.”
That’s because she says what she makes is ultimately functional in both structure and appearance.
Though Ania has been crafting her own beads for a decade now, it doesn’t pay all the bills. She works two part-time jobs in Mission, while her husband Allan is a scuba diving instructor, and they also have two children.
But her hobby is self-sustaining, in that she makes just enough money to purchase everything she requires to make more beads and continue practising.
Ania’s work, and other beadmakers, can be seen at the Fraser Valley Bead Show on Oct. 21 from 2-8 p.m., Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Oct. 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cascades Casino and Convention Centre in Langley.
Admission is $7 and free for children under 12.