Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Round Up: The History of Beads

Necklace given to me made with  beads from Mexico

With all the current interest in tribal beads and getting back to a simpler more primitive bead style, I have been taking out some of my books on the history of beads and looking at them again.  Haven't done this in quite a few years.  Thinking you may be interested in the subject too, I have gathered together a number of books on the subject for today's post.

Let's begin with Peter Francis, Jr.'s book Beads of the World.  It happens by chance that one of the most important early collector of beads and researcher into the history of beads, Peter Francis, Jr. lived not too far from where I live.  His Center for Bead Research was located in Lake Placid.   Although I never met Peter Francis, I did support his website called TheBeadSite. There on his website I found interesting articles about beads and pictures of many beads I had never seen before. Peter died in 2002 while on a research trip to Ghana. However, his website is still maintained. You can find many very interesting articles there about beads from all over the world. Fortunately, his collection was donated to the Bead Museum in Arizona.  Peter's book Beads of the World is still available on  Amazon .  Although the book is designed for someone interested in collecting beads, it is comprehensive and covers beads from many countries beginning with the earliest beads   He has chapters on The Use of Beads; Bead Materials:  organic, stone, glass; each of these chapters include the earliest beads made and the techniques used to make them. In addition to his contribution to the history of beads, Peter Francis was also instrumental in establishing Bead Societies.  He is often quoted as extending the definition of a bead to "anything that has a hole in it and is worn"  and for his mantra "it's not about the beads, it's about the people."  He believed that the study of beads was the study of humanity:  the people who made the beads, the people who traded them and the people who used them and loved them and saved them so that they are still here today.  We as bead makers, designers and lovers of beads are all part of the amazing history of beads.

One of the main contributors to the early research into bead history, according to Peter Francis Jr., is Joan Mowat  Erikson who wrote, the now classic book,  The Universal Bead.  I have had a copy of this book for a long time.  I especially like her chapters on Bead Magic and The Meaning of Beads.  Erikson looks into the history of the connection between beads and eyes  She discusses the use of beads to protect peoples in numerous cultures from the "evil eye."  She talks of the universal appeal of beads almost as if it were wired into our neurological makeup.  One early example of this connection, she suggests, is in the Eye Goddess of Syria pictured below and the Egyptian symbol of the  Eye of Horus.

and finally she shows us an example of this link in the Japanese character for bead and the pupil of the eye.

Africa Adorned by  Angela Davis is a photographic journey into the the jewelry and bodily adornment of Africa.  Angela Davis spent 7 years making this book.  It contains a wealth information and beautiful color photographs.  It is still available but may be out of print. It is most likely available  in your local library. I have included a few pictures below taken from my copy of the book.

Cover of the book  Africa Adorned

Sacred jewelry of iron and stone

                                           More sacred iron and stone jewelry

                       Bella herdsmen jewelry made with contemporary items from the marketplace

Berber Fibula

Turkana bead work made from  natural objects like shell, horn, bone, hair, wood, roots, seeds. and grass

The following are some more books that belong in a history of beads (these are books I would like to have someday): I have highlighted them with links to Amazon and a couple of them let you "look inside."

The History of Beads: From 30,000 B.C. to the Present (Beadwork Books) Paperback – Deluxe Edition, September 1, 1995 

 by Lois Sherr Dubin  (Author)

A Bead Timeline, Vol. I: Prehistory to 1200 CE Paperback – August, 2003by James W. Lankton  (Author)

Collectible Beads: A Universal Aesthetic (Beadwork Books) Hardcover– July, 1995by Robert K. Liu  (Author)

I hope you have enjoyed this brief  list of books on the history of beads and that is has piqued your interest.  In going over this material today, it has brought to mind questions for me to think about when making art beads and using them in jewelry:  how does what I make relate to my beliefs, my sense of place, my sense of community, my intrinsic need to see with my eyes and my hands, and finally how do they give me and others a sense of joy and beauty.

Thanks so much for stopping by.


Unknown said...

I did enjoy your post. I also incorporate history with styles of jewelry and beads. This will help my research.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this article, Mary! I also have the same Peter Francis book and it is a good one! I enjoy thinking about the history of beads and I especially loved the 'it's not about the beads, it's about the people' line - I find that to be so true. Thanks for a great read! -- Julie Wong Sontag

Dawn of LaTouchables said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Mary. I have the Peter Francis book, and love it for it's concise descriptions. What a treasure of information you have shared. Thank you!

baymoondesign said...

Mary-Great article! Your blog has given me lots to think about.

Eileen The Artful Crafter said...

Enjoyed this post immensely. I have a friend who has collected beads from around the world for 50 years and she has given me the honor of stringing new and repairing some deteriorated strands. I love feeling the history as I finger them.

Mary Harding said...

Thank you all for writing in and letting me know that you enjoyed this blog post about some books about the history of beads. I am so pleased to hear from you!!!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post and will have to check out the books and the website some more. I love all beads, but there is a certain fascination with old beads. It IS the people. And there is something beautiful about an old bead that has lasted through time. Thanks for the post!