Ange Adair on the Endurance of Beading
Vancouver, Canada: where
12 min: read time
When visiting Vancouver I had expressed to Jeannie how I wished I could meet some artists to chat with out West. She immediately brought me to Space where I saw Ange sitting over a large desk. Tiny packages of beads were spread around and a colourful pile was poured out over a felt mat. Her fingers worked carefully around a tiny loom. She was weaving a self portrait on the bead loom. Ange will be a participate in the upcoming show Made from Scraps: Volume 1 which you can check out if you are in the East Vancouver area. The show which is presented by Vancouver Arts Community will be hosted by Pat Christie in Space and opens on November 15th. Ange sat with me to delve into her intricate world of beading.
Where was your interest in beads as a medium sparked?
I’ve been a beader my whole life. My mom had taught me when I was a little kid. Every Christmas, when my aunts and uncles gave us gifts my mom would hint at them what to get - it was often beading books. So I had all these books and I taught myself beading techniques through the books. Then when I was going to Emily Carr University, I started working at the bead store on Granville Island. So, after I got this job at the bead store, I started teaching workshops while I was going to school. Then, when I graduated Emily Carr, LaSalle just happened to call the shop asking if they knew someone who would teach in their Jewellery Program.
So you never went to school to be a teacher?
At Emily Carr, I got a degree in sculpture. That is enough accreditation to teach at a design school that offers a diploma. I do have a master’s in education but that came later. In my twenties, I tried so many things to make a living through the beads. I was able to make rent every month, but it was always a scramble. I had to teach myself a lot of skills. I had a live/work studio in my apartment, would come over and learn to make jewellery with me. I decided to get my masters to open more doors. But it took a while for that to happen. You don’t just get a master’s degree and then people throw jobs at you. The thing that happened to me after Emily Carr was pretty lucky.
What I wanted to ask you about working at LaSalle is that have you learnt from your students or in the process of teaching and sharing?
Things will definitely come up with students that change my opinion and view of things. But as an artist, it does partially stifle me. Right after you left the other day I kind of messed up on the piece I was working on. I needed to extend the length of the weaving a little bit, and to put this thing back on the loom. The bead loom is my speciality, it’s a class that I have been teaching for so many years I always felt like I knew it like the back of my hand and yet just I discovered a thing that was so obvious but I hadn’t considered it. With the loom, I had a system, and I taught that consistently. Though I am constantly changing my courses pedagogically, sometimes I get stuck in a certain way of looking at things.
Our course at LaSalle, which is a year-long, takes students with zero experience. So, teaching beginner-level students means being focussed on beginner-level things. Finally, after so many years, my portfolio is just starting to reflect the sculptural and bigger works that I have been dreaming of. My focus had always been on supporting those more ambitious students to do the things that I should have been doing myself. “My” portfolio until now is mostly my student’s work.
How as an artist do you think you would benefit from being a bit more selfish?
I am already finding that. My practice is bead weaving and I know a lot of things about bead weaving. I have gone really deep into it. But taking some of these skills out of my course instead of teaching the students everything that I know has been a huge step for me. Having students ask for more becomes my pleasure because I know are really interested in it. It has a lot to do with Space as well. I have seen myself work through so many of my bead weaving ideas. I have finally felt motivated to work them out of my system. When I first came here there was this big tube that I was working on it was about five feet. People usually like to stick their arm in it. It was hanging on the wall here for a long time. There are a couple other massive pieces that I have seen through here: things that are more related to sculpture than jewellery.
The necklace on your Instagram page in red and blue firepolish beads. It's stunning!
Yeah, that is one of them. It’s interesting that people like that. I don’t think anyone here realized how much I was cutting it apart and redoing it. I redid it about five times… I am waiting for a Christmas party or something to wear that too.
Is it bead weaving as well?
Yup. That is hand work off a loom. It is called the peyote stitch. That technique will be featured in a few weeks at the Museum of Vancouver. If you look behind you I chopped up some of Ender’s cardboard tubes (from his fabric rolls) to make these massive beads. That profile actually fits the dimensions of the really tiny seed bead I normally work with. So, I will weave some of it then I will be teaching participants how to do it. I find this weave very interesting because you see it in basically every human culture that exists. There is something almost evolutionary about this weave.
What about beads themselves, what is very special to you about a bead?
I find it really interesting that our human ancestors took the time to pierce objects into beads. The Neanderthals probably didn’t have drills; they were grinding it - scraping it basically until they got a hole. It would have been a lot of work. I aim to apply to the school of Anthropology at UBC because I think that I might actually be useful to the field: being able to identify techniques and how they are made. I find it interesting the effort that it takes. Even with our modern machine-manufactured beads. I tend to use beads from Japan. They are so perfectly crafted, and when I consider the process of making this little tiny treasure, I think that is what truly fascinates me. With jewellery, in general, it is incredibly time intensive.
If you could go to any time period or culture in the world to explore their examples of beadwork which would you choose?
I would go Neanderthal. Cro-Magnon - super early. I’d like to see what they were doing and figure out why exactly they were doing that.
It’s a human ancestor. Magnon, it’s pre-homo sapiens. We find their remains with beads.
Made out of something like dinosaur bones?
Out of local things. We can find beads made of shells millions of years later, but there were surely other locally-found things that they used that were biodegradable. So yeah, it is incredibly fascinating. It is evolutionary. It is not just a hobby. You think how much time and history has past and beads are still being made - this practice still exists. I think there is something important about it as humans have always been doing it. Also, the same techniques are found around the world between cultures that wouldn’t have had any contact with each other.
What is the most ambitious beading project that you have taken on to date?
There is the biggest one that I have ever started with the tiny beads, it’s still on the loom. By going big, I am learning that the bead loom is designed for thinner straps. Otherwise, it is too hard to get my hands underneath it, which is how you need to use the tool. There are different techniques that would be much better for a larger-sized project with tiny beads. I am glad that I tried it and got the loom warped for the experience. But, I feel like I am pushing it out of its natural state. If I am trying to achieve something that is well done, I must accept it if there is a better way.
*She points up to the large frame Pat - who runs Space - has built for an upcoming show titled “Scraps”.*
So we are working on this huge loom project here which will be about 12 feet by 3 feet or slightly more. Pat is cutting the beads out of wood blocks, an inch and a half square, and I’ll drill the holes. That seems to me like it will be way more manageable than the 9 inch wide one with tiny beads. I have been really into collaborating lately. Into beading the work of other people and beading portraits.
The loom for the made from Scraps show is the wooden structure leaned against the wall in the right of the photo.
Is that something that has been the influence of working in Space?
Totally, that is one of our things. We encourage the collaboration. It started with Jopa, He is a calligrapher. We did a bracelet called “I heart grammar”. I also did a piece for a show that he curated. It says “be”. It was a massive piece and was work intensive but very simple. The portraits seem to be the thing that people really connect with. At Space, I am actually finishing pieces. In the past, I might have embarked, bought the materials and it would sit in its little bag unfinished. It’s been good for all of us here to see the influence we have on other people when we follow through with a project. I can see the influence of my Space co-workers in my own work.
Before you begin putting the beads on a loom, how do you go about preparing yourself to get to work?
As this is a bracelet collection, I choose photos of people in a standing position to fit the profile. People are offering their own photos, and it is interesting when I see the snooty artist come out of me and realize why artists can be so particular. It’s like no; I want the person standing in a certain way. I can recognize it as soon as I see what will fit the bracelet. Then there is a graph involved and I use a computer to set it up. Didn’t have a computer until 2006 so I used to use a photocopier to get a grid over an image. Then I pencil-crayoned it in. I know that I could get Photoshop to automatically make my graphs. But it’s not what I want. *laughs* I think that the startling quality that occurs from me colouring in the pixels what makes it art. It’s what makes it me. And leaves my fingerprint in there. I love that it’s related to pixilation and there is a kind of coding aspect to it. I am not a coder, but when you are in a graph and you have one rectangle that has two colours exactly evenly; you have to decide which colour to choose to make it a certain way. I tend to with all my projects give myself guiding constraints.
To help focus?
I think I find something actually happens when I provide structure. Otherwise, I can get caught up in all the possibilities and never get started. But I also think of it as translating. I am the translation tool, translating the photo to this. I like taking other artists work and running it through my translation tool. I can learn a lot like this. Jopa, who is a naturally an incredible designer- would notice something slightly off-centre. I probably wouldn’t. Going into his work pixel by pixel and analyzing it that way I learnt a lot about balance. I could also see how incredibly gifted he was. It is incredible to just get in there. I like the idea of sharing the ownership of work. Not everyone will agree - but I’d think humans would show a lot more progress if we didn’t have this idea of private intellectual property.
Beading is such a wearable art form. What do you do with your projects once they are completed?
I have an Etsy Shop called FulKroma with a bunch of bracelets in vibrant colours. I market them to men. I do it subtly by using male models. I don’t say anything about “men’s jewellery”. That marketing has been successful, because about half of my customers so far have been men.
Why do you want to market them towards men?
It’s half of the population. I like the idea of liberating men from black. In terms of these things that are deemed feminine… being able to wear colour. I want to support the guys who are interested in that. I think it will help everybody if we stop having this super binary approach to gender and dressing. Working in the bead store I would see men stand in the hallway, hear men tell their sons that they can’t make a bracelet because it’s for girls. I have also seen a progression towards equality. A lot of my best beading students are men. It is more of the gender bender that I am interested in. Not allocating certain ideas because of a sex organ. It might seem like a lot but it is simple.
Interview and photography by Alexis Venerus
Follow Ange @fulkroma
See more of Ange's work on her site here