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423 Southeast 69th Avenue
Portland, OR, 97215
United States

My Special Bead


My Special Bead


chevron bead

I spent way too much for this red, white and blue bead and I don’t feel guilty. In fact, I don’t even remember how much it cost me at the time(maybe $90?) I only remember that I had to have it for my own. I bought it in a thrift store in Santa Fe. The owner told me it was from the 19th century. I know she wasn’t lying. This bead is a Chevron, likely made in Venice, Italy and likely used as a trade bead in Africa. I say “likely” because my bead did not come with a handy note detailing it’s age and provenance. I do know it is bead-museum quality.  My bead was made from glass in this way: colored glass is heated and blown through a tapered mold with corrugated sides, producing the star-like points on the end of the bead. Additional layers of glass are applied to the center core and molded again to produce another layer with more points. Stripes of glass are then applied to the surface. Still molten, the hollow gather is drawn or stretched into a 6-foot cane, cooled and sectioned into beads.   I bought it because I loved the way it feels in my hand. I love the indigo blue color and the rough patches of brown that speak to the distance and difficulty of the journeys of the people who carried it. I bought it because the stories it holds are rare and beautiful, like the bead itself. The story of african trade beads is a long and not always happy one, but it is worth learning more about these incredible little carriers of history. Chevron beads are plentiful and can be inexpensive, especially if you buy a strand and consider the per bead cost. For me, how much each bead cost me is not the point of having a bead collection. The idea is to appreciate the inherent value of the history that you hold in your hand and understand that the material manifestation of centuries of human experience can be contained in your palm.