Exhibit displays beadery as expression

by Ingrid Skjong

Luminescent beads in rich hues of blue, crimson and gold glinted in the Goldstein Gallery’s soft lighting as Paul and Megan Wright strolled through the showroom.
Expecting to find a fashion-related exhibit in a gallery usually associated with costume and design, the couple was pleasantly surprised with what they encountered.
“We were expecting costumes, not beads, but this is delightful,” Wright said, who was visiting from Rosemount, Minn.
Located in McNeal Hall on the St. Paul campus, the Goldstein Gallery unveiled its newest exhibit “Bead Dreams, Future Visions” last month. The collection itself is a visual explosion of sculptures, wall hangings and jewelry constructed of, or embellished with, thousands of multi-colored beads.
The gallery held a similar bead exhibit two years ago, and the incredible attendance and interest prompted organizers to resurrect the event this year, said Rodney Schwartz, assistant to the director of the Goldstein Gallery.
Exhibit designer Barbara Martinson said beading’s popularity in the 1920s and 1930s is beginning to resurface. As the popularity of bead work grows, would-be beaders, established artists and the general public come to experience the collection’s eclectic mix.
It also gives bead artists a chance to keep current on changing techniques and trends and to see what others in the field are doing, Schwartz added.
To further the theme of the exhibit, the gallery has offered beading workshops and plans to hold a bead bazaar and symposium next month.
While some works on display are purely humorous takes on everyday life, others go a step further and delve into a variety of women’s issues.
For Shawn Judge, beads provided an effective medium for a piece addressing female mutilation, which is a controversial ritual that initiates girls into womanhood in some African and Middle Eastern countries.
An actress from St. Paul who began beading five years ago, Judge said her piece shows the ensnarement of young girls by the traditional practices.
“There are so many things you can do with beads,” Judge said. “It’s evident in the exhibit.”
Other works take a more light-hearted approach. One titled “Goddess of Lore and Laundry” depicts a haggard mother juggling several rambunctious children.
“It’s a great example of how everyday life can be expressed through art,” said gallery director Lindsay Shen.
While some artists take the opportunity to express social commentary through their work, others like 30-year veteran Bob Burninghan take a more traditional route.
Burninghan submitted an elaborately beaded vest. His technique of combining embroidery and beading is a time-consuming and often tedious task.
A mere six inches of completed beading can take eight to 10 hours to finish, he said.
“I’m after the final effect,” Burninghan said. “That’s what makes the thing worthwhile.”
Although he enjoys his work and the gratification of producing a finished piece, he does draw boundaries as to what he will no longer attempt.
A jacket Burninghan beaded for another exhibition took him 30 months to finish — much too long, especially during hot, sticky summers, he admitted.