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Faith Davis Ferris — The Quest Continues LLC

New York, USA

faith2@frontiernet.net

by: Dwyn Tomlinson


Beading Times: How long have you been making beads?
Faith Davis Ferris: Glass (and working with glass) has always been part of my life, even as a child, as my father is a glassblower. In relation to beads specifically, it's been 9 or 10 years and I've been teaching lampwork beadmaking for 7 years.

Beading Times: What got you started making beads?
Faith Davis Ferris: The family joke (well one of them anyway, lol!) is that I was born wearing jewelry. My grandmother and my mother had a profound love of a wide variety of jewelry styles and design. In that respect, I simply followed in their footsteps. I broke with tradition in the late 60's – very early 70's by beginning to design and create jewelry with gemstone, sterling and found materials. The birth of the art glass bead movement that began with tentative steps in the seventies intrigued both my father and I. For him, the technical aspect and possibilities were fascinating and I was drawn to it by both the lure of being part of this renaissance of the ancient art of creating glass beads AND the thrill of creating designer jewelry with my own work as the focus.

Beading Times: Were you interested in making beads before that?
Faith Davis Ferris: I'd always loved the look of glass beads, but prior to that time (and this is going all the way back to the 70's) working glass in the US was primarily furnace work or scientific or sculptural lampwork.

Beading Times: Did you take a class?
Faith Davis Ferris: A lifetime worth, lol... I'm a full time studio glass artist and teacher. I'd worked glass with my father on and off all my life, and ultimately he offered (and I accepted) to apprentice with him to learn and carry on the family tradition of lampworking — both creating and teaching. I'm one of the few second-generation apprentice-trained lampworkers in the US and more unusual still is the fact that I'm 1/2 of the even more rare father/daughter master/apprentice teams.

Beading Times: Have you had anyone that you consider to be a mentor? Tell me about them.
Faith Davis Ferris: Without a doubt, my father. Aside from the obvious master/mentor/apprentice relationship, I have a tremendous respect for the "old world ways" and subsequent level of skill with glass he possesses. He also has a tremendous talent for capturing the sculptural form in glass and is a remarkable teacher. I also have a profound respect for the fact that after 50 years of working glass he still seeks new ways to work with it and explore merging his old world skills with the newest and best of current and emerging technology and forms of glass.

It's been remarkable for me, as his apprentice, to observe and learn the art of working glass by the old apprenticeship measures. The standard of classic apprenticeship being that you lean to "listen" to the glass, to literally "read it" by eye, by "feel." Move it by gravity, by grace of hand, not tool.

He served his apprenticeship with an European Master who taught (and demanded) that any task could and would be done by hand. Not with tools, unless absolutely necessary and even then only the most basic tools. Your skills were not tool- nor machinery-based, but achieved by pure hand skills — which requires a deep understanding of the torch heat, the glass, hand movement, timing. I wanted to learn the same depth of skills, which is not to say that tools — ranging from stump suckers to lathes — are not wonderful and that I don't possess the training to use them, because tools are wonderful and I do use them! My husband claims I have more tools than he does … which may be true! (lol) But my desire was to carry on the timeless (and family) tradition of being able to achieve "the dance of glass," be it bead or sculpture, etc., with as little intervention of technology as possible. The more you interact with only the flame, the glass, the eye, the hand, the closer you move to being a "part of it." Probably sounds a bit dramatic, but it's true … .

Beading Times: What is involved in an apprenticeship?
Faith Davis Ferris: There are of course, variations, but the general pattern of apprenticeship is that you, as the apprentice, begin by learning all the concepts and science and terminology, while performing the very basic, elemental shop tasks — preparing glass and set-ups, etc. — and learning hand positions, and studying how to "read heat" for example.

When I first began, one of my required exercises was to practice hand coordination by rotating a rubber band thumbtacked between two unsharpened pencils — for hours. It was quickly obvious when the rubber band would "twist,"' rather than remain parallel, that my hands were not working in unison with each other. One of the absolute essentials for working off a mandrel with punties is hand-coordination. So those kinds of exercises, and learning of COEs, types of glass, annealing, to mention just a few, were the beginning. As my training continued, the level of complexity was increased incrementally. My apprenticeship continues still, as there is always so very much to learn, and there are techniques and facets of working glass.  I have a long way to go before I'd count myself "skilled" at performing!

But on a timeline, the next significant step was learning the "art" of working glass, and the ways to infuse life and personality into a piece began. Each level of learning is based on the skills of the previous, so proficiency was required to learn the next level. Some skills came with less difficulty than others for me — so some aspects involve(d) more time and repetition — and that never changes as long as you continue learning.

A very unique and interesting aspect of an apprenticeship, (and one I treasure studying with my father), is that you're given the trust, the gift actually, of the depth of skills and personal style accumulated over a lifetime learned and developed by the master you study under thru the years of your apprenticeship. As an apprentice, you're also able to gain an incredible insight into the artist with whom you study, ranging from motivation for his work to his technical skills. Much of this in a generational apprenticeship is shared exclusively, historically, father to son, but in my case, father to daughter. As the apprenticeship progresses the apprentice will begin to experiment with their own voice, something my father has greatly encouraged me to do — concurrent and parallel to my training with him.

So eventually you begin to learn on dual levels — that of your teacher, and thru your own views artistically. Over the years Dad and I have worked together via this apprenticeship, we've shared possibilities, bounced ideas off each other, commiserated over the history and the future of lampworking. I'm very fortunate to have this opportunity to learn from my father. He's a glassblower of impressive skills, a wonderful teacher and mentor. Even now as I continue expanding my personal voice and vision in glass I strive to make him proud of the work I create.

If I had to confine it to a brief synopsis, I guess I'd have to say an apprenticeship is akin to the visual example of a tree. You begin by standing at the massive base of the master artist's knowledge, when you first begin to learn, climbing higher in skills in one direction for a substantial timeframe. Yet the point comes where you are able to appreciate and learn the more complex lessons, the artistic subtleties that are the core of the lifetime skills of the master you apprentice with. Eventually you begin to branch off yet again, creating, yet continually interacting with the skills and influence of the teacher who taught you. No matter how high the tree becomes or how many branches it has it's still intertwined with the roots of the tree.

I've always believed it's a truly remarkable thing to be a chain in the link of generational apprenticeship that goes back to the creations of the first glassblowers, the first time someone said "I wonder what will happen if…" and created from glass, and then passed those skills on to the next in line.


Faith Davis Ferris and her father, Dave Davis
Scientific/Artistic glassblower (50 years working glass this year)

Beading Times: Whose beads inspire you the most?
Faith Davis Ferris: Oddly, I'm not so much drawn to a particular artist as I am to innovation of style, particularly in sculptural beads — cutting edge kind of approach. So I find I'm often inspired by beads created both by newer lampworkers and European glassworkers, as well as the well-known U.S. artists.

Beading Times: Do you sell your beads?
Faith Davis Ferris: I do via my website, www.fdferrisbeads.bigstep.com, Ebay, Justbeads.

Beading Times: Do you make beads for friends?
Faith Davis Ferris: LOL, I have a list of beads/jewelry that are "on the wish list" for family and friends. As a full time artist with working glass being my business and my livelihood (and my passion!) my family and friends understand — or at least accept :-) — the reality that my clients, students, publications, etc always take priority. So yes, I do create for family and friends — but it's a VERY SLOW process — actually referred to as the "hopefully hopeless list," as it's come to be called over the years by my smart-mouth family and friends!

Beading Times: What does your husband and family think of your beadmaking?
Faith Davis Ferris: My husband is beyond wonderful — he has always been an avid admirer of art and is fascinated by art glass. He is my best critic — because he is unfailingly honest and is tirelessly patient with my bizarre hours and the demands that go hand in hand with my "full-time self-employed studio-artist lifestyle."

My father (hi papa! lol) is, of course, very supportive and encouraging in every way. Even now I study with him one day a week to continue to explore the endless learning curve that is glass. Now and again we collaborate on pieces, attend conferences together (recently the GAS conference in Corning, NY). We've often given demos together and taught together. We share learning and laughter often.

My mother (hugs mum!) has a wonderful eye for color, and ever reminds me to be "life balanced." It's tremendously easy when combining self-employment and an art you love passionately to lose track of the fact that life exists outside the studio, away from the torches, the bookwork, the emails. She reminds me that joy is best shared and time waits for no one, so balance must be nurtured.

Many of my clients and students (online and in person) have become wonderful friends, so they of course understand and love glass as I do! Those family and friends who fall outside the "lure of glass" (lol) are supportive for the most part — yet do on occasion seem confused as to why I would (much less enjoy!) working 20 hour days (which is amazingly the norm.)

Beading Times: Your set up must be miles above what the average beadmaker has. What sort of set up do you have for making beads? (Type of torch, gas, kiln, etc.)
Faith Davis Ferris: Three torches currently Major/Minor, Carlisle CC mini, and a Lynx with a strong belief you can never have too many torches, lol. Kilns: Two, third on order :-)

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite product, i.e. bead release, glass, etc.
Faith Davis Ferris: I still stand by FPI bead release — even with my sculpturals it's worked well for me.

Beading Times: What type of glass do you use?
Faith Davis Ferris: I've handled or worked with to a greater or lesser degree every kind of glass commercially available (ranging from the extremes of Moretti to quartz and everything in-between!) The majority of my beadmaking glass however remains Moretti — great color palate and it's more cost effective than boro, though boro has the visual lure of fabulous refraction and light reflective qualities that are commonly associated with "glass." So like classic cities — each glass has it's very particular charm and lure. :-)

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite technique?
Faith Davis Ferris: Probably not — what I find most fascinating is "pushing the envelope" and honing my ability to be versatile. There's absolutely nothing wrong with concentrating on a particular technique or style of bead. But by the same token, it's human nature to want to settle into what one excels at, and art is no exception, so I strive to make my favorite technique something new — it does get to be fun to see what you can come up with or master be it from a book, class, or just your own research and development at the torch.

Beading Times: Do you make sets?
Faith Davis Ferris: I do and enjoy making them. Though I can remember, (lol) when a "set" used to be considered two matching beads or a group of 6-8. Now a "set" more commonly considered to consists of 18-30 beads! :-)

Beading Times: You've been active in the "beadmaking community" a long time. How have you seen it change?
Faith Davis Ferris: Without doubt, the most dynamic change is the growth in the numbers of beadmakers! The second largest change I've noted is the fact that there two cores of beadmaking that exist parallel to each other. Those two groups being: the full-time glass artists (beadmakers and others) and the part-time glass artists (beadmakers and others). A great deal of skill resides in both groups! The realities and expectations, goals and needs of each group can be (and often are) very different. How have beadmakers changed? Mileage varies on that question, lol, depending who you ask, but myself, — I believe the most significant change in the last few years would be the willingness to teach and to share information via classes, publications and the internet, be it in regards to glass technique (beadmaking or otherwise), supply sources, and marketing strategies. It will be fascinating to see if the flow of information can/will be maintained at this level or will readjust to the more historical approach in glassworking (and business at large) of more circumspect dispersal of knowledge as the numbers of beadmakers/glassworkers continues to grow.

I can remember when (true story) my husband and I were on holiday and happened across a demonstrating glassworker. My husband was, at that time, new to glass work and was asking me questions as quickly as I could respond. The gentleman demonstrating quite understandably overheard me explaining technique details to my husband and with a bit of a grimace, turned off his torch and busied himself with arranging his display of glass items for sale. The moment we drifted away, he began to demonstrate once again. On a historical timeline, the unfettered sharing of information of glassworking technique is very new and hopefully will continue!

Beading Times: What about the marketplace, how have the buyers changed?
Faith Davis Ferris: Personally I think it's wonderful and a healthy part of the renaissance of art glass that buyers, (be they collectors or designers), are becoming exceedingly educated to issues that define and differentiate "quality art glass beads." A solid knowledge-base now exists amongst buyers when evaluating both imports and skill level of individual beadmakers/sellers.

Beading Times: Have you had to change the way you work and sell to accommodate the marketplace?
Faith Davis Ferris: Absolutely. The market has altered massively in numerous ways — volume of beadmakers, and subsequently numbers of beads offered, and pricing structure, to mention only a handful. The internet has had an astounding effect on marketing for both buyers and sellers. There are now ever widening available sales venues for beadmakers — which is wonderful! Yet the internet also brings world-wide competition. Long gone are the days artists, shops, bead stores or teachers were able to dominate a local market/clientele. I've found the changes to be incredibly exciting and motivating as a full-time studio artist and teacher in the field — yet it's very competitive on both hobby and professional levels.

Beading Times: Which do you prefer to make, a pile of beads or a single perfect bead?
Faith Davis Ferris: I'd choose to make one sculptural bead, hands down, because I find them far more enjoyable. There is no doubt a skill level is certainly required to create good matching beads, it's just that for me after all these years at the torch my personal leaning is towards the unique "one-ofs." A lot of challenge and expression exists for me in sculptural work.

Beading Times: Have you developed a "signature" bead, a unique type of bead that is recognizably yours. Tell us about it, how you developed it, etc.
Faith Davis Ferris: Signature beads are a curious thing. For a number of years I thought that, as an artist, I'd choose a bead and consider it my "signature bead." In reality, what happens (or so it went for me at least) is that the bead community, your clients, your beadmaking students, tend to identify or are drawn to a bead you create and you become, through no plan of your own necessarily, known by or for that bead.

In my case my signature bead style became (and is) my dragons, both sculptural and spiral. The identification between me and my "signature dragon beads" began many years ago on a forum or chat board when someone was trying to locate me for a commission or a class and asked if anyone knew the lampworker who created spiral dragons. Remember, this was when lampwork glass beads in the U.S. were almost unheard of, and sculptural U.S. artist glass beads were very rare. And so began, the signature bead link between my dragons and I. The dragons were always the premier sellers when I did shows (long ago, lol), they were the beads requested for promo materials, they evolved into being the beads featured online, and luckily for me, they are one of my 'heart and soul' beads — I love to create them. They still whisper in my ear when I'm at the torch. So they are, and always will be, my signature bead.

Beading Times: What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
Faith Davis Ferris: My "art vs technical perfectionism" struggle. I tell my students this story. I had an order for two gross (oh my, yes, 288!) Moretti spacer beads. I pushed myself to see that every single one — EVERY one was exactly the same. Diameter, width, amount of kiln release on the mandrel, so the stringing accesses were exactly the same. Insanity inducing. Still, I take my work and my clients very seriously and this was (in those days) a very big order from a new account. I made up my mind I would see that each bead would be exactly the same — in every way. I completed the order, cleaned and strung in groups of 50 and off they were shipped. I was a happy soul!

A few days later the phone rang, it was the buyer who said (and I'll never forget this to the day I die … lol) " there seems to be some confusion with my order. The beads are lovely, but I needed, and ordered, artist-created beads made INDIVIDUALLY by the ARTIST." As I'm listening to this, I'm becoming a bit confused. I reply "Indeed, that's what I created and shipped to you!" "Oh no," she replied, "that can't be, because I have them here in front of me and they are so exact in size, width, hole size that they can only be manufactured, no artist would be that precise, that consistent, that anal … . These must be mass produced!"

It was a dark — but highly educational — day for me. I realized that while every bead that left (or leaves) my studio WILL always be technically perfect, it's equally important as an artist not to smother and/or remove the subtle variations that make "hand made" what it is — variable and individual. So learning to continue working glass with "technical perfection" while letting "creative variation" have a voice was the hardest for me! :-)

Beading Times: Too funny! What an encouraging story too for beginning beaders and those who struggle to make two beads that match for earrings!

Beading Times: What is the hardest kind of bead to make for you?
Faith Davis Ferris: BICONES! HATE them lol! For me they are like trimming bangs — one side is always a bit "off" so I marver — too flat — add — too high —marver — too flat add too high … oh my gawd, please just kill me! lol

Beading Times: The easiest?
Faith Davis Ferris: Sculptural — mermaid, dragon, faerie, sheep, frog. They "talk to me" (Either my muse or too much time alone in the studio? who can say, lol) but they "flow" for me....

 

Beading Times: Now you call this bead a "Relationship Snake" bead. Is there a story here?
Faith Davis Ferris: LOL, keep in mind I've been married (happily) for 29 years — but that doesn't mean we necessarily see things "eye to eye" — we're both pretty darn opinionated! So there's ALWAYS a "discussion" on every freakin thing we do....

One time after a particularly long discussion back and forth, back and forth, I headed to the studio to do some work and that old saying "two heads are better than one" popped into my mind! LOL. Well maybe — or maybe not! !

It was just too good a visual joke to pass up — so I made one for my husband, of course, and being the great guy he is, he laughed when I gave it to him as an "icon" of our tendency for discussions (he still has it on the desk in his study!) So there's the story of the "two headed relationship snake bead!" (And just as a point of interest, I did eventually get my way!)

Beading Times: What is your favorite kind of bead or technique?
Faith Davis Ferris: I love to case (or encase) beads. One of the most alluring aspects of glass is its ability to magnify, it's properties of refraction and reflection. It's amazing to try and succeed in capturing those properties in a work of art as small as a bead!

Beading Times: How have your beads changed? Since you started or over the years?
Faith Davis Ferris: Oh let me count the ways!

Beading Times: Do you still have the first beads you made? What do you think of them now?
Faith Davis Ferris: Yes, and they are one of my dearest possessions. My father taught me and I tell my students the same. KEEP your first attempts all through your progress in working glass! First beads, first latticino, first pulled points for hollow work, first hollow work, you name it. And here's why: Obviously, looking back on your "old work" keeps you encouraged, it lets you see how far you've come. But more importantly, it keeps you humble and in touch with the fact each of us who loves and works glass still have so much to learn.

My first very, very bad (yep really bad!) bead of moretti sit next to an ebay print out of one of my sculptural dragons that sold for $250.00 — my worst and best, side by side, lol.

My first latticino that looks like I was dragged behind a truck while I pulled it and sits next to the ones I pulled a few months ago. And right in that drawer are some (no room for all!) of the dog-legged points I pulled. And my first blowing attempts — things I still have so much to learn about and improve upon even now! Old work is good — encouraging and humbling — keeps you happily grounded, even as you become good at working glass.

Beading Times: What was your scariest beadmaking experience?
Beading Times: The first time I taught a group of 10 students. Truly, I nearly wet my pants during the opening demo, lol! I've always preferred to teach one to one, so that was without doubt MY scariest. I'm now back to teaching only one to one (and no longer need to buy depends, lol)!

Beading Times: Do you have a technique or method or tip to share?
Faith Davis Ferris: Practice — it's core to mastering any technique — from first bead to end of life!

Casing — Supply rod hot — BEAD NOT! Most lifting in cased beads comes from having the bead too hot rather than the casing rod really flowing. Bead should be warm, but no glow!

ANNEAL your work (kiln anneal). You can't cheat the laws of molecular physics. If you anneal your beads they will be more stable/stronger (and even if you don't believe it to be absolutely essential, can it be in any way detrimental to avail your beads, customers, students, family of the BEST technology currently available?) Anneal! To kiln anneal for the COE of the glass used is good! :-)

Beading Times: Have you invented any new tools, or recycled something that wouldn't ordinarily be thought of as a tool for lampworking?
Faith Davis Ferris: I'm mostly known for inventing new words — lol — or phrases that "stick" with my students. In one of my larger classes, I told someone who was having terrible trouble keeping her mandrel level (and creating "pointy-ended" beads in the process) that I was the "level fairy" — lol — and would swoop in if I saw her tip her mandrel. She did, so I did. LOL.... To this day, she tells me she still hears me say "don't tick off the level fairy!" in her mind when she works (and she's been creating stunning beads for years) … .

Beading Times: Could you share with us some pictures of your studio set up?
Faith Davis Ferris: These are quite old pictures, sorry, so you don't see all three torches or both kilns (as the purpose at the time of these shots was different purpose, less oriented to equipment and studio layout)
but at least it's some visual reference.

My studio building is split into 4 segments. The lion's share is the actual studio work area, separated by a wall of bevel-design glass panels, where there is the second segment — which is an area brimming with display cases, tools and beads for sale. Or you can grab a cup of coffee, browse the reference library of glassworking books, journals, bead magazines, etc.

I also store the majority of my seed beads there for designing my finished work and teaching jewelry classes, in a hopeless number of the cases with clear drawers that are meant for holding screws, nuts, bolts, etc. Hey, you can NEVER have too many beads, right? lol

The other two areas are rooms for shipping and storage.

1 2

1. View from the salon thru another of the wall petitions toward the work area (ceramic torso - one of my favorite studio pieces of inspiration)
2. Sa'lon/display/sales/non-glass-class area

Beading Times: What about photographing your beads? What do you use to get your pictures?
Faith Davis Ferris: I've used (and still use) a variety of methods/equipment for pictures. Being a partial dinosaur — I still use a tripod and 35 mm camera for some shots, a variety of computer/digital imaging tools/camera(s) for others and even break down periodically and have professional shots taken.

Beading Times: What kind of classes do you teach now? Beginners, advanced?
Faith Davis Ferris:
Moretti: Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced
Moretti: Special Intensives - 3 or 4 hour classes that focus on technique.
Boro: Beginning
Boro: Intermediate
Jewelry Creation: Basic
Marketing: Basic and Intermediate
Portfolio Creation

Beading Times: Do you have a website or auction site that you regularly sell you beads on?
Faith Davis Ferris:

www.fdferrisbeads.bigstep.com

Ebay http://members.ebay.com/aboutme/the*quest*continues, or auctions

Just Beads ID glasschick

Or if you would like to know of new auctions or website updates email faith2@frontiernet.net and just put subscribe in the subject line.

Beading Times: Thank you for your time and energy! We'll let you get back to your torch now!


Beading Times is pleased to present a monthly article spotlighting a lampwork bead artist. If you, or someone you know is interested in being featured, please contact dwyn@beadingtimes.com.