Archived Featured Bead Artists
Ania Karolina Kyte, Amy Waldman Engel, Barrie Edwards, Jodi Lindsey

 

   

Rebecca Voris

Massachusetts, USA

ravoris@fastmail.fm

by: Dwyn Tomlinson


This month, Beading Times takes a trip to ancient times and some of the historical aspects of lampwork beadmaking.

 

Beading Times: How long have you been making beads?
Rebecca Voris: Since October of 2002

Beading Times: What got you started making beads?
Rebecca Voris: Well, it all started with Robin Hood.

Beading Times: Robin Hood?
Rebecca Voris: I always loved the stories of Robin Hood. I had several versions of them as a kid, including the Howard Pyle version, and re-read them constantly. I made "longbows" from sticks in the backyard, and tried to get my cousins to play the Sheriff of Nottingham. As a result, I have always thought of the Middle Ages as a romantic, interesting time.

In high school, I had a friend who was in a medieval recreation group called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). He told me about how SCA members get together to hold tournaments and revels where they dress in medieval clothes and attempt to recreate some of the atmosphere and pageantry of that bygone day. I thought it sounded really neat, but to get to things I would have needed a car, and I never hooked up with it.

We went off to separate colleges, and then a couple years later, he called to tell me he'd just transferred to my school, and would I like to go with him to an SCA event? I went, had a great time, and then didn't do anything with it. He called me up about six months later to ask me if I'd like to go to another event, and this one took. I've been involved in the SCA ever since. That was awhile ago. At my second event, a proud father introduced me to his two-month-old son. This boy is now taller than his father and sporting a goatee.

One of the best things about the SCA is how it introduces you to new hobbies, and gives you a place to practice them. For example, in order to go to an event, you need a set of medieval clothing. You cannot buy this at Wal-Mart. You have to sew it yourself. I knew how to sew before joining the SCA, but only simple things like curtains. Now I can sew even very complicated garments, such as elaborate Elizabethan outfits. I knew the basics of woodworking from junior high woodshop, but in the SCA I've made an oak slat bed, based on a Viking model, that breaks down for transport. I've cooked feasts for 100 people. I've made a brick oven and cooked bread in it. I've learned how to make Ukrainian easter eggs, chip carving, lucet cord, and leatherworking. I've learned project management skills through running events.

The one area in which I was deficient was metalworking. Last October, we had an event called the Metalsmithing Symposium. It was a weekend long event with classes on all aspects of metalworking. This was the perfect opportunity for me to fix this gap in my education, plus it looked like a lot of fun. I was primarily there for the blacksmithing classes, but I had a hole in my schedule, and there was this class called "Viking Beads." This turned out to be lampwork beadmaking - the Vikings loved beads, and imported them and the glass to make them. Mandrels with beads still stuck on them have been found in Viking digs. So at this class I learned to melt glass and slop it on a mandrel. The teacher was contagiously enthusiastic, but not terribly knowledgeable. Nevertheless, I had a great time, made a dozen beads that I thought were the coolest beads in the world, and went home and ordered a torch.

In July and October of 2003, and probably many occasions after that, I will be paying forward the debt I owe that teacher by teaching a similar class at another SCA event.

Beading Times: Gosh, that was a roundabout introduction to beads and beadmaking! Were you interested in making beads before that?
Rebecca Voris: No. I was not interested in making beads, nor in using them, and had avoided all the jewelry classes at the Metalsmithing Symposium!

Beading Times: Did you take any other lampworking classes?
Rebecca Voris: No, only that one. The bulk of my education has been from books and the Internet. While I was waiting for my torch to arrive, I went web-searching for beads to inspire me. I found the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB) website, and started reading the Forum. I read it all the way back to the previous June, when they'd switched over to their current system. It took me days! But every day I would find the answer to a question I'd had — basic questions, like how to make a bead round, or what kind of welding rods to use for mandrels — or I'd find answers to questions I hadn't even known to ask. I was dangerously ignorant when I started this, and failed to make some nasty mistakes thanks to the ISGB safety forum. I didn't know that you shouldn't store propane indoors, or use it in the basement.

I also bought, or got for Christmas, most of the books currently available on beadmaking. Cindy Jenkin's Making Glass Beads was a godsend. James Kervin's pamphlet on Jim Smircich was also terrific. I'd actually read a lot of the advice on the ISGB forum, but there was one picture that sparked an "Aha!" moment that was worth the cost of the book to me.

Beading Times: Have you had anyone that you consider to be a mentor? Tell me about them.
Rebecca Voris: I am very grateful to the members of the ISGB New England chapter, who have welcomed me in their group and taken me seriously as a bead artist, despite my bright shiny newbieness. Linda Foote, Beth Williams, and Connie Pollard have been especially nice.

Beading Times: Whose beads inspire you the most?
Rebecca Voris: I get inspired not so much by one particular artist as by a particular bead which may have excellent technique or great colors. The web is a great source of eye candy, especially the WetCanvas! glass art showcase.

Beading Times: Do you sell your beads?
Rebecca Voris: Yes. I sell online, both through the auction sites and on my webpage, I have beads at one bead store, and I sell in person at shows and at SCA events. And at any other random place I might happen to be. I'm a tiny bit obsessive, so glass and beadmaking tends to be my main topic of conversation just because it's so neat. I've learned to always have some inventory with me, to show people who are interested, and I make some sales that way.

Beading Times: Do you make beads for friends?
Rebecca Voris: Oh yes. That's part of the fun. Everybody gets beads for Christmas. Sometimes a friend will say or do something that turns into a bead, and then I have to give it to them.

Beading Times: What does your spouse and family think of your beadmaking?
Rebecca Voris: My Significant Other is very supportive. He always wants to see what comes out of the kiln, offers aesthetic advice, and asks after my auctions. My family were dubious at first — they've heard about a lot of hobbies, most of which have only limited appeal. I mean, I've made a couple of Temari balls, and they're pretty, but what do you do with them? Also, I think they had in their heads that this was a camp-crafty type of thing, like making beads out of newspaper or macaroni. When they saw that this was real glass, and when they saw how pretty the results were, they became much more interested. And of course it solves the problem of what to get me for Christmas and birthday presents more or less forever. More glass!

Beading Times: What sort of set up do you have for making beads? (Type of torch, gas, kiln, etc.)
Rebecca Voris: I have a Hot Head torch with a bulk tank of MAPP gas, and the small AIM kiln with a bead door.

Beading Times: The "Viking" bead aspect is fascinating. How different were the techniques that were used then? Obviously bottled oxygen and propane were not available!
Rebecca Voris: That is something about which I would like to learn a lot more than I do. I believe that early wound glass work was done on a small glass furnace. Pictures that I've seen look like a knee-high volcano. Later, of course, they invented the oil lamp with bellows, and lampwork as we know it began.

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite product, i.e. bead release, glass, etc.
Rebecca Voris: My dremel tool. With the diamond reamer, cleaning beads is a minimal chore. I hate the drudge work.

Beading Times: What type of glass do you use?
Rebecca Voris: Mostly Moretti with some Lauscha.

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite technique?
Rebecca Voris: I like making organic beads by winding the glass on, then dotting on other colors while the base color is still lumpy and misshapen. Then I superheat and shape. I love making use of the alchemical tricks the various colors play on each other, like the way purple pushes the pigments around in many colors, or the dark line that forms between turquoise and ivory, or letting greens or ivory spread out like clouds. I like making flattened bicones, and rounding the edges so it looks like a pebble.

Beading Times: Do you make sets?
Rebecca Voris: Seldom. I find it more economical to make focal beads.

Beading Times: Which do you prefer to make, a pile of beads or a single perfect bead?
Rebecca Voris: I'm a dragon at heart, so I like a big pile of beads. But I want them all to be perfect!

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.
Rebecca Voris: A single bead? No.

I do feel I have my own definite style, but if you asked me what it was I couldn't tell you. This is one of the things I have to learn as I progress as a beadmaker.

Working with glass has been different from other media I've used. I had the standard art classes in school, enough to know that I could draw a recognizable likeness. But in drawing, painting, clay, etc., I always felt that there was a block between what my head wanted to do and what my hand did. I could see it in every line I drew. It was so consistent I had to conclude that it was my "style", and it is the reason I never pursued art seriously. With glass, it is as if this block rotated 90 degrees and became a prism. Not that my hand always does what I want now, but I can fix that with enough practice.

Beading Times: What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
Rebecca Voris: It was, and still is, lack of resources. I want and need a proper studio space, a bigger torch, better ventilation … .

Beading Times: What is the hardest kind of bead to make for you?
Rebecca Voris: Encased stripes — the kind that run from one hole to another. I never get the encasing right, and the stripes boil up from underneath.

Beading Times: The easiest?
Rebecca Voris: Single-color spacer beads. I would think that's true for everyone, but I have learned to be wary of such sweeping assumptions.

Beading Times: What is your favorite kind of bead or technique?
Rebecca Voris: Of the beads I've made, my favorites are the ones I call the Mars series, because the usual background has a rather Martian aspect to it. I make a red bead with oranges, yellows, and a little bit of black smeared organically on the surface, and add turquoise in some fashion.

Of the beads I've seen, my favorites are usually the cleverest, or the ones with the best use of color.

Beading Times: How have your beads changed? Since you started or over the years?
Rebecca Voris: You can definitely see an improvement in technique, in sureness of design, and of size. My first beads were tiny.

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Beading Times: Do you still have the first beads you made? What do you think of them now?
Rebecca Voris: Some of them. Oh my gods, the quivering horror! Chill marks! Sharp pointy bits at the holes! Not a pucker in sight.

Beading Times: What was your scariest beadmaking experience?
Rebecca Voris: It was, and still is, approaching stores to try to get them to carry my work.

Beading Times: Do you have a technique or method or tip to share?
Rebecca Voris: I have a terrific metaphor for explaining to the general public why annealing is important, but it requires the audience to be familiar with a particular Renaissance dance. It works really well when explaining to my fellow SCA members, but not so great for the rest of the world.

Beading Times: Try us anyway!
Rebecca Voris:
Oh all right. I'll try to tell it so it makes sense to everyone else.

There's a very simple Renaissance dance called the Tangle Bransle. A bransle is a circle dance, where everyone takes hand in a circle. The Tangle Bransle is where one couple drops hands, and then the loose ends lead the rest of the line around and through the other line. Like a maniac game of Twister, you could find yourself trying to duck under one pair of hands and over another, while keeping hold of the hands of people who are trying to do the same, and who may also have other people ducking under or over them. Got that picture?

Now picture what happens when you cry "Halt!" in the middle of the dance. Some people are going to be trying to hold onto hands that are halfway across the room. Eventually someone's going to let go and, "Sproing!", the circle falls apart.

Alternately, picture what happens when the music winds down gradually. Everyone has a chance to sort themselves out, and they end the dance in a well-balanced, relaxed position holding hands with their neighbors. They can stand that way for a long time.

Cooling glass too quickly is like calling "Halt!" in the middle of the dance. Cooling it down very slowly, such as overnight in a kiln, is like ending the music gradually. This process is called annealing. Unannealed beads can split unexpectedly, even days or months later. Annealed beads are likely to last the ages.

Beading Times: That's a wonderful metaphor! Is annealing a new discovery, or did the Vikings understand this too? Or did they simply limit the size of the beads?
Rebecca Voris: There seems to be some evidence that they knew about annealing. Apparently they warmed components and put finished beads in frying pans on the furnace, and I have heard claims that they gradually moved the frying pans to cooler locations.

Beading Times: What about photographing your beads - what do you use to get your pictures?
Rebecca Voris: I have a scanner. It is not ideal, but it fit my budget. The pictures are not publication-quality, but my beads seem to sell with them.

Beading Times: Do you have a website or auction site that you regularly sell you beads on?
Rebecca Voris: http://rvoris.topcities.com

Beading Times: Thank you very much for the insight into just how old the tradition of lampwork beadmaking is. And, of course, how timeless and universal the appeal of lampworked beads are! We wish you and future beadmakers best of luck with your upcoming classes!


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.