The next time you’re around a metric ruler, look at the size of a millimeter.
It’s really, really itty bitty. Jewelry seed beads of this size are problematic to pick up and work with.
Now, go out and look at a horse, which is . . . rather larger.
Combine the two, and you have entered the world of beadweaver Alison Oman. The Clarkston artist creates what she calls tiny glass tapestries, woven drawings with beads that she fashions into bracelets and amulet bag necklaces. (This latter is a Native American “pouch” worn around the neck. It contains small treasures that ward off evil, enhance the wearer’s safety, or bring good luck.)
One of the many challenges of beadweaving, Oman explains, is fitting the detail and meaning of a much larger subject into a “canvas” of 2 x 2 inches in size.
“As an example, I have always loved horses, and have beaded many pieces featuring them. But an animal that big reduced to just a few beads must still make a statement. It needs to show freedom, grace, and intelligence!” Oman says.
“So I try to produce pieces that focus on emotions that I feel when I look at a certain animal, or remember a particular event, place or person.”
Born and raised in London, England, Oman fell in love with the American West on a visit to Oregon in the mid 1970s. Now a U.S. citizen, she incorporates all elements of her background, travels, and experience into her designs — from childhood horse rides in the fields and parks around her London home to a mental image from the latest book she is reading.
“I love to draw, so all the pieces are from my own designs,” Oman says. “I tend to shy away from most Native American designs. As a Londoner, I don’t think I can do their motifs justice!”
For the weaving, Oman works with primarily Delica beads — Japanese manufactured seed beads that are uniformly shaped to be as tall as they are wide — and incorporates a variety of beads for the finishing work and fringe: glass, silver, gold, metal, anything that catches the eye and works with the particular piece. Describing beads as “dangerously addictive,” Oman finds buying inventory a joyful and exhilarating experience.
“In London’s Piccadilly Circus, I found a small bead store with some beautiful, wooden, hand-carved creatures. Some have not yet been used, as they still have to ‘tell’ me how they want to be used.
“In Kona, Hawaii, I found beautiful glass beads forged with lava and ash to create amazing colors and designs.
“And in Ketchikan, Alaska, I walked out of a jewelry store without buying a silver mermaid, only to jog back later because I could ‘see’ this particular piece, which later became The Mermaid and the Seahorse.”
Thousands of Beads
Depending upon its finished size, each woven project incorporates from several hundred to multiple thousand beads. It can take months to complete, as the weaving is just the starting point of the process.
“Finishing, adding the neck piece, adding the fringes — this all takes time and, as I age, my eyes quit working for me after a few hours! So I bead often, but for short periods of time.”
Oman works out of a studio at the Dahmen Artisan Barn in Uniontown, WA, where she also teaches classes. Describing the studio situation as her “happy place” and one of the best gifts she has ever given herself, Oman enjoys interacting with the artistic colleagues surrounding her. They offer encouragement and criticism, are ready to share a glass of wine, and — most importantly — know how to leave each other alone when it’s time to create.
“I’ve been there for the last eight years, prior to which I worked in our family room on a desk with my back to the TV. I still use that desk, but the Barn is where I most love to work.”
Weaving Three Interests into One
Oman has shown and sold her beaded artwork in London, UK; as well as in galleries and gift shops throughout the Pacific Northwest.
She is delighted to, well, weave three longtime interests into one: animals (especially horses), drawing, and beadwork. If one is going to have an addiction in life, she feels, it ought to be a good one. And beadwork is just that:
“Thankfully, no matter how many beads I have, there’s no chance that I will ever suffer from an overdose!”
Alison Oman is the Featured Art Event from Monday, September 9, through Saturday, October 5 at Wenaha Gallery. She will be at the gallery Saturday, October 5, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a special Autumn Art Show, also featuring Western scratchboard artist Sandra Haynes and Yakima acrylic painter Paul Henderson.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment.