It sounds like one of those alarming math story problems people avoid if they possibly can:
“How many beads — of all sizes, shapes, and colors — fit into a 12 x 20 storage shed, with room left for the artist to work?”
Beading artist Mary Calanche of Dayton, whose studio is in such a shed, doesn’t have the answer, but she does know this:
“It’s stuffed full!”
Insulated, wired, and lighted, Calanche’s unique workroom is a place for intense concentration, meticulous attention to detail, and now and then, judicious use of the vacuum with a nylon stocking over the nozzle — one of the best ways to remedy the calamity of a flipped tray of tiny, tiny beads.
“If you haven’t ever dropped beads, then you’re just getting started into the craft,” Calanche, who has been creating beaded jewelry and other items for 25 years, says.
Beads, and This n That
Under the business name, This n That, Calanche fashions earrings, necklaces, and bracelets using a variety of techniques: stringing beads onto wire or thread, weaving, wirework (which involves coiling, looping, and twisting wire that holds the beads), and bead embroidery (using a needle and thread to attach beads to a surface like fabric, suede or leather). She also experiments with finger weaving, metal work, and kumihimo, a Japanese technique of braiding silk strands to create colored cords.
“This is why I chose This n That as my name!”
Calanche started her foray into beading shortly after marrying her husband, GrayEagle. Watching him do projects for his dance regalia, Calanche decided to give it a try, with her first project being a flat, beaded rose. It remains a favorite piece because of its leather backing, which came from the last deer her father shot.
“It took a long time for me to finish,” Calanche remembers. But from that point, she was unstoppable, poring through books and magazines for project ideas and teaching techniques. There is no end to potential projects, Calanche says.
Beads of Every Shape, Size and Color
“New beads of every shape, size, and color come out constantly,” she explains. “You can take an old pattern and change it up. Or you see a new project and change it into something of your own.” Sometimes, if enough time and learning curve has gone by, she revisits something that was once impossibly difficult and discovers that, somehow, it’s not so impossible anymore.
“My favorite project is whatever I am working on! It doesn’t matter if it is a new project or one I’ve done before, I just love to bead!”
The process is soothing, she adds, describing her time in “the shack,” with the family Corgis to keep her company, as crucial me time. Even when a tray of beads drop, or she must undo an “oops,” or the beads on a project are so small that it’s difficult to see the holes, it’s simply an opportunity to practice yet another skill — patience.
“Patience is something I need to practice, and beading is a marvelous instructor.”
Beads around the World
Calanche has entered her work in the Columbia County Fair, and maintains inventory at both Wenaha Gallery in Dayton and Divine Serendipity Spa in Walla Walla. She has sold her creations to buyers as far away as South Korea, Australia, Scotland, and Thailand. When she isn’t beading or learning a new technique in beading, she continues to tackle her storage shed studio, which she describes as being in a state of turmoil ever since she took it over.
“I have painted, changed the tabletops, built shelving. In between all that, I have tried to organize and tidy things up — I think I will get it done in a few years.”
Or . . . not.
What matters is that there is room for the beads and all their accoutrements, and time to transform them into something unique and beautiful. Story problem or not, it’s not the number of beads, but what you do with them, that counts.
Mary Calanche is the featured Art Event artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, May 21, 2018, through Saturday, Saturday, June 16, 2018. Calanche will be in the gallery in person during a special Art Show Saturday, May 26, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., as part of Dayton Days.
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. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.