It started out as a palette full of wood and screws and instructions, delivered from Costco. By the time Venita Simpson had finished with it, however, the 80-square foot storage shed had turned into a fairy tale cottage, its inside painted cheery yellow, the path leading up to it bedecked with flowers, windows and glass door inviting in light and view.
“It’s a sanctuary to leave the world behind and become the artist I dreamed of being for a long time,” the Richland jewelry artist says of her DIY studio. A computer programmer for more than 30 years, Simpson turned to glass jewelry making in 2006 as a mental antidote to the rigidity required by high tech. Now retired from programing, Simpson spends uncounted hours in her studio sanctuary, fashioning her own one of a kind beads using Murano glass from Italy and a flame torch.
Lampwork Murano Glass Beads
Employing a technique called lampwork, Simpson melts the glass at temperatures reaching 1200 degrees. She then forms the molten glass into shapes by using tools and hand movements. The beads are then placed in a kiln to anneal, or gradually cool.
“Working with molten glass requires a steady hand, attention to detail, and a healthy respect for a 1200 degree torch,” Simpson says. “Mixing colors and chemistry of glass results in wonderful reactions in the glass.”
You only burn yourself once, she adds.
After creating a series of beads using lampwork from the Murano glass, Simpson assembles the finished pieces, generally consisting of necklace and matching earrings, in a spare room in her home. Seasonal colors drive her design and color choices, and she showcases the finished work at Girls Night Out parties in her own home of that of others.
Murano Beads at Girls Night Out
“I’ve sold my work at craft fairs, but I really enjoy explaining my process in a more casual setting,” Simpson says. “I love bringing people into my studio so they can see first hand how the glass is melted. Girls Night Out is a way to bring women together in my home, to enjoy each other’s company, network, and have a great glass of wine.”
The glass that forms the basis for Simpson’s unique accessories is made only in Murano, Italy, a Venetian island that has specialized in the process for centuries. The beads adorn not only the necks and ears of varied clients — “I like to travel and have been known to sell my jewelry right off my neck to a flight attendant or two!” — but also those of children battling a serious illness, through a program called Beads of Courage at the Children’s Hospital in Orange County, CA.
“Each time the child goes in to receive a shot, an appointment, surgery, x-rays etc., they are able to choose a bead and add to their necklaces to show how each milestone gave them hope,” Simpson explains. “Some of these treatments were painful episodes, but each bead told a story of the brave children and their courageous achievement.”
Since moving from California to the Tri-Cities, Simpson has also donated her Murano lampwork glass beads to Beads Behind Bars at the Benton Franklin Juvenile Detention Center, which, in coordination with Allied Arts of Richland, provides incarcerated juveniles a creative outlet in learning to make jewelry.
Right Brain Left Brain
In between her career in computer programming and retirement, Simpson took time off to earn her certificate in commercial and residential interior design, and for several years freelanced and did side jobs in a field that used what she calls the right side of her brain. But finances called her back to full-time programming, and her left brain demanded total attention. With retirement, her full brain joins with hands and heart as she enjoys the slower pace of the Pacific Northwest, four definite seasons, and freedom from corporate life.
“Programming makes you very rigid in that you have to test for every scenario, test for every system hiccup, and document each step,” Simpson says of her former life. “I was process oriented, following strict specifications to complete tasks, so it’s been challenging to come out of the box sometimes.
“But since retirement, I’m making great progress with my imaginative side of my brain. Using both sides of my brain has become an asset, firing up both burners, so to speak.”
It’s a jewel of an opportunity.
Venita Simpson is the featured Art Event artists at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, August 13, 2018, through Saturday, September 8, 2018.
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.