happy place necklace earrings murano lampwork glass bead jewelry venita simpson

Murano Glass — The Lampwork Jewelry of Venita Simpson

happy place necklace earrings murano lampwork glass bead jewelry venita simpson

Happy Place, lampwork Murano lampwork glass beaded necklace and earrings by Richland jewelry artist, Venita Simpson

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.

desert sand necklace earrings jewelry murano lampwork glass beads venita simpson

Desert Sand, necklace and earrings set by Richland jewelry artist Venita Simpson, featuring handcrafted lampwork beads from Murano glass.

“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.

sandstone turquoise desert earrings necklace jewelry lampwork murano glass bead jewelry Venita Simpson

Sandstone Turquoise Desert, necklace and earring set by jewelry artist Venita Simpson of Richland, WA, featuring handcrafted, lampwork Murano glass beads

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.

dreamy blues necklace earrings murano lampwork glass beads jewelry venita simpson

Dreamy Blues, necklace and earring jewelry set by Richland artist Venita Simpson, featuring her handcrafted lampwork, Murano glass beads

“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.

murano glass lampwork bead jewelry necklace earrings Venita Simpson

Natural Wonder, necklace and earring set by Richland jewelry artist Venita Simpson, featuring lampwork Murano glass beads

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.

Wenaha Gallery

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 Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at


Glass Window Art by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Alice Beckstrom of Richland, WA

Beauty from Broken Pieces — The Glass Art of Alice Beckstrom

Glass Window Art by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Alice Beckstrom of Richland, WA

Glass Window Art by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Alice Beckstrom of Richland, WA

Recycling is not a new, chic concept.

Eighteen centuries ago, Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria urged others to not throw away items that could benefit one’s neighbor.

Prisms of Hope, glass art by Alice Beckstrom

Prisms of Hope, glass art by Alice Beckstrom

“Goods are called goods because they can be used for good, in the hands of those who use them properly,” Clement said.

Back in the present, one person who uses goods properly and with a sense of their value is glass artist Alice Beckstrom. The Richland artist, whose business motto is, “Recycled, Repurposed, Recaptured into Functional Art,” collaborates with local glass replacement businesses by picking up their unwanted materials — miscuts and wrong orders that are too expensive to ship back.

“It’s a win/win for all,” Beckstrom says. “Most recently, with more people becoming aware of my art and the desire to keep as much as possible out of the landfills, I often get emails and notes letting me know when and where old doors or windows are available.”

And what does she do with buckets of broken glass, at her disposal within a 500-square-foot home studio?

Krustallos Candle Holder, repurposing unwanted, cast-out tempered windows and doors into beautiful, usable art, by Alice Beckstrom.

Krustallos Candle Holder, repurposing unwanted, cast-out tempered windows and doors into beautiful, usable art, by Alice Beckstrom.

“I have always tried to look for new and interesting ways to work and create with glass,” Beckstrom says of her 40-year career as an artist using this varied, variegated, versatile, yet challenging medium.  A chance encounter with the creations of California artist Ellen Blakely, whose tempered glass murals span city blocks, inspired Beckstrom to add experimenting with recycled materials to the traditional outlet of stained glass work.

“(Blakely’s art) was unbelievably beautiful, and I recognized then the unending possibilities of tempered glass as a base for a myriad of art forms,” Beckstrom says.

Hours of “practice, practice, practice” in conjunction with “experimenting with no particular expectations” have led to a collection of pieces unique in their style, form, and function, ranging from Krustallos (Greek for crystal) candle bases to full-sized skis. These latter, embellished  with broken tempered glass pieces glued across the surface to create a design or message, are especially popular with visitors at the Art Works Gallery in Sandpoint, ID, where tourists fly in from all over the world to the nearby Schweitzer Ski Resort.

Tempered glass embellished skis by Alice Beckstrom

Tempered glass embellished skis by Alice Beckstrom

This last winter, a couple from Scotland fell in love with one of Beckstrom’s skis, but shipping it back was the problem: how does one package a long, glass-encrusted ski so that it safely arrives at its destination, but doesn’t cost as much as a plane ticket to do so?

“The worker at the UPS store was a skier himself, and he suggested that, since they had all had their skis brought with them, why not just bubble wrap this ski and slide it into their ski bag that they were already going to check at the airlines.

“So, off my ski went to Scotland!”

With gallery and gift shop locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, Beckstrom finds herself scheduling a regular loop around Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, restocking unique work that is easier to drive in than ship. As an added bonus, she enjoys mini-vacations in some of the region’s most beautiful places.

“This is one of the biggest benefits of my art,” Beckstrom says. “I love the travel opportunities.”

Sometimes those travel opportunities take Beckstrom to exceptionally unusual venues, like the local home of a U.S. Congressman, the wife of whom fell in love with a piece displayed at the Prosser Art Walk and Wine Gala.

Santa in Glass by Alice Beckstrom

Santa in Glass by Alice Beckstrom

“To guarantee its safe arrival at their home, I offered to deliver it myself the following morning. Carol (the Congressman’s wife) was very gracious and gave me a tour of their home.”

Other pieces in prominent places include an Oakland Raider’s stained glass window installed in the owner’s box at the Oakland Raiders Coliseum, as well as numerous stained glass “trophy windows” custom designed for golf tournaments and country clubs, a welcome variation to “the same old engraved crystal bowls for tournament awards.

“Everyone was thrilled to have something new and original.”

Given Beckstrom’s commitment to, and creativity with, working with recycled materials, one can’t help but think that Clement of Alexandria would heartily approve. With each piece made from more than 80 percent recycled materials, Beckstrom’s art is earth conscious and eco-friendly, which in itself is its own inspiration:

There is a quote Beckstrom uses on her website, and while the most frustrating aspect about it is that she has not been able, in ten years of searching, to find its author, the words fit perfectly with her process of thinking and creating:

“When you are left with nothing but broken pieces . . . take them . . . rearrange them . . . and make a masterpiece!”

Wenaha GalleryAlice Beckstrom is the featured Pacific Northwest Art Event artists from Monday, August 15 through Saturday, September 10.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.