In 2009, the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB) contacted the Museum to propose that the ISGB gather a group of contemporary studio glass beads to present as a gift to the Museum. With the Museum’s encouragement, the ISGB created a unique and diverse collection of 40 beads that were presented to the Museum on July 29. The beads were presented to Karol Wight, executive director, and Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass, by Angie Ramey, ISGB president, Susan Sheehan, ISGB vice-president, and Kendra Bruno, ISGB executive director. The gift was made in conjunction with the Museum’s first major exhibition on beads and beaded objects, Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead.
The beads in the collection of The Corning Museum of Glass represent historical glass bead making from its distant origins in the eastern Mediterranean in the 14th century B.C. to contemporary beads and beaded objects made in the 21st century A.D. Through donation and purchase, the Museum has collected numerous examples of ancient beads ranging from eye beads and pendant beads, made in the shape of a human or animal head, to colorful and diverse early Venetian trade beads, collected in West Africa from the 15th century on, to modern Czech necklaces from the 1920s. In recent years, beads have become a material for contemporary sculpture in the hands of artists such as Nancy Bowen, David Chatt, Liza Lou, Sherry Markovitz, Jean-Michel Othoniel, and Joyce Scott.
Contemporary beadmaking for adornment is practiced around the world by hundreds, if not thousands, of artists. Beading cooperatives help women in impoverished urban and rural situations to support their families. Studio artists make unique beads that sell in venues from Etsy and eBay to exclusive galleries. Beads, and specifically glass beads, are an entire world. As the American beadmaker Kristina Logan observes, “Beads form a historical thread that connect people and cultures throughout our history.”
The ISGB’s gift of 40 unique beads, chosen from 2007 to 2011 by four different presidents of the society, represents the work of over 35 artists. Although most of the artists in the presidents’ collection are American, beads made by Japanese, Canadian, Italian, French, British, and Israeli artists are also included. “The ISGB President’s Collection of contemporary studio beads is an incredibly generous and much-needed addition to the Museum’s collection of contemporary glass,” said Tina Oldknow, the Museum’s curator of modern glass. “Ranging from small to quite large, the beads are diverse, and demonstrate the wide range of skills and approaches that have been brought to beadmaking by artists today.”