Barbara Conrad


Barbara Conrad

Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' Jewelry-Making Contest 2013 featuring Seed Beads
Bronze Medal Winner
Category: Necklace

Meet the Designer-Artist

Where do you live?
Racine, Wisconsin

What inspires you as a designer-artist?
I find my inspiration in the great art of the past and archeology finds from ancient civilizations. I love the shapes and patterns of nature and even carved wooden frames on old paintings, stone carvings/tracery on old buildings, etc. I also love cultural anthropology; the folklore stories, the designs of their handicrafts, both on functional items and personal adornment. Sometimes I just see something that will cause me to think of trying to create an object in beads.

What medium do you work with mostly?
I have found my niche in bead embroidery after years of off-loom beading.

What is the name of the piece you submitted with your success story?

What inspired this design?
I normally work with a lot of color, my favorite thing, and I decided to challenge myself by working in one color only. I decided on white and then thought of snow and the traditional 3 horse-drawn sleigh of the Russians, a "Troika."

How did it come together?
My process was a step by step method of thinking the design through. I started with one idea and then added to it, one step at a time. I knew that I wanted the design to be all Russian inspired and since the Troika was usually used by the aristocracy of Russian, I used fur with the Romanoff emblem to represent them. The four flat back crystals represent the Troika and its traditional white horses; the larger stone represents the sleigh and the small ones, the horses. Then I thought of St. Basil's cathedral in Moscow and used one of its onion-shaped domes for the 3 main sections of the necklace, only I turned them upside down and laid one on top of the other two. Actually the open space between the fur section and the main beaded area is also in the shape of the dome, only in a negative space design. I indicated snow on the ground by using seed beads and freshwater pearls. A second beaded layer over the seed beads and pearls was developed to indicate the blowing snow and it includes crystals and different seed beads. Then I wanted to indicate individual snowflakes actually blowing with the wind so I made dozens of snowflakes out of beads, no two alike, like real snowflakes, and set them on fine silver wire springs, which I actually made, to get an "en Tremblant" effect, which is an old jewelry-making technique which allows a jeweled item to move (tremble) as the wearer walks or dances.

Why did you become enchanted with this style of jewelry-making?
I have an inherited learning disability which causes difficulty for me with numbers and repeating patterns which are prominent in off-loom beading. When I made my first bead embroidered piece, a full-size Venetian Carnival mask, I fell in love with bead embroidery as I am free to do as I please without the need for an exact repetition of beads. Even though there are patterns in bead embroidery, they are freeform and I can change them at will without having to worry about exactly matching another section in the beaded piece. As an extension of bead embroidery, I am now working in soutache bead embroidery. I see the soutache braid as just being another "bead" to embellish a piece.