Why Do We Bead?

by Jamie Smedley, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®


The Cultural Background of Beading and Jewelry-Making

The human race has been embellishing and adorning clothing and the body with beads for millennia. Some of the earliest motives for beading were based on religious or sympathetic prayer, plus the establishment and display of elevated wealth and status. In those ancient times, the main goal in life was to survive with hunting, gathering and creating shelter, which relied on the spirits of nature to provide, so anything you did to promote survival was necessary, even the creation of jewelry! More everyday motives existed, too: that you could spend time creating beautiful things simply because they were beautiful meant you and your group were strong providers who could afford times of leisure to produce decorative items, like beads, that were not necessary for your survival.

These primal reasons can still be seen in the jewelry of today's designer-artists and jewelry makers: seeking to garner angelic protection, grow a connection to the earth or gain a higher artistic status by displaying their personal importance within the worldwide art community.

Beads and accessories have taken on a more symbolic meaning with higher political power and spiritual influence. Beads were even used to record the story and history of regions and tribes before written histories existed through the use of meticulously beaded patterns and beads with finely detailed carvings. Beads are also used in non-jewelry applications such as counting, religion and commerce.

Beads continued to alter society with complex ideals and new forms of caste existence. As society transformed into more intricate class systems that no longer focused on pure survival, beads and gemstone jewelry became a form of livelihood for lower class citizens who sold jewelry to upper class nobility. These noble purchasers strove to maintain status by adopting au courant fashions that were dictated by the notions of royal court. It became necessary for elaborate, elite craft guilds to be created by artistic groups to unify jewelry quality standards, protect ideas, build a strong reliable reputation for the artists and guarantee fair wage labor compensations for creating fine beaded clothing, jewelry and accessories.

Modern Beading and Jewelry-Making

As we look at modern beading and jewelry-making, we see how education and information has united the world. Today, virtually anything you want to know is at your fingertips via the internet and survival for the human race is generally easier and more equal than in previous centuries. Beading is now pursued as a hobby--as well as a livelihood--to provide an emotional connection, self-expression of dreams and values, inspiration that conveys beauty, art and something that connects us to others of like interests within the worldwide community.

Through strategic use of favorite colors and gemstone beads with metaphysical properties in jewelry, we can aid our well-being. When a wondrous beaded creation comes to life, it is a boost to our individual self-esteem, a creative talent that has increased the beauty of the world. Beaded jewelry and beaded art is now a tool used to communicate deep thoughts and individualism to a fast-paced world that barely has time to contemplate the message.

Beading is also used as a way to relax and unwind. It is a way of spending leisure time centered on what you want to do for yourself because you enjoy it. In a way, we have gone from the primeval survival extreme to the modern survival extreme. Survival now dictates that we hold a gainfully employed job that demands the majority of our free time, and what we do with our off hours to squeeze enjoyment from life must be precious and meaningful to help us all be fulfilled, and that is the ultimate reason why we bead.

We bead to be fulfilled--artistically, emotionally, financially, mentally, kinetically and spiritually.

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