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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn
An Apology to Barb Davis
Text of Sylvus Tarn's speech at the October 2001 GLBG Meeting

As a participant at the GlassAct251 Bead Bonanza table, I'd like to extend our Group's thanks to everyone in the Great Lakes Beadworkers’ Guild that worked at the Fall Bead Bonanza. We had great sales and wonderful promotion, and we appreciate your efforts. Thank you.


On a more personal note, as you may know, I'm a founding member of the Great Lakes Beadworkers Guild. I sat in Rochelles’ living room at the very first “core group” meeting when Chris Reilly started this organization, and I served as newsletter editor for nearly 4 years. In fact, one of the reasons we are a guild and not a bead society is because I proposed that our emphasis should be bead work, rather than just learning bead history; that we should take our model from the Guilds who passed along their skills through the ages, from master to journeyman.

Therefore, I was very disturbed that Bent Needle, Barb Davis, was actively dis couraged from bringing her work to meetings of this group, because the leadership felt it would be “too intimidating” to newer or less experienced members. I understand the argument but must most profoundly disagree. I have been messing about with beads on a pretty regular basis for the last 15 years; have juried in top national craft fairs like the State Street Area Ann Arbor Art Fair with my beads and beadwork, which I think puts me past the beginner stage.

Nevertheless, last May, when I went to Gathering, the National Society of Glass Beadmakers’ conference, where I had a table, I was so intimidated I cried after going around to everyone else's display, before the show officially opened. Some other beadmakers near me, whom I'd befriended as I set up, encouraged me; so I went ahead. And I covered the cost of the conference. In fact I sold beads to Alice Korach, the editor of Bead & Button magazine, and who may be presumed to know something about beads.

Years ago, long before I juried into Ann Arbor, when that was only a dream for me, I talked a batik artist (in that show), and told her that I felt I was right on the edge of putting everything I'd learned together, that I almost had it: that I just had to turn around one more corner, and my work would be there. And she said something that has remained with me ever since: ‘I've been doing this 20 years, and that feeling never changes. The horizon will always beckon.’

Sure, the work of all those other beadmakers is intimidating. But it's also exhilarating. It's also inspiring. Beads—art—doesn't exist in a vacuum. We have one of the top beadworkers in the country in our midst. We should begging this woman to show us what she can do, and how she does it, not the reverse. That's what a guild is for—to share our knowledge, our inspiration, our beadwork, no matter whether we are beginning, or intermediate or advanced, because we're all on that journey, that road, to “put it all together.”

Yet it seems to me that this fear of gifted bead work is merely a symptom of the malaise that is permeating our group. I've heard all sorts of grumbling—we don't do Festival of Trees anymore; we don't do exhibits anymore; that book sales are no longer actively funding the library; even the newsletter editor says she doesn't know what to do; that our group should merely be called the “2 hr seed bead project” group because we're not addressing the needs and interests of other beadworkers.

Now, I have nothing against seed beads, lord knows, with a half a million or so of them in my collection. Nor do I mind short projects. But, back in those early days when this group was just founding, I remember clearly hoping that we would not merely be a beaded embroidery group, but that we would combine all the techniques of beadwork—bead weaving, bead stringing, bead making—with all the other media in which beads can be incorporated–textile, polymer clay, metal, mixed media–you name it! While the Board has since supported Barb Davis, her prior exclusion may have forever lost the opportunity for the general membership to be intimidated, and inspired by her work.

I personally would like to see us reaching out to all beadworkers, of whatever stripe, to the other guilds, like the polymer clay guild, or glass beadmakers guild, any other groups who might like to use beads and in their turn could teach us their media to use in our beadwork, and to the world in general. Beads are wonderful, and I want to expose—infect—delight everyone with them.

But if we don't tell the leadership what we want, how are they to know? Personally, I'd like to see a financial report in the newsletter. Once a year. I'd like to see the bylaws and standing rules published on the website, and a return to following them. They were developed with a great deal of care and thought. If we're not happy with them, let's change them; but let's not just ignore them. I'd like to see active, ongoing soliticitation of the general membership's input—at meetings, through the newsletter, with the website. This guild is a democracy, and everyone should have a voice. Personally, I'd really like to see programming for advanced beadworkers. Everybody's boundaries should be stretched, no matter what their skill level.

I notice Jude Kovl's impromptu demo last time went over very well. How can we encourage that? We're supposed to be an educational organization, and we seem to be losing that emphasis.

Laura Liska is a start, but I'd like to see a return to big-name teachers being brought in—two or three a year, at least. What about Barbara Becker Simons teaching a PMC workshop, for example? What about doing some sort of joint project with the Polymer clay guild? They have bead project swaps, why don't we? Traditionally these type of things have not worked out well for every one, but who knows, we are ever evolving, right? What about presentations to grade school kids? If we don't want to do Festival of Trees, what sorts of public outreach do we want to do? Where we want our group to go?

If you're happy with the way this group is going, give the leadership a pat on the back. They work hard, and deserve it. If you're not—and I seemed to have heard an awful lot of griping—then stop whining to each other and tell ’em what you want. We've come a long ways from the Rags’ mailing list and a dream in a living room nearly a decade ago. We have accomplished so much since then yet the road to discovery beckons with so much more. Let us all contribute to the dream of beads and beadwork for everyone.

Thank you.

N.b.: This is very nearly the exact text, modified to html format, of the written original. I have corrected some minor errors, most of them having to do with capitalization; deleted the word ‘my’ from beads in the sentence about Alice Korach; and inserted (parenthetically) ‘in that show’ (which was the point of mentioning that particular artist, something not clear in the original) in the sentence about the Ann Arbor art fair (which technically is three shows, but for the sake of simplification...!) The spoken version did depart somewhat towards the end, but as I don't recall it exactly, this will have to suffice. Respectfully submitted, —Sylvus Tarn