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Support the Bead Museum

As Michael Kaiser explains in this Washington Post article, many of our arts organizations are struggling in today’s economy. The reality of this hit home when I read Alice Scherer’s recent letter to the Bead Community, which asks us to come forward and help The Bead Museum of Arizona before it’s too late. This sad news caused me to reflect on the impact that this resource has had on my life:

* I first became a member of the Bead Museum at age 18, which was (eep!) 20 years ago. Prior to that, I’d worked in isolation with relatively little exposure to other beadwork. The museum’s newsletter and collection opened my eyes to the use of beads and beadwork across time and culture.

* At 20, I moved to a small town on the outskirts of Prescott, Arizona. My trips in to town always included a visit to the museum. I often dragged my family along too, and in doing so, I was able share my love of beads and beadwork with them.

* My mother has a substantial collection of my work, but her all time favorite necklace features a lampwork focal bead purchased at the 1993 Contemporary Beadmakers exhibit.

* My beaded Doc Martens, “Mama Wears Combat Boots” were shown at the Bead Museum as part of the “Beadwork II: The Embellished Shoe” exhibit in 2002.

* When I had a crazy dream of creating a memorial quilt for those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bead Museum got behind the project. Their support played an enormous part in making the 9/11 Bead Quilt Project a reality.

These are some of the many ways that this museum has affected my life – it doesn’t begin to describe the influence it’s had on other bead artists, researchers, collectors, vendors and educators. It doesn’t touch on how the museum has fueled the development of the Bead Community, nor explain the outreach programs that educate non-beaders about the significance of beads and beadwork throughout history.

That said, I’m going to pony up for a family membership, which is $55. I’m an artist/student, so it goes without saying that I’m not a rich woman – but I can dig deep and find a little extra for an important cause. Please do the same (you can even donate to the museum online!) and also pass this information on to your local bead stores, beading groups, and Bead Societies. This museum has had such an incredible impact on the Beading Community. Here’s our opportunity to give something back and ensure the future of this important resource!

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An Open Letter to the Bead Community

The following letter is re-posted with permission:

An open letter to the Bead Community

I ask as a personal favor that you please read all the way through my letter before discarding, if you so choose. Some of you may have received more than one copy. If so, I offer my apologies.

This letter is about the current status of the Bead Museum of Arizona, the original bead museum begun by Gabrielle and Ted Liese in the mid-1980s. This museum is the repository for :

* the collections of Peter Francis Jr. (The Center for Bead Research), including a many hundreds of bead sample cards collection (for more on the effort to preserve Peter’s collection, you may visit
* the vast majority of the artifacts collection of the Center for the Study of Beadwork, including what may well be the largest collection of bead looms in the world, as well as nearly 100 bead sample cards, and a slide bank of thousands of slides of the work of contemporary beadworkers from the United States, Europe and Asia in the period around the late 1980s and `90s (pre-The New Beadwork)
* an extensive collection of beads, necklaces and relevant artifacts from Asian, African , Latin American and European sites donated by the Lieses, Lois Dubin and other long-time collectors.
* a collection of the work of contemporary glass bead makers starting with those of the early period in the 1980’s and ’90’s who exhibited in the ground-breaking 1993 exhibit at the Bead Museum, and, by no means the least.
* the Library: several thousand books and periodicals originally started as a private Art Library and grown to a valuable Research Library about the history of personal adornment, which includes important information on the history of glass.
Also included in the collections are archived letters and papers of Elizabeth Harris, Peter Francis, Jr., Lady Gloria Dale, Albert Summerfield, and Michael Heide, among many others.
I had always assumed my own personal papers and remaining archives, as well as a large seed bead collection and an exhaustive library on beadwork, would end up at this Museum, as well as perhaps the papers related to the Society of Bead Researchers. Now I wonder where this material will go.
The Bead Museum is the collective memory of the bead community for the last quarter of the 20th century. It is utterly critical that this material be preserved, one way or another.

Today, we are on the edge of a sword in this community. In December, the DC Bead Museum closed its doors. Now, without a substantial infusion of money, the Arizona museum will likely follow suit. By substantial, I mean monies equivalent to that necessary to support the Museum for the next year, about $200-225,000, while grant proposals are submitted for funds necessary to function beyond ayear from now. Missed fundraising opportunities in 2008 by former staff created a gap in operating funds for 2009 and that, coupled with the current state ofthe economy, has brought the Bead Museum to this point of dramatic need, the first time since its inception 23 years ago. Failing the ability to raise $200,000, which frankly will require one or more Financial Angels, the Museum board will likely vote at its meeting in March or April, 2009 to close the Museum’s doors.

This letter has two purposes: One is to cast the net as wide as possible in hopes that that elusive Financial Angel (or angels) makes him, her or themselves known and to gain some sense of what sort of serious support might be required to carry the Museum long into the future. The alternative, and sadly more realistic, task is to begin preparing for the difficult and time-consuming jobof closing down the Museum and getting its collections into other hands.

If there are angels who could pledge $20,000 or more toward the effort to preserve the Museum and its collections intact, please contact me at or call me at 503-655-3078 (Oregon). Or if you are more comfortable, by all means contact the acting Director of the Bead Museum, KellyNorton, at

In the meantime, if you are not currently a member of the Bead Museum, please join. The cost for an individual member is $40 and here is the web address:
Joining isn’t so much about getting a big flashy newsletter on a regular basis or being able to have the Museum be your second home as you live in the Phoenix area. It is about contributing to the preservation of something that is part of all our lives, whether we sell beads, make beads, use beads, wear beads, or research them. This Museum is the repository of information and the keeper of the history of all these groups. And if it proves necessary to close the Museum,then your membership funds will enable the Museum to wind down in dignified fashion. However, if enough people join, then the Museum can get that much closer to getting to the point where those grant proposals can start coming through.

If, no matter what we do, the Museum will sadly need to close, then ideas forwhere the collection could go (intact) or be apportioned out (if separated into smaller segments) are welcome. We especially wish to have contact with persons having serious contacts at museums, who may be able to share ideas or help make plans. In somber reflection on these troubling times,

Alice Scherer
Founder, Center for the Study of Beadwork Portland, Oregon