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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