Beadwork extends beyond jewelry to include applied needlework and mixed media art. Categorized as “women’s art”, it has received comparatively little notice by the art world.
From the 1700s on, beadwork was an integral part of a young girl’s education in needle arts. Beaded Berlin work was one of the most popular forms of embroidery from the late 1700s through the late nineteenth century. Berlin work is characterized by brightly colored silk, wools, and, often, colored glass beads embroidered on various fabrics in myriad patterns.
The resulting work adorned everything from slippers to samplers to cigar cutters in the nineteenth-century home from Victorian England across the European Continent to Tsarist Russia, and reaching across the ocean to both North and South America.
Many of the themes for needle arts and beadwork were allegorical, particularly when it came to remembering loved ones – reflecting the high rates of infant mortality, women dying in childbirth, men dying in wars and revolutions, and the myriad of plagues and diseases that took loved ones.
Classical themes were very popular – thus angels became a frequent image. Themes also included romantic views of daily life or reflected the various art and decorative arts themes – Biedermeier, Rococo, neoclassical, romantic, Victorian, and aesthetic.
My inspiration? The many young girls and women who have done needle work and beadwork.
Display of beadwork from San Francisco Folk Art Museum Grand Opening - January 2006