Archive for African artisans

African “Trade Beads” – Meaning Behind the Name

“Fake trade beads.” That is how I heard an artist friend refer to recycled glass beads. There is some truth there in that some recycled glass is made to look like Venetian glass beads. But though the Venetian glass beads that made their way to Africa and were traded for a variety of goods, including slaves (hence, the name “trade beads”) are beautiful, people often don’t understand what they are getting when they covet them.

The slave trade trade involved a triangular system (by which manufactured goods, such as jewelry, guns, liquor, etc., were transported to Africa; African slaves were exchanged for the European imports; slaves transported to the Americas were exchanged for goods produced in the New World (cotton tobacco, sugar, etc., which were then sent back to Europe to begin the process all over again). Though the origin of the jewelry transported to Africa came from many sources, it was the Venetian beads – particularly the millefiori (literally one thousand flowers) that were highly sought in Africa. Given their popularity as well as the object of their destination, these beads came to be known as African Trade Beads (sometimes known as slave beads). But they were not fabricated in Africa. In fact, it is most likely that Venetian glass arrived in Africa as a result of someone having been traded for them – or as a part of a deal that included, slaves as well as other goods.

Don’t get me wrong. I possess “trade beads” and find them beautiful. But I wear them fully conscious that the beads are part of the legacy of the slave trade. Though we may choose to wear clothing made in sweatshops and sold in big box stores because they are a “bargain,” I think we should make conscious choices. Same goes for what we choose to adorn ourselves with.

That’s why I am excited about sandcast, recycled glass beads. Recycled glass, primarily fabricated in West Africa, notably in Ghana, are more affordable, are made from reused materials and provide income to communities that have thrived on this craft which has been handed down to generations for centuries.

African Recycled Glass, Powder Glass Beads

African Powder Glass “Bodum” Beads

African Trade Beads

Venetian glass “trade beads”












For more on African recycled glass beads and how they are made, see my previous blog post on this subject. You can also find jewelry made with recycled glass on my Etsy site or my Web site.

Artist Inspiration: Nigerien Shopkeeper, Rosaline Zocli

It’s been a little while since I last posted as I’ve been traveling overseas. My travels put me in touch with how I got started in this creative endeavor as well as serve as constant inspiration.

If you happen to go to the Grand Hotel in Niamey, Niger, you’ll be attracted to the assortment of crafts and handmade items that Mme. Rose, as Rosaline Zocli is affectionately called, has in her hotel shop. From African fabric made by local artisans as well as those from her native home of Benin, Mme. Rose has an array of local and regional crafts to fit the tastes of those searching for the classical to the eclectic.

Some of my favorites include leather-covered boxes as well as jewelry and notions made from limestone, a rock found near the desert in Niger. Leather boxes, from the small to trunk-sized, are a specialty of Toureg artisans. Below are some of my favorites:[flagallery gid=2 name=Gallery]

Mme. Rose told me that she has “commerce in her blood” and has always been an entrepreneur. One of her daughters used to work the boutique with her but died a few years ago after a long battle with an illness. Her other children haven’t been as interested in the boutique and Rose’s wish is that they might take up her legacy and allow the boutique to provide them with income-generating opportunities.

Mme Rose and me

Mme Rose and me in her boutique

Mme. Rose

Mme. Rose in front of her hotel boutique

After returning exhausted from a long day’s work, I stop by Mme Rose’s boutique to say “bonsoir” and ask how her day went. After salutations, we update one another on the highlights of our day. She tells me about how slow business has been since the coup in Mali and how security concerns have slowed tourism in Niger. Yes, times are rough; business is slow. Mme. Rose, like countless others, remain hopeful that things will improve. After all, without hope what is there?

New Bead Finds for A New Year

Happy New Year to all.

I returned to the States from Mali just in time for all of the holiday hoopla that I try very hard not to get pulled into. Luckily I have my collection of beads that I brought back to keep me occupied. As I’m putting my next collection together, I’m savoring in the moment and wondering what I’m going to make. Hmmmmmm……let’s see:

Red simple trade bead

Red simple trade bead

Horizontal Pendant Red trade bead

Horizontal Pendant Red trade bead

Trade Beads - Multi

Trade Beads - Multi

Green/Sterling top pendant Trade bead

Green/Sterling top pendant Trade bead

Blues - Trade Beads

Blues - Trade Beads

























The term “trade beads” comes from how the beads (Venetian millefiori and other glass beads) arrived in Africa — they among other things – were traded for slaves and other “goods.” Since most of these “traded beads” are found in Africa, they have grown to be associated with the Continent.

In any case, were I particularly like how the craftsman added sterling silver to the beads, making them into pendants. Fabulous. I’ll keep you posted on how designs for these beads take shape. In the meantime, it’s back to the studio for me.

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