Columbus, Ohio USA
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The Benefits of Beading
Byzantium classes - a gift to yourself
by Karen Edwards
November 2008 Issue

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When she's not behind Byzantium's counter helping customers, Laine Bachman (left) offers instruction in seed bead work and other bead applications. Photo/ Darren Carlson

Bins and bins of colorful beads, shells, charms, precious stones and crystals stretch out before you, like plunder from a pirate ship. You could be at a Moroccan bazaar or the storeroom of a swanky New York jeweler, but you’re not. You’re at Byzantium, 1088 N. High Street.

Here is the dare: Try, just try, to look at all that pretty raw material and not want to create something from it – jewelry, art, a Christmas ornament – something that will let you spend play time among all those gorgeous beads and baubles.

No wonder Byzantium offers a broad range of bead classes, as varied as the beads themselves. “We’ve offered classes for at least 20 years,” says Byzantium owner Joyce Griffiths. And each quarter, new classes are offered.

The basics
Byzantium classes really do run the gamut – from beginning beadwork to intricate textile assemblages. You can even learn how to make the beads themselves.

Deb Davis-Livaich, who takes Byzantium classes regularly, says she first learned about the store’s bead instruction after seeing the sample board. The sample board is kept in the classroom area at the rear right corner of the store. Here, instructors display samples of finished work from classes so shoppers, like Davis-Livaich, can see for themselves how glittering piles of beads can be assembled into objets d’art. Davis-Livaich promptly signed up for a beginning bead class and has since moved on to classes in wire wrapping, beaded textiles and beyond. “I have an art background,” she says – so color, design and creativity come easily. “But you always continue to learn.”

If, like Davis-Livaich, you’re eager to take a Byzantium bead class – or even think you might like to take a class one day, here’s a tip. Put your name on the mailing list. Sign up at the store or online – but sign up because you’ll receive news of classes before the general public learns about them. That’s important because Byzantium’s small classroom space forces Griffiths to limit class size to no more than 10 students at a time. “It also allows instructors to spend more one-on-one time with class participants,” says Griffiths.

Laine Bachman couldn’t agree more. When she’s not behind Byzantium’s counter helping customers, Bachman offers instruction in seed bead work and other bead applications. “It would be too crazy if you had more than 10 students at a time,” she says. In her seed bead classes, where it takes extraordinary patience and time to string those tiny beads, it’s easy to imagine classes running into next week if more than 10 students gathered around the table.

But the 10-student limit means competition for some classes can be fierce. That’s especially true for the textile assemblage classes taught by Jennifer Reis. Reis is a textile curator at Kentucky’s Morehead State University, and her technique involves embellishing fabric with mirrors, bead embroidery and appliqué. Finished pieces can then be used to decorate a handbag, the back of a jacket, or just to hang on a wall.

Now, imagine you’d like to take this class.

“There are 9,000 names on our mailing list,” says Griffiths. And there are 10 spots in the class. See why you want to be on the mailing list?

“Jennifer’s class has sold out three times,” says Griffiths. Those unable to make it into the class are placed on a waiting list. “If there are enough names on a waiting list for any class, we’ll offer it again.”

Of course, simply being on the Byzantium mailing list improves your odds for making it into class – but here’s the next tip: Act fast. Registration must be done by mail or by coming to the shop – there is no phone registration – so if you tend toward procrastination, you may be out of luck.

Class fees are reasonable and set by Byzantium with input from instructors. Generally, fees run between $30 and $130 per class – and materials are included. “We keep the costs for classes down as much as we can,” says Griffiths.

The classes
Roxanne McGovern unpacks for her “Fused Glass Finishing Day” class. She’s the instructor – with a BFA from Kent State in design and a special fondness for glass art in general and glass beads in particular.

Deb Davis-Livaich is also there, as is Mary Ette Kramer, an ESOL teacher from London, Ohio. This is Kramer’s seventh class at Byzantium. “Why did I start coming here for classes? Ask her.” Kramer points to a petite dark-haired woman, Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, an Otterbein faculty member. Ortquist-Ahrens is the old-hand here, what Byzantium staff refers to as a “regular.” Of McGovern’s fused-glass classes (and there are several) Ortquist-Ahrens has taken them all.

“She’s the one who convinced me I could do this,” says Kramer.

Already an accomplished crafter in other areas, Kramer thought beading might be too complicated. But after admiring jewelry made and worn by Ortquist-Ahrens (and with some persuading from her friend), Kramer jumped in.

The fused glass class is one of Kramer’s favorites. “It’s mysterious, she says. “You pile the glass pieces on top of each other before it’s fired, but you never really know how it will turn out. You have an idea, but the final result can sometimes be a real surprise.”

While other classes may come with more predictable results, there are always plenty of classes to choose from – usually 8 to 12 each quarter – and they are always on weekends.

“We’ve tried weekday courses, but they haven’t worked out,” says Griffiths.

Most classes last three hours. Seed bead classes, like those Bachman teaches, are four hours. Occasionally, some classes will be offered over a two-week period – there will be a class, homework, then back to class – but those are the exceptions.

Byzantium’s classes often reflect the latest beading trends. “Precious metal clay (PMC) classes have become very popular,” says Griffiths. “There’s a certain alchemy about it people find fascinating.”

Making beads is another trend. McGovern’s glass fusing class is one example. So is the paper bead class, where beads are formed by pressing paper together then rolling that into beads.

“Some of our classes come about because of fashion trends,” says Griffiths. A customer will see a piece of jewelry, for example, or a beaded garment or bag in a fashion magazine and want to know how to make it.

This year, for the first time, Byzantium will offer a class in making prayer shawls, taught by Cynthia Dillard. Dillard is an enstooled Queen Mother in Ghana, but when she’s in the States, she’s a Professor of Multicultural Education at Ohio State University – see related story p. 12. Dillard adds an element of the sacred to her classes. Along with instruction, she’ll offer a history of African beads and bead making as well as meditative possibilities while completing the shawls.

Of course, at Byzantium, you’re as likely to run into an impromptu class as a formal one.

“Our counter staff can help you get started on a project or help you finish it off, but only simple projects,” says Griffiths. “There’s a limit to what they can do and still help other customers.”

Griffiths recalls an impromptu class that came about when several women from Westminster-Thurber walked in with broken items from their jewelry boxes. They wanted to do something with the beads and stones so they could wear them again, Griffiths says. She worked with each of them, showing them how to recycle their jewelry. “I’d love to offer a recycling jewelry class here one day,” she says. “How many of us have broken items or a missing earring that we’d love to do something with?”

Other classes on Griffith’s wish list include more silversmith classes, a lapidary class, (though because of the equipment involved, “it’s probably too costly to offer”) and a found objects class. “You’d take something you found around the house, like a key, and turn it into jewelry,” she says. Griffiths would also like to offer more classes on beaded flower corsage. “You’d be surprised how many of these are used for weddings,” she notes.

The zen of classes
For instructors and teachers alike, however, it’s not so much what is being taught in the class as the class itself.

“It’s a stress reliever,” says Kramer, with a laugh.

“I love the chance to immerse myself in the color, design and play,” says Ortquist-Ahrens. “It’s therapy, it’s restorative. Every class is wonderful.”

Deb David-Livaich looks upon Byzantium classes as a gift to herself. “It’s a great way to set aside focused time and spend it on yourself doing something you love,” she says.

As for the instructors, they couldn’t be happier doing what they do.

“I never thought I’d be teaching art,” says McGovern. “But I feel like it’s my strong suit now. I enjoy the creativity and I love seeing the light bulb come on when one of my students ‘gets it.’”

Bachman agrees. “I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they see their finished product, what they’ve created.”

Sense of community
Finally, Byzantium classes can create that sense of community we lack today, says McGovern.

“Socialization is important, but as adults we don’t always have an outlet, a way to meet people who are like us and who we enjoy,” she says. “The classes provide that outlet.”

Kramer looks around at her classmates. “There really isn’t any other way I would be able to meet these people,” she says. “We’re not neighbors, we don’t work together or go to the same church, but we came together because we share a love of beading.”

Since most class participants return to another class, than another, you begin to know people, says McGovern. You know their names, they know yours. It’s comfortable.

But there’s another reason that rises above the social aspects, says McGovern. “Unlike children, adults are generally closed off to new experiences,” she says. “You know the rules, you follow the law. Everything’s by the book. Classes, though, put you in touch with your creative side. It’s okay to make mistakes here, and because it is, you are apt to be better at creative problem solving in other areas of your life and to challenge yourself more.”

Energy levels rise as well. Both students and instructors say they feel better after a class than they do before sitting down to bead.

“Classes connect you to that part of yourself that’s creative – even if you think you aren’t,” says McGovern.

When so much in life is uncontrollable, the sheer act of corralling beads and shaping them, creating them into a work of art can be soul satisfying, says McGovern. It’s more than play-time; it’s more than the satisfaction of creating something beautiful. Classes, says McGovern, “are a way to connect to the Creator.”

Call Byzantium at 614-291-3130.

© 2008 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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