By Dana DeBarros
Greetings of joy, smiles, and sheer excitement. And for what you may ask? Simply for an object the size of a pea: a bead! Whether it be solid in color or shimmer in the light of the sun, a bead is the start of something so much more. For a few years now, I’ve had the pleasure of being a teaching artist for ARTS By The People, bringing jewelry workshops to senior citizen homes. Over the years, I’ve come to learn how simple yet important jewelry making is to these groups of women. I want to share with you what I’ve learned from teaching these workshops, the three C’s of jewelry making: community, coordination, and creativity.
Working in a group setting provides many benefits. It promotes sharing, as others may also have interests in a set of beads. They compare designs, and ask for advice on which beads work best together. At times the room falls silent as all participants focus intently on their creations, and at other times they are chatting away about events coming up and life stories. This type of art form is perfect for a fun social scenarios, getting the individuals out of their comfort zone and away from being alone with nothing to do. At the end of the workshops, I tend to stick around to reorganize the beads, and I often overhear the ladies showing off their creations to others and receiving compliments. It puts a smile on their faces and mine. It brings joy to them and helps boost their self-confidence.
Creating a necklace or bracelet is like putting together a puzzle. It requires finding the right piece (or bead) to complete the puzzle (or necklace). It’s more than just stringing some beads together. Depending on the senior’s physical abilities, many can string their own creations, while other need a little assistance, whether it be due to the inability to see well or arthritis damaged hands. The motion of grasping beads and transferring it onto the string helps improve fine motor skills, visual perception, and hand-eye coordination. In addition to enhancing coordination, creating jewelry helps with memory; the ladies count the beads they need to create a pattern. Jewelry making is an art form that is more than making beautiful pieces, it’s beneficial on a healthy level.
Look no further, why search for the perfect accessory when you can create it? Fashioning your own jewelry set allows you to be creative and design to you own unique style. Design for that outfit you’re wearing for that special event, or design a set that showcases your favorite color and simply makes you happy. Creativity is not only in picking your favorite color, imaginations run wild combining complementary colors, contrasting colors, or even using the same color, but alternating with various shaped beads. Every workshop starts with me laying out the stock of beads, and each container removed from the bag gets a different reaction of “oohs” and “aahs.” There’s a thought process involved, they take in their options and go for it.
Offering jewelry workshops for a couple years now has made me see that there’s so much more to this art form than meets the eye. Participants enjoy learning a new skill, making wearable art for themselves, or even their loved ones like their grandchildren. No workshop goes by without the sounds of beads dropping on the floor. The sound echoes as the bead bounces across the floor, but the best part is seeing that despite the failed attempt to get the bead on the string, these ladies don’t give up. They don’t quit. This adds to the sense of accomplishment as they create a necklace, bracelet, or set of earrings. Jewelry making, bringing participants together, benefiting health, and embracing imagination and creativity one bead at a time.