Beauty from Small Things
Ethiopian silver beads are objects of beauty in their own right. They vary a lot in quality but all bear the tell tale marks of hand craft and this is a large part of the allure they have for me. In a world bursting with machine made objects these have soul and it’s tangible. In the pictures below I am deliberately showing the joins, small “cracks” and other imperfections that mark them as handmade.
The Background Story
Most of the beads are made in small rural villages and with the most humble of tools. When I first began researching them I read that the “silver” (aluminum) ones were made by melting down old aluminum pots and pans which was pretty amazing. Furthermore, modern aluminum pots don’t melt properly; they can only use vintage ones! Then I discovered that old bullet casings are also used for this purpose. The casings are found by farmers who supply them to the bead makers. Sadly there are plenty of these around, a brutal reminder of the conflicts suffered by the Ethiopian and Eritrean people.
The casings are melted down in the traditional way over a bed of hot coals. The process is very laborious and time consuming. Beads produced in this way take various shapes and sizes but the ones I currently use are either bicones (double cone), heishi beads and narrow cylinders.
Beads of various shapes and sizes are also made from recycled copper and brass.
I am so in awe of the (sadly anonymous) bead makers of Africa and the beauty they produce. I hope to continue to learn about them and will share information whenever I find it. They deserve to be known and respected for their work.
Working with beads
Ethiopian silver beads lend themselves to inclusion with textile jewellery and were very effectively incorporated into this piece which I called “Meet me in Mauritius” as the turquoise and silver make me think of the azure waters of that area.