Forging Connections and Celebrating Community

mini apronsI returned from a week in Albuquerque a few days ago. Exhausted. Happy. And with a pocket full of new glass beads. I was there for a weekend conference, and this year I stretched it into a whole week of activities, dinners with friends, shopping, and classes. I was in New Mexico for an event called The Gathering and this year’s theme was Forging Connections :: Celebrating Community. Indeed, I certainly forged new connections – between myself and others – and I celebrated the community of beadmakers.

The Gathering is an opportunity for glass bead makers from all over the world to come together for a weekend of education, and yes, a lot of fun. We usually have around 300 people at the conference. That represents a small fraction of the glass beadmakers in the world. At The Gathering members of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB) learn from each other constantly; not just in the large ballroom where bead and jewelry artists speak about their work and give demonstrations.

One terrific thing about the ISGB, its members, and The Gatherings is that people share their knowledge. In the past, and still today in many artistic circles, communication about techniques and teaching, even informally, is limited. But, at the beadmakers’ conference, knowledge is shared gladly. I learned, for instance, about a cool new kind of jewelry that allows the wearer to snap glass cabochons on and off of a leather bracelet in a nearly-endless array of decorative combinations. I’m excited to make some of these glass cabochons now that I’m home, and to get a new bracelet to play with. Who knows where this idea will lead?

Over the years, the people I have met at the Gatherings have become my friends. Although I may see them only once a year, these friendships are precious to me. Seeing someone you care about on Facebook is fine, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, better than a warm hug in person from a friend. A mojito with a friend is pretty good, too.

I’ve been a member of the ISGB for 22 years. In just a few years, that will be more than half my life—such a crazy thought, that this organization has been an ongoing part my life for so long. While I’ve been involved in other organizations over the years, this had been the one organization that I have been involved in continuously, and the members of the ISGB – they are my peeps. (Ah, Peeps, that is a story for another day).

And the photo? We’re modeling our new mini-aprons, which are a fantastic way to keep things handy when you are selling your work at a bead bazaar. A talented glass bead maker named Stephanie Sersich (sssbeads.com) created them and brought them to The Gathering for us. I love my apron…oh, and that’s me second from the right.

Am I grateful to the ISGB? Yes. Grateful for the friends I’ve made at the annual Gatherings. YES.

I hear next year we’ll all meet again in New Orleans. I can’t wait.

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