My name is Karin and I am a bead addict.
I am not ashamed to admit it.
A few weeks ago I went to our local bead store. Little did I know that what started out as an innocent trip to exchange beads with my friend Marti, who was attending a beading session at the store, would launch me into a full-blown obsession with Czech glass. It was bead love at first sight!
The ammonite fossil bead reminds me so much of home!(I grew up in the area where Archeopteryx was found)
Czech glass beads come in a dazzling array of unusual colors, shapes and finishes. Czech bead making tradition is deeply steeped in history. The area, with its abundant resources, among them the high quality quartz and soda ash needed for glass production, ample wood to fire the glass furnaces, rivers to facilitate shipping and of course skilled glass workers was ideal for the production of superior glass articles of all kinds.
When choosing my materials, one of the most important criteria is not only the quality of the product, but also the manufacturing process. And Czech glass beads are a perfect fit for me. They continue to be produced in small scale cottage industries today, just as they have for ages. These small scale producers work from home to supply larger companies with superior quality beads, often with molds that have not changed in decades, still utilizing local materials.
Once part of the Habsburg Empire (Austria), the region, then known as Bohemia, and Sudetenland encompassed a large chunk of what is the Czech Republic today. The brilliant, dazzling quality of Czech lead glass lead to the production of affordable alternatives to priceless jewels, previously reserved for royalty and nobility. And with the birth of costume jewelry the production of glass beads really took off. Travelling salesmen not only sold their beads world wide, but were also able to return with specific knowledge of which kinds of beads were particularly popular and the glass makers adjusted their designs and production accordingly, giving them a huge market advantage.
Sadly, the need for seemingly frivolous and unnecessary items like beads, declined during the Great Depression that was followed by World War II. The subsequent communist government did not recognize the need for making glass beads and shifted production towards utilitarian household items. That is, until they realized the potential of the high quality beads as a major income source that would bring much needed foreign currency into the country once again.
But I have a personal connection as well…
You see, most of the German speaking population, and with them a large number of glass makers, were expelled from the Czech Republic during the tumultuous years following World War II – my mother’s family among them in 1946. While they were not glass makers, I do feel a strong connection to what is essentially part of my ancestry. I hope to be able to visit on my next trip to Germany!
I grew up roughly a two hour drive from the German/Czech border and was fortunate to be able to visit the area of Bavaria along the border, where the glass making continued to thrive, despite being cut off from the region to the east for many years. It wasn’t until 1989/90, when the iron curtain fell, that Germans had the opportunity to travel freely into the Czech Republic. I always found it so sad that my grandmother “Oma” had passed away just three short years before she would have been able to visit the places of her childhood once again.
Here are a few of the pieces I have created with them…
Czech glass beads should be dubbed “the little beads that could”, as it is nothing shy of a miracle that they still exist at all. They have survived political upheavals leading to war, communism, the introduction of highly competitive overseas manufacturers and yet today they are going stronger than ever. Truly like Phoenix from the ashes!
The individual families producing the beads today have often been involved in glass making for generations. And I, for one, certainly don’t mind paying a little more for their product, knowing it supports a craft so deeply steeped in tradition.
Have you created anything with these fabulous bead gems? If not, I hope you give them a try!
Here is a list of sources I found interesting and helpful: