The Island Gallery
su olsen

Su Olsen, a Bainbridge Islander, blends her love of beads, textiles, and links with cultures around the globe into unique jewelry creations that can be worn or displayed.

Thirty years ago I started collecting beads while visiting Marthaís Vineyard in Massachusetts. In an antique store I found a beautiful old strand of wooden prayer beads from Asia. Since then Iíve bought from traders representing many parts of the world. In the last few years Iíve had connections with traders from Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, India, Afghanistan and Indonesia. My longstanding dealings with a family, which has been trading for four generations on Thailandís northern border with Burma and Laos, have brought me many fascinating treasures.

I use antique cast bronze bells, pods, and heishi with a lovely soft patina from the Chin, a group of tribal people who live in Burma in the mountainous border area next to India and Bangladesh. To the north are the better-known Nagas. Until the British effort to colonize them in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they had little contact with the outside world. I am fortunate to be able to work with antique carnelian and wonderful brass trumpets made by the Naga using the lost wax technique.

My source of Peking glass from the 1700s is beginning to run dry. Over the years I have collected these rare beads that were traded to Tibet and the Golden Triangle. I use them to accent many of the pieces that I have designed. I enjoy working with their rich clear colors and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with this dwindling resource. Sherpa coral beads, another love of mine, date from the 1600s to 1800s and are usually of Chinese origin. In the primitive societies of the Himalayan countries, the prized coral is thought to bring women strength and good luck. Only the wealthiest class could afford the true Italian coral, so coral colored beads from China were frequently used. Buddhists believe that blue represents air and red represents light, and together they create a marriage of life forces together. Traditionally, jewelry from Central Asia endows the owner with spiritual and protective properties.

Having a longstanding interest in textiles, I looked for a way to blend the textures of cords with the patina of the old beads and materials. I came across a technique called Kumihimo, created by Japanese artisans in the 7th century A.D. Kumihimo involves weaving cords on a marudai, a braidmaking loom. I make my own cords in this manner. They are very strong as well as decorative. The Samurai used them to bind their armor a thousand years ago.

I create my jewelry from sterling silver that I fabricate into forms that complement the old beads and ornaments. I feel their spiritual resonance and imagine the diverse lives in which my ancient materials had their origins.

:   PAST SHOWS   (more...)

January 6-31, 2006. Head for the Sun. Continuing our wearable art theme into the New Year, you are invited to cruise through the Gallery for resort wear and jewelry, as well as decorating items to warm your home.

December, 2005. All that Glitters: Contemporary Wearable Art, Jewelry & Clothing Treasures from the Studios of 10 Northwest and Pacific Rim Artists. Opening Reception and Fashion Show, First Friday, December 2, 2005, 6-8 p.m. (see press release.)