Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Poly play

It's a bit of a puzzle to me, but despite the wild proliferation of bead crafts as a modern hobby, few of the newer types of beads currently in fashion seem to make it into the rosary market. Among the glass beads especially, round faceted beads are overwhelmingly dominant in rosaries, to the extent that just about any other shape is likely to be described as "rare", "unusual", or "unique" (overused as these terms are on eBay).

The bead catalogs, by contrast, are full of flower shaped beads, cubes, flat diamonds strung corner to corner, teardrops, crescent moons, twists, sea shells and hearts. I'll keep an eye out for rosaries made from these, but while I've seen sea shells and hearts, the others seem to be few and far between.

More to the point at the moment, I do see the occasional artisan bringing into the rosary market something else quite modern: poly clay. If you're not familiar with this stuff, Sculpey and Fimo are two major brands, and it's available in craft stores. It's a very pliable and versatile clay-like material, and when baked in an ordinary oven, becomes quite hard and permanent.

Craftspeople love the stuff because it makes it possible to easily and quickly imitate, with ordinary home equipment, a great many things that glassmakers do with much more effort and difficulty, including cane and mosaic techniques. People go quite wild with poly clay, and at times produce some things that I personally think are extremely ugly -- but on the other hand, I've also seen many that were interesting, lovely, or both. Poly clay can be made into quite convincing imitations of Japanese lacquer work, carved wood or ivory, porcelain, semi-precious stones, and many other natural materials, or it can sport colors and textures due to no inspiration but pure art -- or perhaps, science fiction!

One particular artist, whose eBay ID is Capone31, has given me permission to show and write about some of her poly-clay creations.

Here are a couple of pieces typical of her work from a year or two ago:



She's also been able to incorporate bits of foil into some of her beads, imitating a Japanese technique called "mokume-gane." Here's one of those rosaries:



As you can see, the finished beads are polished smooth and given a protective coating. They look remarkably glass-like, in fact, and she reports that they are very sturdy in use and don't break.

More recently, she's been producing a series of rosaries that use poly clay just for the marker beads. This is quite understandable, as it's very labor-intensive. A lot of work already goes into these rosaries because they are made with wrapped loops, which take significantly more time to make, but are much more durable. I picked this one to show because it's very sophisticated in its clay technique:



Then there is the stuff that's a bit more "out there" and fun. Because the clay is resistant to breaking once it's baked, it's possible to make a reasonably sturdy rosary that looks like this (which is in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux):

Capone31 1a_1_b

Admittedly, this is not the sort of thing you'd want to carry around in your pocket, and it probably wouldn't stand up too well to that kind of wear and tear either. The artist admits she was thinking more that someone might display this sort of thing on a wall or table as religious art. "Wall rosaries" are something I've discussed before on this blog, in fact, and while they are not as popular as they were 50 years ago, some people really like them.

Perhaps the market for rosaries is conservative now because a lot of people see the rosary prayer itself as something old-fashioned or out of date. Rosaries may be seen as something you buy for your grandmother, rather than for yourself, so while historical rosaries tend to follow the fashions in jewelry of the time they were made, right now rosaries seem to be made and sold in fashions more typical of the 1950s.

On the other hand, the rosary is not dead by any means. The high school students who have made rosaries in art class at the school where I work have been really interested in what they were doing and how their finished rosaries would be used. A number of their rosaries were made with touches of humor and decidedly modern beads. October is traditionally "rosary month", and it's interesting to see that this 500-year-old tradition is still alive and well.