My Beaded Pathway

"This is the story about how I got started beading,
and about my journey from then to now"

Robin Atkins, bead artist

First Inkling

My very first beading experience was in Girl Scouts. I begged and pleaded with my Mom until she agreed to buy me a loom, some tubes of beads and a book of Native American loomwork patterns so I could earn a "beading badge." As I remember (this was back in the 1950's), we got everything at a Variety (or Five & Dime) store. Although I intended to make a 4-inch beaded strip to use as a bookmark, I was intrigued by the winding wheels on each end of the loom. Thanks to those handy gizmos, I put on lots of warp thread, and began beading. WOW! It was so much fun that I changed my plan. "I'll make a belt instead!" But still I had remaining beads, and it really was fun, so I changed the plan again. "I'll make a belt for Mom!" You guessed it... I just couldn't stop. When I finally ran out of warp thread, the piece was nearly 6 feet long. I remember it hung on the door frame in our kitchen for many years. I got my GS badge, and the inkling of a passion that would eventually change my life forever.

The Little Bang

After the loomed strip came doll necklaces, macramé (a great excuse to buy beads) and a serious fling with gold and silver jewelry fabricating in the 1970's. I think of those years as "dabbling with beads." Then came the "Little Bang" in the mid 1980's, when I wanted a necklace (very popular at the time) of strung lapis, gold and pearl beads. Department and jewelry stores offered a variety of styles starting at about $300. Too expensive for me. I knew from my metalsmithing days that I could buy the beads and string them myself for much less. A visit to a jewelry supply store and $57 later, I had the materials for my necklace. But how to string them? How to make the knots? There must have been an angel in my path that week, because - out of the blue - someone told me about a bead stringing class called Professional Japanese Pearl Knotting at a local community college. Exactly what I needed, and the rest is history.

Finding a Bead Sister

Carol Berry, bead sister, artist, friend and mentor to Robin Atkins, bead artistA few knotted necklaces later, a mutual friend introduced me to Carol Berry, a wonderfully creative, lively woman who at the time was combining metalsmithing with beadstringing to make one-of-a-kind jewelry. She was also teaching her multiple-strand necklace stringing techniques at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. I took her class and fell bonkers in love with everything about beads. We became "bead sisters" (practically joined at the hip), a mutual appreciation society of two! A few months later, Carol was supposed to teach another two-day multiple-strand necklace class at Pratt, but something happened at the last minute and she couldn't do it. Since they had 7 students registered and didn't want to let them down, we decided I'd teach the class instead. That was nearly 20 years ago, and I've been teaching beading ever since... and loving every minute of it!

The Big Bang

Shortly after that, in the spring of 1988, Carol and I had a bead adventure that soon had a huge effect on my life. At that time there were only two small bead shops in the Seattle area, both of them very limited in their offerings. And there was Shipwreck Beads in Olympia, which we had visited several times. Somehow we heard about Mangum's (144 N. Highway 91, Blackfoot ID 83221; 208-785-1838; now called Beader's Paradise; no website), which reputedly had the largest bead selection west of New York City.

One weekend, we decided to drive there to see for ourselves. After a day of driving and a night in a motel, we arrived the next morning on Wilma Mangum's doorstep. From the outside, the building looked impressively large. Inside, we were not disappointed. Beads were everywhere, all packaged in 75-cent units. Hanks were divided, if necessary, into two or more strands and offered at $.75 each. There were hundreds of different colors, many of them vintage, in all sizes. She also had hundreds of accent beads, more than we imagined existed in the whole world (little did we know then). At 75 cents per unit, we filled our baskets in the next 3 hours, and were shocked at spending almost $400 each!

Mangum's was a cinder block building with really small (and not very many) windows, so the light wasn't very good inside for bead buying. After we started driving back home, with me at the wheel, Carol started looking at the beads she had just bought. "Oh my God! Look at this! These have little stripes! Oh, look at this color! Oh, oh.... etc." Craning my neck in the direction of her beads, I drove off the road three times (the last time off the left hand side!) before we decided to stop. We allowed ourselves 45 minutes to thoroughly look at and appreciate all of our new precious beads before regrettably putting them away in deference to safer driving. If we didn't already love beads, we adored them now.

Beads Indeed!

Well, that trip was the "big bang" for me. Within a few months I quit my job of 10 years, and started a little shop in my home selling some of the beads I had bought from Wilma and teaching basic knotting and beadstringing classes. That soon led to a big remodel project where I turned my garage into a "proper studio" for selling beads and teaching. Thus, Beads Indeed was born in the fall of 1988. Open every Wednesday (and any other time by appointment) for ten years, I still have the fondest memories of students, ever growing numbers of customers, show and tell, bead buying and research trips to Europe and China, and being part of the development of a new art form.

Man of My Dreams

Beads Indeed lasted ten wonderful years, and would have continued to this day had it not been for taking a photography class at the Coupeville Arts Center on Whidbey Island (WA). Next to me sat a wonderful man, with a twinkle in his eye, a wry sense of humor, an awesome portfolio of photographs, and a sweet disposition. Didn't take long... by the end of the three day class, I knew I'd finally met the man of my dreams. That was April 11, 1997.

Robin Atkins, bead artist, with husband, Robert DemarA year later I had sold my bead shop to Karen Murphy of Oasis Beads, sold my home in the Ballard area of Seattle, WA, and moved to San Juan Island (way up in the northwest corner of Washington State). I married Robert Demar in 2001, the first marriage for each of us.

However, no matter how fabulous, even the man of my dreams and a move to a remote island could not change my passion for beads. Soon I spent the money from selling my Seattle home and business to build a new bead studio on the ridge above our house on the island. Although I no longer have open hours, I still travel occasionally to teach and give slide presentations.

Maybe it's being married, maybe it's not having to buy, package and sell quantities of beads, maybe it's the beautiful, peaceful island setting where I live now - I don't really know - but finally, I've found time to write a few beady books since I've been here. And, I'm doing more beadwork, more multi-media art, more experimental stuff. What a whee!

What's Next

I never know what's next. I rarely plan ahead. Except for teaching committments, I let my life and my art unfold rather improvisationally (just like my bead embroidery). But I trust that it will be fun, and will have much to do with art and writing and beads. I know that whatever happens next will keep me moving along my own beaded pathway.

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