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Bead by Bead

Gallery presents first-of-its-kind display of an ancient art

The Columbia Art Gallery opened a first-of-its-kind show on Friday, displaying bead work created by 16 area artists. The show is curated by Kathy Sneider of IKOTE Bead Shop and artist Judith Cunningham.

“The rarity and skill level of the pieces here, and the individual skill level of the artists, just blows me away,” Sneider said. The work on display ranges from jewelry and accessories to sculptures and wall-hangings — the latter impressive pieces of art crafted from tiny beads using the “peyote” stitch, an off-loom needle weaving technique. One piece, according to Sneider, took more than a year to complete.

In addition to pieces that are for sale, many items from local collections are on display — including several items of antique bead jewelry from the Masai people of Kenya.

“These are things that generally aren’t seen outside of Africa,” Sneider said.

A “bead timeline” on one wall of the gallery provides an interesting history of beads and the role they’ve played worldwide in trading and fashion for millennia. Sneider points to 800 B.C. on the timeline, when the peyote stitch in beadwork was first documented. Many bead shapes and designs that are popular today also date back thousands of years.

“They haven’t changed all that much, folks,” Sneider said. “It shows how connected we are to our ancestors through fashion.”

Most of the items on display are created from beads, but a few are the work of bead makers, including some made from brightly colored cloth.

“Beads are very much of a grass roots art form,” said Sneider, who hopes this will be the first of many bead exhibits at the gallery.

“This is such a microcosm of all the beaders in the area,” she said. “There’s so much more out there.”

The Columbia Art Gallery is located at 207 Second Street and is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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