Our new Gift Shop Member Highlight features the work of jewelry-maker Bobbie Rafferty of Beadsong Jewelry! Bobbie Rafferty’s work will be featured in our gift shop from September 1 through October 31. Read our interview with Rafferty below to learn more about her creative process and artistic inspirations.
How did you get your start in jewelry? Did you take classes in jewelry making or are you self-taught?
I really kind of fell into it. I took one class about 25 or 30 years ago that turned out to be more like projects that you could do with a scout troop, but there were just enough things in there to pique my interest and point me in a direction to explore on my own. So, while I’ve taken a technique class here and there, I really am primarily self-taught. Which means a lot of trial and error along the way! But that way you really explore and get it in your fingers.
When I started it was really basic kind of stuff—very basic stringing and you know kind of using what I could find in the market before I learned how to shop and source and build inventory. I would say the first class that I took in bead weaving—a very basic introduction to the Peyote style stitch—was kind of the door that opened, that led me to explore some of these other kinds of techniques and figure out how to combine them and build on the very basic stuff and go on to the more intricate things.
Your jewelry is so intricate, what’s your preparation process like for creating a piece? Do you sketch out a plan before you start, or do the pieces come together organically as you make them?
Now and then I will sketch out a plan. Primarily if I’m doing an embroidered piece, I want to make sure I know where all the parts are going to go. A lot of times it does start with a focal or a particular gemstone or a tube of seed beads that you sit down with and think, “Well, where can we go from here?” So maybe one day it’s, “I’ve got this gemstone and I want to build something around it.” And the next day it’s, “What happens if I weave a piece that’s all in shades of white and beige?” Or, “Let’s play around with this particular stitch.”
So it’s a combination of things, and sometimes when I sketch it comes out completely different! Improv can be a really useful thing!
You use a wide variety of materials—beads, crystals, gems, etc. How do you go about selecting your materials? Do you select them with particular projects in mind or just go by what catches your eye?
I pretty much have my eye out for things anytime I’m out shopping. I’ll go to a gem show or I’ll go to a thrift store. If it catches my eye, I’ve learned to grab it then, even if I don’t know what I’m going to use it for at that particular moment. That way I’ve got enough of a collection, enough choices, that when it comes time to build something I can really play around and maybe come up with some really unexpected combinations. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so at this point, I’ve got a lot of bits and bobs stored up. But you know it’s never enough! You still can go out and find something wonderful that either is the perfect thing to finish what I had in mind or really inspires something new.
The challenge of looking at something that has previously been something else, and trying to both respect the original artist’s intent but also reimagines how it could be incorporated into something else. Especially if it’s a broken piece, that’s really wonderful because then you’ve got the history that’s there, whether you know the story or not, you know there’s something there and you’re adding to the story.
From your Instagram, it looks like you attend a lot of art fairs, what’s your favorite thing about attending and selling your work at sales like One of a Kind?
Creating jewelry can be a very solitary thing. So it’s really wonderful to go out and talk to people about it, to see and hear their reactions, and to see what resonates with different people. I just really enjoy the conversations, I love people watching, and I love seeing what the other artists create. It doesn’t matter what medium they’re working in, it’s just always inspirational to see how other people use color or texture to approach a problem or express themselves.
Where do you look for inspiration? Are there other artists whose work you admire?
There are bead workers that I really admire. Sherry Serafini, who does spectacular bead embroidery, is just really creative in how she uses her eye to imagine things.
Valerie Hector, who is local, I have admired her work for a very long time.
Julie Powell is another person who really looks at colors and how to combine them, and how to combine seed beads with gemstones and things like that.
I’ll name those three, but there are so many others. I’ve been fortunate over the years to make contact with a lot of jewelry artists. It’s a very generous online beading community. You find folks who do it for fun, folks who do it for a living, and people who are on the continuum in between. You make these virtual friendships and get their inspiration and support. You never know what piece is going to pop up and make you think things like, “I never thought about that color combination!” So you try to stay open to work wherever you find it and see how it can inspire, shape, and motivate you to move forward.
Where does the name Beadsong Jewelry come from?
I come from a very musical family—professional musicians. My musical talent didn’t match the professionals I grew up around, so I knew that performance wasn’t the career path for me. But I am surrounded by music with so many members of my family performing and finding their creative expression that way. My mother was an opera singer, my father was a conductor, and my husband is a violinist. So when I fell into bead weaving and jewelry making, it became my way of artistic expression. So it’s an expression of my life immersed in music then expressing myself through the beads.
As a TAC Member, what kind of programming or events would you like to see from us in the future?
I appreciate how TAC focuses on and promotes local artists. I live in downtown Chicago, so it’s hard for me to get up there as often as possible, but I think anything that amplifies the voices of local artists and responds to either local concerns, or topics of the day, or takes a broad prompt and allows people to express their interpretation of that is always wonderful. If people come in and they know that the work is by their neighbors, that’s just such a treat. I think that makes art so much more accessible and approachable. It’s not art that was made by a wonderfully talented guy two hundred years ago. It just makes it more immediate and personal.