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Bead artist Betty Stephan
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My name is Betty Stephan; I live in New York, USA. I was born and grew up in a very "artsy" family. Living on a farm in rural western New York state, my seamstress mother taught me and my four sisters to sew at a very early age. Crafts of all kinds were encouraged in the household and helped to occupy the girls during long winters. Learning the solid basics of hand stitching and how to follow sewing patterns were early skills that could build a foundation for what would later become my passion for beading and bead embroidery.

As a young wife and mother, I continued to experiment with various arts and crafts. Crochet, knitting, macrame, painting and working with polymer clay were some of my early ventures. In my early 30's I taught myself calligraphy, then taught it to others. Eventually, I started a small home business creating hand lettered wedding invitations, etc. I combined it with paper quilling (paper filigree is an art form that involves the use of strips of paper that are rolled, shaped, and glued together to create decorative designs) and created many quilled borders for my calligraphy works.

Bead artwork by Betty Stephan
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But sewing was not forgotten. I've sewn most of the clothes for my two growing sons, as well as backpacks and tents. I even made a red three-piece polyester suit for my husband! It wasn't until I was in my 50's when I combined this skill with the art of beadwork in the form of bead embroidery. After my husband and I retired from our "real jobs" (I worked as an aide in a Preschool for special needs children), we bought an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and spend several months a year traveling around the US.

Bead artwork by Betty Stephan
click to see gallery

Once we attended the Crow Fair - a Pow-wow in Montana. It was here that my passion for bead embroidery was born. Inspired by the intricate beadwork of the Crow tribe, I bought beads and books that very day and began to learn the beading techniques that so intrigued me at the Pow-wow. I'm basically self-taught, and this past year was the first time I has ever taken a real beading class.

These days I have turned my passion into a fulltime business. Still traveling in the RV throughout the US, I participate in about 14 Art and Fine Craft Shows a year exhibiting my beaded pieces. It keeps me busy producing enough beadwork to sell at these shows, as well as participating in several competitions each year, writing tutorials, and teaching.

Bead artwork by Betty Stephan
click to see gallery

I make everything from simple earrings to large intricate beaded collars. My designs are different, not one is put into a particular color scheme or style. I incorporate just about any possible things into my work, including parts of vintage jewelry, polymer clay, butterfly wings, fossils, feathers, and various found objects.

I almost never sketch out my designs ahead of time. I feel that forcing a design to conform to a preconceived idea is limiting. It is more enjoyable to just let it flow wherever it leads. It is always a nice surprise to see what the end result is! My process is a messy one. I will scour my studio for components and beads that play well together and make a big pile on my worktable. Beginning with an interesting focal piece, I build from the center out. Often it gets out of control - what starts as a small pendant will sometimes morph into a large collar.

Bead artwork by Betty Stephan
click to see gallery

Selling my work at craft shows and online sometimes creates a problem. It is tempting to create the things that are proven to be saleable, and to fall into a rut. I try to make each piece quite different and to experiment with new techniques and color combinations to combat this, although the Crow Fair experience can often still be seen flavoring my pieces.

I have won numerous international awards and contests but still enter several contests each year. When I create these contest pieces, I don't keep track of how much time or money I spend on them. This is very freeing and encourages me to stretch outside of my comfort zone in beading; it keeps the process fresh and exciting. My works were published in "Showcase 500 Beaded Jewelry" with one being pictured on the cover; several my designs have also been published in Bead & Button, Beadwork, and Ornament magazines.

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About author:

Betty Stephan, New York, USA

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