Two years ago now, my mother and I followed a whim and bought ourselves tickets to an obscure event run by our local jewelry store, Roger’s Gallery. The ticket was expensive, but we rationalized this away because there was a swag bag involved. Besides, we always love an adventure. And so our first ticket to the TrollbeadsFest was bought with the misgivings of the uninitiated. I mean, a whole weekend dedicate to a charm bracelet? How much could it possibly involve?
The alumni of the first conference knew better. The excitement was overwhelming when we walked into the door, but utterly infectious. These passionate women (and a few men) were devoted collectors and sellers. This weekend was a sort of pilgrimage for them; a chance to celebrate and renew their passion for the beads. And recognizing this devotion, the Trollbead company was there to celebrate and thank them for their ongoing support. So yes, there was a lot involved. And we two neophytes were more than ready to experience it all. And then do it again this year, and drag my sister along.
Walking in this year, it was a familiar madhouse as people rushed towards the tables full of beads. It is well-known in the community that Roger’s Gallery has “largest selection of Trollbeads in any one gallery with a vast collection of Unique and retired Trollbeads”. So my mother, sister and I grabbed a table instead, and dived into our sway bags. Full of fun things designed to show off Trollbeads love, I was particularly excited about the umbrella and the bracelet threading device. But our main goal was to dig deep and uncover the piéce de résistance, a unique bead. And this year’s was especially rare: a “sea lace” agate stone bead. Unable to source more of the cloudy light blue stone, the company had been able to produce only a few hundred. And Lise Aagaard, founder of the Trollbead company, had thoughtfully given them to Louise Rogers (who owns Roger’s Gallery with her husband Ben) for the attendees of this years TrollbeadsFest! A good percentage of the rest of the day was spent comparing the wonderful variety of the stone’s colors and patterns. Our avarice thus temporarily sated, I continued to ignore the whirl of frenzied commerce, (poor college students having a limited budget anyways) in favor of my personal reason I will continue to attend the TrollbeadsFest for as long as Louise holds it: the designers and demonstrations.
As a girl who had dabbled a bit in beading, and furthermore loves design and craftsmanship, the first conference provided a shock for me. Not only were the designers of the beads there, one woman was actually MAKING GLASS BEADS. Right there. It is mesmerizing. Only guilt for taking up a chair when other people wanted to watch made me move away from Sarah Johnson’s meditative table, and I never left for long. CEO Peter Aagaard, who also attended the 2011 Fest, seemed pretty amused by my newfound obsession, and was incredibly nice. Two designers Kim Buck and Eske Storm also attended and were happy to talk about their designs. Admittedly, I was too shy to start a conversation beyond asking for an autograph, but they did presentations later in the day.
This past year not only was Sarah back and making even more complicated beads, but Søren Nielsen was demonstrating how to make the wax forms silver beads are cast from. Søren is the original designer of Trollbeads (and bead bracelet concept) and is probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Not only did he explain what he was doing as he was going along, he even started taking requests. I didn’t know what I wanted, so he designed a decorated Easter Egg for me. The coolest part is that we can then take the wax for and have a jeweler cast them for us. As soon as I have money, that is what I will do.
The process of designing a silver bead is simple in concept, and doesn’t take much in the way of space and materials. However, the detailed nature and the need to work fairly quickly requires formidable concentration and craftsmanship. Basically you use a flame to heat small amounts of red wax into malleability. Often a hollow sphere is made first to serve as a base. Then using fingers and metal tools, smaller pieces are shaped. Dots of wax serve as glue, and the bead is built up. The finished wax model is used to make a mold, from which are cast the silver beads.
Before this, I had unlikely imaginings of carefully carving and shaping the silver directly. This method was far more accessible, and I itched to try it myself. However, watching and listening to a master like Søren was almost as good, and I simply refused to move from his table for most of the day. I would have worried about seeming creepy, except I wasn’t alone. It was a privilege to watch him work, and we were all loath to stop for long. Which considering the dragon’s hoard of jewelry few paces away shows clearly the reason we all choose the Trollbeads company. Their appreciation of craft is matched by their understanding of the joy created by discovering the story behind even the most innocuous object. They have patterned their company around this idea, that every bead could serve as a reminder of a memory. At their best, the bracelets are a medium for telling and celebrating the story of a life.
ps: title inspired by this xckd comic