It’s Fat Tuesday today and you know, I went and made a necklace inspired by my by-gone collection of vintage Mardi Gras beads. You see, the first things I sold on Etsy were collections of my vintage pieces– I couldn’t find decent work to save my life and I needed money, so I sold my things. When I had sold most of the vintage beads and Bohemian necklaces, the old pawn silver and vintage rosaries, I started to make jewellery designs based on these beloved things, like the necklace pictured above. The mardi gras beads were some of the last things I sold. I held onto them and wore them during the Katrina nightmare– if these beads could survive and make it to England with me, that City could survive and rebuild.
Sometimes I think of my old collection with a tinge of sadness and longing. Maybe it’s homesickness, maybe I’m jonesing for colour in the long, grey Yorkshire winter. When I visited New Orleans, I always combed the second hand stores, junk and antique shops hoping to find a stash of them, some still with the paper tags on them. The ones that survived so that they could be collected in the present day must be lucky indeed.
“Thows” or beads thrown from floats to the parade audience, weren’t always made of plastic like they are now. From the 1920s until WWII, Pressed Czech glass was used. These beads came in a dazzling array of shapes and colours, like bon-bons. My inner child really loved these joyfully random toy necklaces destined for the gutter. They could survive a street party of such magnitude an still be worn decades later– they were survivor beads. I loved restringing them (as they were often in dire need of it!) but I kept the randomness and would wear them in layers. Maybe someday I will return to New Orleans and rebuild my collection. Until then, I’m using new, pressed Czech glass beads, which I would like to think are being made with the old moulds, and making these luxe versions of the old fashioned glass “throw”.
Horse Rotorvator is my favourite Coil album. Sometimes it is the only thing that can dispel the existential chill. The text is from Peter Lamborn Wilson’s Angels. It’s fair to say this song inspired my newest piece, a pin made of salvaged rhinestones and a highly detailed brass wing.
The angelic half-nelson– I think we’ve all been there. This trophy brooch is one of a kind. (Though some have said that angels’ wings can grow back there is yet no forensic evidence of such phenomena.)
Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is the last all-out party day before Lent. The tradition of “throws” or beads tossed from floats dates from the 1920s. Originally the necklaces were made of Czech glass up until the 1960s when plastic was introduced.
For many years I combed the flea markets and junk shops of New Orleans collecting these vintage strands of beads, lovingly restringing them and imagining the street parties and music infused with their history.
I was particularly fascinated by these strands that had survived the throws and their original destiny as a kind of disposable favor. There’s a chaotic beauty in their random patterns, and now that they have new clasps they seem to be just waiting for the joyful noise of the next Fat Tuesday.