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BETSY'S BEADS: Origins, Energy, Shapes, Sizes, Composition, Inspiration, Sources, & Beyond

First Nations, American Indian, and African beadwork that makes the beads look as though they are embedded in dirt are appealing sources of inspiration for Betsy. Many people who enter the gallery have experienced huichol style beadwork from Mexico. When asked if she has any favorite beads Betsy replies that she has none but rather selects and becomes energized by the color instead. This is because to create a color balance within the limitations of glass as the colors, shapes, and sizes of beads are inconsistent and finite can be challenging. To that end, a Czech glass dagger stone can lend itself to portraying claws and talons or conversely to soft flower petals or feathers. Bugle beads, when cut and layered can create a feathered or furry effect.

"A big influence to me is getting new materials. Those of us who use found objects, it's a whole different ball of wax. I mean, colors have their energy but found objects can contain additional energy because they traveled and were interacted with. As we're making those material choices, I hope in my paradigm that I'm choosing materials that will help the whole narrative of the piece at levels I'm not even aware of."

-Betsy Youngquist

Beads are sacred cross culturally. Let's dig in!

Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Umbanda, Islam, Sikhism, the Baháʼí Faith, and some Christian denominations use beads to count the repetitions of prayers, chants, and devotions. The repetitive movement of your fingers across the beads helps ground you. Touching each bead as you say a mantra helps you keep track of how many times you've repeated the mantra.

Prayer beads made with precious stones have attracted people with their colors and charming gloss since ancient times. Since then, each stone has gained special meaning. For instance Native Americans believed that the bones of the people wearing Turquoise wouldn’t be broken and they used to engrave this stone onto their shields during war. It is also known that Turquoise was also very important for Aztec culture where the stone was believed to give protection from evil effects. Again, in Native American culture it was believed that the Agate was good to quench thirst and used for this purpose.

In ancient Greek culture, it was believed that Amethyst would prevent people from becoming drunk.

The number of beads also vary depending on the different religions, Islamic prayer beads "Tesbih", "Tasbih" or "Misbaha" usually have either 99 or 33 beads. Buddhists and Hindu Brahmanists use "Japa Mala" usually with 27 bead malas, a divisor of 108, or 108 itself, whereas Baha'i Prayer beads consist of either 95 beads or 19 beads strung with the addition of five beads below. Sikhs use a Mala with 108 beads. Greek "komboloi" has an odd number of beads usually one more than a multiple of four, e.g. (4x4)+1, (5x4)+1. Roman Catholics use the "Rosary" (Latin "rosarium", meaning "rose garden") with 54 with an additional five beads whereas Eastern Orthodox Christians use the "Rosary" with 100 knots, although "prayer ropes" with 50 or 33 knots can also be used.

The earliest use of prayer beads can be traced to Hinduism, where they are called Japa Mala. Japa is the repeating of the name of a deity or a mantra. Mala(Sanskrit:माला;mālā) means "garland" or "wreath". The most common materials used for making the beads are Rudraksha seeds (used by Shaivites) and Tulsi stem (used by Vaishnavites).

Prayer beads, or Japa Malas, are also used in many forms of Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhismmalas are also 108 beads: one mala counts as 100 mantras, and the 8 extra are meant to be dedicated to all sentient beings

In Islam, bismillah prayer beads are referred to as Misbaha or Tasbih, and contain 99 beads, corresponding to the 99 Names of Allah. Sometimes only 33 beads are used, in which case one would cycle through them three times to equal 99. Use of the misbaha to count prayers and recitations is an evolution of Muhammad's practice of using the fingers of his right hand to keep track. While widely used today, some adherents of Wahhabism shun them as an intolerable innovation, preferring to stick to the exact method believed to have been used by Muhammad. Their use as a religious item has somewhat diminished over the years, except among adherents of the Sufi orders, and many use them nowadays strictly as worry beads and as status symbols.

And for the secular, in his book, Simply Pray, Erik Walker Wikstrom offers a modern prayer practice that can be customized to meet individual spiritual needs. Using a set of 28 beads as a frame of reference, the practice includes centering and entering-in prayers, breath prayers and prayers of Naming, Knowing, Listening and Loving.


More Information Here

A Quick History of Beads:

  1. Two beads made from ostrich eggshell were discovered by archaeologists in Tanzania in 2004, and are thought to be around 70,000 years old. They are believed to be the world’s earliest known beaded jewellery.

  2. The earliest known European beads date from around 38,000 BC, and were discovered at La Quina in France. The beads – made from grooved animal teeth and bones – were probably worn as pendants, and represent a time when homo sapiens were replacing Neanderthals and living more complex and symbolic lives.

  3. As long-distance trading grew, it encouraged the exchange of culturally significant artifacts. Beads became a popular commodity due to the ease with which they could be carried. Agate, serpentine, Sinai turquoise and cowrie shells from the Mediterranean, as well as coral and carnelian, were some of the first beads traded and have been discovered at archaeological sites throughout the Middle East.

  4. From around 6,000 BC, beads and their raw materials became an increasingly significant ‘currency’. Lapis lazuli beads – which were mined 1,500 miles away in Afghanistan – were of great importance to the Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia.

  5. During the Bronze Age, Greek traders from Mycenae established strong trade links with less advanced cultures around the Baltic. Copper and bronze was exchanged for amber, with was then fashioned into beads.

  6. The first known glass-type beads were Egyptian faience beads which were made from clay, but had a thin lustrous glass-type (vitreous) coating. From about 5,000 – 2,000 years ago (a period of remarkable stability in Egypt), Egyptian bead-makers often worked under the patronage of kings or priests.

  7. More complex glass beads, such as mosaic or ‘millefiori’ beads, were developed in Mesopotamia about 3,500 years ago. Further refined by the Syrians and Egyptians, these sophisticated beads were traded as far north as Scandinavia. As these empires fell, the expert bead-workers – whether by their own volition or by force – would relocate, taking their skills and secrets with them.

  8. The Romans, who had a love of colored translucent glass, created sophisticated new kilns to produce more liquid-type glass. They developed glass drawing and glass blowing techniques, and drew on the knowledge of their best bead-workers, many of whom hailed from the eastern provinces. They traded large numbers of glass beads (in a myriad of colours and sizes). Roman beads have been found as far east as China and Korea, as well as north to Scandinavia, and south to Mali and Ethiopia, these beads were traded through new and existing trading routes often passing through many different cultures.

  9. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, so the glass-making expertise dispersed and regional bead styles evolved. Previously settled tribes began to migrate, taking highly-sophisticated bead jewelry with them as a portable form of wealth.

  10. European glass bead production diminished during the medieval period, apart from in small pockets of France, Italy and Germany, where imported soda used in the glass production process, was replaced with potash lime made from local wood ash.

  11. By the early fifteenth century, Venice became the glass and bead making centre of Europe, (lesser centres also existed in Holland, Bohemia and Moravia) due largely to tribal conquests in the Middle East ending 3,000 years of bead production. There is speculation that after the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453, many of the glass makers there moved to Venice, taking their secrets with them. Venetian glass bead production was concentrated on the island of Murano (which was by now the world’s dominant bead production centre) to protect the city from fire risk from the kilns, and to safeguard the production secrets of the glass workers.

  12. In 1797, Venice fell to Napoleon. Many of the city’s bead and glassworkers were taken to France where their secret production techniques were uncovered. This allowed for the growth of new European bead production centres in the Czech Republic and Holland.

  13. As the Venetian bead empire faltered, so the Bohemians began to develop unique production techniques, which – from about 1737 – included the cutting of glass on water powered cutting wheels. Two distinct forms of ‘Kristallerie’ cutting evolved; ‘Kugeln’ (globe) cutting which used a vertical cutting wheel to produce a concave cut, and ‘Englisch-Schliff’(English Cut) horizontal wheels which produced a flat cut. By 1829 there were 152 specialist cutting workshops in Gablonz (Jablonec nad Nisou) alone, as well as more than a thousand local ‘cottage’ producers.

  14. The world famous Daniel Swarovski was born into a glass cutting family in northern Bohemia in 1862. In 1883, Swarovski attended the ‘First Electricity Exhibition’ in Vienna, which inspired him to improve methods of cutting and faceting glass beads. In 1892, Swarovski patented the first electric glass cutting machine, leading to the birth of the mechanised production of crystal glass.

  15. Following the end of the Second World War, the sudden expulsion of the ‘Sudeten German’ element of Bohemia (some three million people), brought an end to many of the region’s famous glass and jewelry making dynasties. Under a new communist Russian regime, an alternative Bohemian glass bead culture – fuelled by creative Czech artists – began to grow and still exists today. For many years, the state run export house Jablonex, controlled a large portion of Bohemia’s glass industry. In 2009, the region’s core glass production business passed to the Preciosa Group, who continue to uphold the traditions of Czech glass production, and whose beads are still, to this day, primarily made from drawn glass rods.

Information taken from: Boundless Beads

In the spring of 2019 we introduced a sensory station in the gallery called The Build Your Own Bead Buffet Bar featuring many of the beads shown in the spreadsheet details above. Visitors to the gallery loved the opportunity to play tangibly for a moment creating a piece of wearable art in collaboration with Betsy's pendant creations and memories to last a lifetime. This quickly turned into a fun, private, after hours event called Sip & String.

"I'd give my jewels for a string of beads."

-William Shakespeare

Contact Us to Book Your Own Private Sip & String Event!

We'd be delighted to host and accommodate you and yours!

And then we took it to the next level in 2021. Flatware is one of the most iconic categories of Betsy's body of work. It all started with a butter knife after all. Since opening the gallery Betsy has attempted to source flatware from New Orleans in a conscious attempt to honor the inherent energy within the object itself. Gumbo being such a quintessential staple of our diets here in the Big Easy, we knew we had to do a gumbo spoon workshop night and it was a smash. Some attendees brought their own special flatware; One even brought a piece pilfered from their cousin's wedding reception in the hopes of transforming it into a precious petite mosaic commemorating the special day.

If this workshop interests you, contact us! We are hoping to plan another for this coming January, 2023. However, we are always happy to schedule a private event for you.

Betsy's teaching history begins over twenty years ago for the park district and museums local to her area of Rockford, IL. In fact, a mosaic class of teenagers was instrumental in driving her to grout her first three dimensional object, a butter knife.

In the past, friends and peers of Betsy's, Jan Huling & Nancy Josephson have hosted workshops blending their different styles and approaches together as far as France and Mexico...

Since we have had the gallery Betsy has joined them in teaching the following workshops:

Beading in the Big Easy with Guest Demo Appearance by Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters

Beading in Paradise: Costa Rica

Beading in Providence, Rhode Island