'Wherever You Are The Moon Comes Too' - A Necklace
Russian Blues, A History:
“We accept now that these blue trade beads probably originated in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) and first made their appearance in Russian America in the late 1700’s. The only mystery is how the Russians obtained them. The Bohemians sent wagon trains of their glassware all over Europe including Russia. The Russian American Fur Company may have bought the beads from such a train and shipped them to the colony. There is also a story of them being stocked in the European storehouses in Canton, China and shipped to the Russian colony from there. The beads may also have been obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Co. There is evidence that they had them to trade in Canada and the Great Lakes region. John Jacob Astor, of the American Fur Co. reputedly sold beads to the Russians. Whatever the route, trade beads arrived in the Pacific Northwest in considerable quantity.” (E. Harris)
I admittedly knew little about Russian Blues before building this necklace. I'd always thought them eye-catching with their hand-faceting and their unusual blue tones, plus the fact that you can FEEL that they are OLD. There are stories wrapped up in the life of these beauties. Their grit and wear shows a life beyond that of…just a strand of beads.
I've dug deep into the internet and poured over books this winter, finding old blogs and peer-boards and conversations over Prussian beads nearly 300 years old, the trade routes associated with trade beads, have seen videos on traditional glass making in the first glass factory, watched tutorials from historians digging up these treasures all over the country (especially Florida!) and have found them to be a story all their own. Beads seem a silly way to determine one's wealth in today's terms, but 300 years ago, it was THE way.
Glass bead-making originated in Bohemia, which is now our modern-day Czech Republic. Glass is actually a form of plain old sand, heated up to a viscous material, and then hand-pulled while hot to create glass rods. Beads are made when these rods are added in various patterns and colors, creating a larger rod, swirled in different ways to create patterns when heat is re-applied, and essentially these rods get 'cut' into tiny chunks either by hand or with a tool reminiscent of a paper-shear. There are TONS of excellent videos of traditional and modern glass work online. These particular beads in this necklace above are hand-faceted, meaning the beads were made with glass rods, using cobalt as coloring, then hand-cut into blue chunks, and were given their edges and shape by hand-sanding. Absolutely amazing!
The history of trade beads is as fascinating as it is terribly convoluted. Historically speaking, trade beads were an easily obtainable good for Europeans to stack in the hulls of their boats on their way to pillage and plunder the new world. A strand of beads, or even a single bead in the right color or size, could offer a tantalizing delight for some native inhabitant who had NEVER SEEN glass before, let alone glass beads to WEAR. Glass Beads were the currency of the European explorers, and glass-making to the ‘new world’ was a non-existent technology at the time (Native inhabitants of the Mayas preferred the real thing…Emeralds, and Inuit Tribes of the Alaskas decorated their highest honoraries in Dentalium Shell). Europe’s fast race to land-grabbing in the ‘New World’ made it exceptionally important to traders, sailors, captains, and adventurers back in the day to use this new material (glass) that the local tribes and inhabitants were actually interested in. Insert BEADS. These glass strands of beads from Bohemia, Italy, and Norway were used GLOBALLY for almost 300 years to befriend foes, obtain rights to pass over land that was otherwise inhospitable, or buy furs and any other life-preserving goods needed. They were bargaining chips for obtaining spices, women, slaves, a safe night sleep. Aja Raden writes an excellent and entertaining book, ‘Stoned’, (if you haven’t read it, get out and get a copy!) that goes into a great story about our convoluted history with beads, desire, and the new world. She goes into detail the story of newly-landed Dutch expeditions on the ‘New Amsterdam’ coast (modern day New York) trading beads to the Carnarsee Tribe for what the Dutch believed to be a binding legal contract of the purchase of modern day Manhattan Island, and later, Staten Island. It may have been only for the right to USE the land, not OWN it, becoming one of the most historically debated land-grabs in modern day history.
I highly encourage you to dive down the rabbit hole of Trade Beads. Each strand carries so much STORY with it! It is absolutely deep water, entrenched in european land-wars, slavery, holy war, genocide, mystery, trickery, monarchies, mercenaries, and at LEAST 300 years of commerce. Beads are an unlikely lens from which to see our history, and how it shaped our modern day.
Beads ask us who we are.
They belong to our path.
They represent history.
They represent a place in time we can only imagine.
Would we be rich?
Would we find the favor of a Spanish queen?
Would we befriend unlikely guides?
Would we be...good people?
This is the kind of thing I find myself ruminating. Beads bring us a place in time where rape and murder and excommunication and land-greed and slavery and horrendous genocide were rampant. It brings me back to the feeling that our humanity, that our goodness, can only be culminated by our ability to see our history.
To really see it.
To imagine it as unfair and ruthless and coarse as it actually was.
And so, for this necklace, I bring around the moon to wear, to pair with this history. The one celestial constant that we as a human species find ourselves under, as a common constant in our humanity, and our story: Our Moon.
The moon is the ultimate force of our togetherness, under one sky, one flawless ball of light, a changing force in the tides and the times.
A celestial body that follows. Whether it's asked to, or not.