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Dolce Street Arts & Craft Journal

Mysterious Lace Beads from Cherry Brand

Cherry Brand Beads, Made in occupied Japan (Circa 1945-1952)

Approximately 15mm in size with hollow interiors and central tubes. Lovely canary yellow round beads. Each bead looks as though thin glass strings were coiled around something solid. Being used as a base at the "North Pole" on one end, lacy or net patterns are created accumulating rows toward the South Pole. Each bead has approximately six or seven rows 2mm apart.
Click here to see three other interesting lace / spun glass beads in the Dolce Street Gallery.

Most of the glass beads have solid interiors with a single hole, and I can now tell, more or less, how they were made as I have recently taken up flamework glass bead making. But how about these "lace beads" also known as "spun glass beads"? It would be possible to prepare thin glass strings and coil them around a solid globular mold just like a spool, but how would the mold be removed from a delicate exterior once the round shape was formed? Without the mold, how would it be possible to form a puffy shape by manipulating melted glass which is as soft as honey? How these were made was a mystery to me so I decided to question as many people as possible who I thought might have the answer.

First, I posted the questions at Beads-L, a U.S. based online discussion group on beads that I belong to. I do not know so much about the background and the career of the members, but the group consists of notable experts, authors, collectors and scholars in each field of bead study. Probably all of them are experts, except me. Very quickly, a member, Dana Ceder, provided the information that beads of this style were occasionally called, "spun glass beads". About the same time, Jamey Allen, who always provides analyses and classifications to questions posted, kindly replied to my posting as follows. (By the way, when I posted the question, I had not noticed that there were central tubes inside the lace beads; I had mistakenly thought they were completely hollow.):

(Excerpted from Jamey Allen's comments posted at Beads-L on 06/10/03))

"............. The beadmaker created these beads, building a hollow spheroidal structure, by beginning at one end, first making a small wound base (or the tube, if present), and building from this start adding a spiraled trail of glass that becomes larger and larger, each loop connected to the previous in scallops, working toward the equator.  A single bead might represent two hemispheres, each made from their apertures, but were just as likely made from one end to the other, first building out in a curving arch, and then reducing it and curving in toward the opposite aperture.

Beads were made similarly that were not openwork, but more like making a very small "coiled" vessel (to make a ceramics analogy). These have solid walls, but are likewise hollow beads.

His detailed description, explaining all the processes involved, made great sense to me. Yet, I still wondered whether such processes were possible with soft glass. It sounded too abstract for me, new to the bead world and glass, to even imagine it would be possible. With my lack of knowledge of flameworking and glass, I just couldn't believe it was possible. Then, shortly after Jamey Allen's reply, another Beads-L member, Stefany Tomalin, a well-known bead collector and book author, also kindly posted;

(Excerpted from Stefany Tomalin's comments posted at Beads-L on 06/10/03))

".........the Cherry Brand ones seem too regular in size and shape to have been made without some kind of jig or template so they all turn out the same size! I have a few examples also of the hollow filigree glass ones which are Czech, made in cylinder or drop shapes...............The other spherical type described which are hollow but coiled solidly without gaps, are coiled onto a thin blown glass bubble as a base.

"Coiled onto a thin blown glass bubble as base"???? "Doesn't this 'blown glass bubble used as base', which must have been prepared in advance to being coiled, crack when in contact with hot glass? Can hot glass and cool glass work together?," I thought. But, how interesting it is to learn that there is another glass bead making method that involves the combination of two methods of flame and blown glass work! According to Tomalin's comments, there seems to be more than technique for creating lace beads. At any rate, I understand that both procedures would require meticulous work and much skill in manipulating the glass and their answers show how much there is for me to learn about glass. I was still very curious to know more, so I decided to ask Senba-sensei, a wonderful glass bead artist and my instructor for flameworking, for another opinion. So, on the day of my fifth workshop for flameworking, I left home for Senba-sensei with all the lace beads I had; My yellow lace beads from Cherry Brand and the white and pink lace beads that I had just received in the mail from Joan Eppen of Beads-L, who must be a big bead collector and who had kindly gifted them to me after reading my posting.

At the end of my flamework workshop, I showed my lace beads to Senba-sensei and asked him how they were made. As soon as Senba-sensei saw the lace beads, he studied each kind of lace bead with a great curiosity wondering how they were made. It seemed that he had never seen that type before. Then, he sat down at his flamework station and started experimenting using guesswork and experience. I did not tell him what Jamey Allen and Stefany Tomalin had told me. I just asked him how they were made. Regardless of that, as he proceeded, exactly the techniques Jamey Allen had described were being enacted in front of my eyes. They were incredibly amazing moments. Senba-sensei first rolled a thin portion of melted glass at both ends of his mandrel with a 1.5 cm space between them, to make the North and South Poles. And then, using one pole as a base, he began "hopping" around the base with the end of glass rod toward the other pole accumulating the rows. While the hot and thin glass strings were hopping, each arc cooled down enough to be firm, one after the other. The track of each hopping formed the net like two kinds of entirely hollow white lace beads. Senba-sensei also tried a lace bead with a central tube like the pink ones from Cherry Brand, but as each end of the central tube wasn't connected to each pole, it became a caged bead - a solid bead inside a lace bead. (This style can be seen on the front cover of "The Art of Soul of Glass Beads": "Entrapment" by a Texas artist, Lynn Nurge.) Even as a skilled and experienced flameworker, Senba-sensei found great difficulty in making round lace beads like the one I had taken to him.

From this little experiment, not only has it solved the mystery of lace beads, but it has also helped me to know a little more about Cherry Brand beads and has shown me how much skill and experience is required to make them. Considering that glass is so weak to abrupt changes of temperature, one would have to accumulate the rows quickly and efficiently in order to be compatible with the temperature of one row and the next. In addition, if making fine lace beads like Cherry Brand ones, one would have to be very rhythmical at hopping in order to draw constant arcs at the soft edge of the glass rod. In fact, after the experiments, Senba-sensei mentioned that it would take a lot of time and effort to produce lace beads of even size, quality, and patterns and the fine lace would have be formed at speed. According to an elderly person who knows the Cherry Brand era very well, Cherry Brand artisans were paid for each piece they produced by hand. (Does anybody know if any other flamework artisans, say Venetian glass artisans, also get paid for each piece they make? Please e-mail us if you know.) In the late 1940's after W.W.II, many Japanese were living frugal lives and needed to earn money for food and other basic essentials. Therefore, it is probable to assume that Cherry Brand artisans tried to produce glass beads as many and as fast as possible to get paid more. Furthermore, according to this testimony from one woman ...probably in her late sixties...who was talking about the the Cherry Brand neighborhood right after the World War II, "I could always hear the noise of blowers for flame from every door of the house in the neighborhood whenever I walked on the street." Her statement would be also very supportive to assume that the Cherry Brand neighborhood was conducting a mass production of glass beads.

In the early stages of my research on Cherry Brand beads, I was very lucky to have the chance of an hour long interview with a person who knows about the time when Cherry Brand beads were being actually produced during the U.S. Occupation of Japan (1945-1952). It is during that period that most of Cherry Brand beads sold today are dated in their description. This person went through an extreme shortage of food and goods in the" burnt field" Japan, as many people in Japan did at that time. During the interview, he recommended me to try flamework bead- making to learn more about Cherry Brand beads. Today, I realize more and more what was in his mind when he looked into my eyes and said, "Maybe you should try making glass beads on your own." He must have meant that there is nothing more important than the actual feeling and realization I felt at today's experiment if one wants to know something in depth. I think that the popularity of "Occupied Japan" or "Cherry Brand" beads largely comes from the fact that they are rare products of a "limited edition". Also, it might come from the fact that they are more exotic having been made in Japan, as opposed to the more common, Venetian, Czech, German, and Austrian beads, which have been historically playing the leading roles for so long throughout the world. Today, in addition to these reasons, I venture to add the technical excellence of Cherry Brand artisans. The bead world is fathomless, especially for a beginner in flameworking and the bead world to be able to guess what acrobatic procedures would be needed in today's experiment, I can see how technically difficult it was to manipulate the glass to make lace beads and I did strongly sense the great ability of the Cherry Brand bead artisans. The mystery unexpectedly took me to another stage.

The way Senba-sensei's amethyst lace beads came out was very prized with their interesting shapes. They are quite beautiful and attractive with reflections of light from their accidental bumpiness. He is a very active Tonbo Dama (glass bead) artist in Osaka who learned flameworking from the artisans who took over the Cherry Brand traditions. There is also a deep historical relation to the one of the Osaka's traditional crafts, Izumi Tonbo Dama (Izumi Glass Beads), whose origins date back to 3rd century Japan.

***Deepest thanks to Deborah Zinn, the founder of the Beads-L, and to members, Dana Ceder, Jamey Allen, Stefany Tomalin, and Joan Eppen for their kind permission to use their valuable comments and contributions as well as the generous permission given by Jamey Allen and Stefany Tomalin to reproduce excerpts from their posting at Beads-L. I would also like to extend my thanks to all the other Beads-L members who always inspire me with their great knowledge and experience that stems from years of hard work in their studies and researches. That is what encourages me to learn more and keeps me going as my great curiosity about beads continues.

****Many, many sincere thanks to David Nevill at African Trade Beads and Asian Trade Beads for his generous time and effort to edit this journal. Without his help, this journal wouldn't be open to public.

Sanae Yoshida, June 26, 2003, Osaka, Japan (Research on Cherry Brand beads to be continued....)

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Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Oil on canvas, 25 2/3 x 21 1/4" (65 x 54 cm).
Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland.
Gift of the heirs of Georg Reinhart, 1955.
©2001 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

さくらブランドのビーズが作られていた時代背景のことをもっと詳しくお知りになりたい方は、この本をどうぞ。 Would you like to know about the era of the Cherry Brand  bead productions? If you would, why don't you read this book?

Glass Bead Maker and Collector from Japan
Dolce Street Arts & Crafts
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