The Colorful Markings of Clinging Beads

IF you're like me, the last time you thought about stringing beads was years ago at summer camp. Not so with Jacqueline Lillie. She's been puzzling about it ever since a second-hand dealer called her up and offered her a hat-box full of turn-of-the-century Czechoslovakian glass beads with the mysteriously prophetic words: "You're the only person I could think of who would know what to do with them."At the time, she didn't. But then again, Jacqueline Lillie has a penchant for mystery. She likes things that aren't immediately evident, and her face lights up when I tell her I don't really understand how she does what she does. "It's nicer that way, don't you think?" All that she's willing to disclose during the course of our coffeehouse conversation is that her technique is similar to that of a rugmaker's. An understructure forms the basis of a lively surface that belies this very foundation: the silk thread disappears. A pattern emerges. The beads cling to each other as though held by kinetic force, the way metal shavings will arrange themselves on a sheet of paper covering a magnet. "Fibula named for the clasp with which the Celts and early Romans fastened their loose-fitting garments - was created in two stages. Lillie's younger daughter unwittingly proposed the needle-like part: While studying for her baccalaureate, she would distractedly twirl her long hair and then stick it with a pencil to keep it from falling across her face. Watching from a distance, Lillie took on the challenge of the shape. Only later, after a discussion with a gallery owner who wanted to sell the piece as a pin for clothing, did she come up with the idea for the round element ... and the name. The result is an object both archaeological and modern. Its function may seem at first an enigma: some elegant but perplexing implement from a culture removed from ours. Like the knotted carpet to which it is related, it conveys an illusion of depth through the slight variation in color of the old beads, as well as the shadows in between, the repetition of the lines, the juxtaposition and balance of the colors. It is an object that speaks not only to the sense of sight, but also to that of touch - its message seemingly concealed in a Braille-like script. Lillie was born of Austrian parents in France. She spent her childhood there until after the end of World War II, when her family returned to its native Vienna. There she studied metalwork under the artist Hagenauer at the Academy of Applied Arts. She admits that it wasn't always easy for her to "justify" a pursuit like jewelrymaking - either to a family that had long been engaged with political and social concerns, or for that matter, to herself. Another hurdle was overcoming the role models she had sought out for herself during her initial research on beadwork, in particular the turn-of-the-century designs of the Wiener Werkstatte. The proof of the correctness of her decision to continue only came with an intensification of her commitment to it. Now these threads, too - of doubt, that is - have disappeared from her demeanor. Seen from where she stands today, the concentric circles of her bead art are like the rings of a tree: marking seasons, marking growth.

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