In 1970 I graduated from college and moved to a miner's cabin at 11,000 ft. in the Rocky Mountains. While there I learned to bead by the light of kerosene lamps. Living the life of a hippie, I made fringed leather handbags with circular beaded Mandala patterns laced onto the front of each bag. They sold for $45 at the Gypsy Woman shop in Aspen, CO.
After living in the woods of Southeastern Pennsylvania for 37 years, I’ve recently relocated to the mountains of Western North Carolina with my woodturning husband David Ellsworth. I am still working with tiny seed beads to make a wide variety of products. I have converted a large bedroom on the main floor of our new home into a sunny studio. We share a gallery space in the basement and recently participated in the popular Weaverville Art Safari open studio tour.
Over the years I’ve developed a national and international reputation as a bead artist. My work has been shown in exhibitions of contemporary beadwork, glass, basketry, fiber, jewelry and body adornment. I’ve written multiple articles for the leading bead magazines and my work has been featured in many books and periodicals.
My own book Beading–The Creative Spirit: Finding Your Sacred Center Through the Art of Beadwork was published by SkyLight Paths in 2009. It offers multiple ways to explore beading as a spiritual journey of self-discovery. For me, beading and my spiritual path are intricately interwoven. As I sit and weave with my beads, I allow the Creative Spirit to flow through my hands. It feels like a transmission of Spirit that fills me with deep inner peace and joy as I bead.
I’m self-taught and use a variety of bead weaving techniques that include gourd stitch, herringbone, ladder, brick, netting and right angle weave. I primarily use seed beads in sizes 15/0 - 6/0 in many colors and finishes. My sense of color is intuitive, I enjoy combining colors that feel right to me during the process of making each piece.
I’ve been exploring 3-D beadwork since the late 1980’s. I began a sculptural Beaded Stick Series in 1989, searching for tree branches that resembled the human form in some sort of movement or gesture. Working in the gourd stitch, I wove the entire surface of each stick with size 11/0 seed beads, free-forming the beadwork in difficult areas. Each piece in the Stick Series represented a deep emotional process within myself that is reflected in the title. “Resisting the Mirror,” for instance, portrays the contortions we go through when the mirror of truth is presented to us and we resist looking into it out of fear of what will be reflected there. “Goin’ Dancin” was the final piece in this series and inspired me to start working three-dimensionally without an armature.
This led directly to my ‘SeaForm’ series in the mid-1990’s. Each piece has been inspired by underwater coral reef forms. I don’t begin with a pre-conceived idea of how the form will develop or what colors of beads I will use. Instead, I respond to the forms as they evolve in a totally interactive and collaborative manner. Some SeaForms are simple like “Tanjung Kandi” and others are more complex like “Selat Ombai,” “Tanjung Samba” and “Tanjung Datu.” I’m passionate about coral reefs and dismayed that they’re dying because the oceans are warming. It’s my hope that through my ‘SeaForm’ series, people will be reminded what an important resource the coral reefs are for our planet and perhaps make a commitment to limiting their carbon footprint.
In 2016 I collaborated with my husband David to make a series of 3-D beaded Mandalas that were included in his exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled “At the Center, Masters of American Craft.” These included “Sunflower,” “White Lotus” and “Orange Flower.”
I’ve also been interested in geometric beadwork and have been participating in Kate McKinnon’s project the past few years. My "SW Geometric Cuff" and "Jester Cuff" are examples of this. I have a lot of ideas swirling around in my head about future ways to utilize these fun geometric methods of beading, especially making more Kaleidocycles and adding Hypar Inserts into flat beadwork to make it 3-D.
Teaching classes in off-loom beadweaving techniques has taken me as far abroad as Kenya and Australia. After receiving a Fellowship from the PA Council on the Arts in 2003, I traveled to Kenya to study the beadwork of the Maasai and Samburu peoples. I’ve continued to work with tribal women through non-profits that have beading projects to help them refine their products for the western market. I also teach within the US at various venues and hold private classes in my home. In 2018 I had my first solo exhibition at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Hunterdon, NJ titled “Wendy Ellsworth: A Passion For Beads.” Beads have truly been my passion for almost 50 years!
The Creative Spirit: Finding Your Sacred Center Through the Art of Beadwork is available on Amazon.com