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Get to know Marla Salezze

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Marla's book!

As we enter our yearlong celebration of the 25th anniversary of Bead&Button magazine, we've been thinking a lot about what it means to bead. So much so that we even asked our readers to respond to the question: How did you get started beading? and turned their anecdotes into a two-part series.

And as it turns out, beading isn't just one thing for everyone. It represents several different things at different stages of a beader's life. 

Beading can be a medicine, a potion, and an elixir; a form of therapy and meditation, of using one's hands to create something colorful and creative to cope with a recent loss, or to deal with stress during a recovery or rehabilitation. Beading can be a lifelong passion that is now fueling a career, or a casual hobby gradually turning into something more.

But for almost everyone, beading is a form of self-expression.

In the spirit of understanding beading and what it means to others, I sat down with Marla Salezze, jewelry designer, beadweaving teacher and author of Learn to Stitch Beaded Jewelry: 50+ Projects You'll Love to Make!

And what did I find out? That one's beading journey and personal journey are almost always intertwined. 



Marla
Marla Salezze.

They say that children are like sponges. When I was a child, I developed a love for reading and writing, and consumed almost everything I could get my hands on. I also scribbled on almost every surface I came across, including tables, walls, and dresser drawers. Quite the opposite, my sister's early athleticism and natural competitive streak still follows her to this day. You can see an endurance level in all things she does, whether it's fitness-related or in her professional life.

 

Marla Salezze's story begins in a similar way. It wasn't reading or writing, or participating in sports that captured her attention early on, but a love for beads. As a child, she could be spotted sitting cross-legged in the grass, beading ankle bracelets in school colors for her swim team instead of waiting her turn to jump in the pool. On a field trip to a museum, Marla became enraptured by the Native American ancient beadwork on display, and after that, she found ways to fuel her interest in beaded jewelry. 

 

Instead of getting her feet wet in the actual pool, Marla took a deep dive into the world of beading. 

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Marla's corner of inspiration and happiness in her studio, and just another example of her self-expression!
SIMPLY LET IT BEAD

When I asked Marla what beading means to her as she continues to grow and develop her craft, she said something worth repeating:

  

"My beadwork has always been a form of self expression; it’s definitely the way I share my soul with the world."

 

What does it mean to share one's "soul" with the world? Perhaps it is similar to a writer scribbling away at night and finally feeling confident enough to share a story with the world. Or perhaps, like Marla, it is teaching your craft to a roomful of strangers - instructing in the virtual space how to bezel rivolis, for example - and finding inspiration among them. Marla puts her "soul" out there and hopes that the universe will respond in kind.   

 

And, the universe does indeed respond in kind. While beading is predominantly an individual hobby, Marla explained it is also a way to connect with other likeminded individuals. 

 

"We are a community of people who speak the same language—the language of BEADS."

 

When you bring a group of people together who all share the same joy of beadweaving, irregardless of their skill level or concentration, what do you get? A community who can continue to learn from one another. 

When Marla teaches a class, Marla learns as much from her students as they do from her. Her students might share a new perspective on a technique, a special story about a recent beadweaving project, or a new bead they are inspired by, and all of these things will make Marla a better teacher. It is a domino effect: share the joy of beadweaving with others, and find yourself uniquely inspired by someone else along the way. 

A BEADING JOURNEY

For Marla, beadweaving is so much more than just crafting something beautiful you can hold in your hands. It's about getting lost in the medium you're working with, allowing an idea to come to life through the voice of that medium. How many times have all of us as children sat down with crayon to blank paper without any idea of what we wanted to draw, and ended up bringing an animal to life or creating a new superhero? How often have you heard about an invention or an idea blossoming almost by sheer accident, rather than willing it to be? 

 

"Beading has taught me that sometimes things break and can't be put back together in the same way that they were, that patience and persistence are vital in completing anything, and that even though things don’t always go as planned, you’ve still yielded something beautiful, unique and one of a kind."

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Marla's favorite photo of Gracie next to her bead board.

Accepting that things don't always go as planned isn't always so smooth sailing though.

 

When I spoke with Marla, her lovable and beautiful dog, Gracie, had recently passed away at the unexpected and tender age of six years old. Marla explained to me that Gracie, pictured right, came into her life right at the same time her beading career took off. She told me that even though it has been difficult to bead, it's important to find a way to channel your emotions, and beading has become a method of healing and navigating through her grief.

 

Marla's attitude about crafting without Gracie by her side speaks to her resilience as an artist, and also to the power of beading and what it represents.

As a young girl sitting in the grass by her school pool, beading was not fully defined for her yet. It was a hobby that hadn't matured, a calling not fully realized. As she matured, beading became her vocation, a hobby and passion turned career. And beading was there for her, again, when she lost Gracie and needed a way to cope.

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A glimpse into Marla's bead studio.
ART AS THERAPY

I'm not the kind of person who can sit quietly and meditate as a form of therapy. I need to stay busy in order to get my mind off of it.

 

Artists are often the same way. While art may be interpreted as a solitary activity, creating something with your hands is one of the most powerful forms of therapy, and channeling your struggles into your art often results in something extraordinary.

 

Take Marla, for example. Before Gracie's death, and to cope with some health issues, Marla turned to her beading as a form of therapy. She explained that designing and creating jewelry allowed her to express herself, accomplish something beautiful, and connect with others. At the same time, it pushed her to her limits as a beadweaving artist.

 

They say when it rains, it pours. At the same time as Marla was working through her health complications, she was simultaneously serving on the Nunn Design Innovations team, teaching beadweaving, traveling across the country for various workshops and classes, and having her designs published in beading magazines, which, in turn, resulted in the compilation of designs we now know as Learn to Stitch Beaded Jewelry.

 

Marla's personal and professional growth are forever intertwined with beadweaving.

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Another photo of Gracie, "conducting a quality control inspection."
WHAT WILL SHE THINK OF NEXT?

Like all great stories, Marla's is only just being written.

 

Following Gracie's death, Marla has been toying with the idea of creating a healing jewelry line, to not only share her joy of beadweaving with others but also to share a safe and creative space for fellow artists and help guide them through their own journeys with grief. 

 

As an artist who loves getting lost in her medium, she also loves getting lost in other mediums and experimenting with new styles, mediums, and techniques. Who knows what she could come up with were she to dive headfirst into non-beadweaving mediums? 

 

"You’d be surprised how the beadweaving mind will interpret and translate a non-bead weaving technique and come up with something completely incredible!"

 

And Marla's advice to fellow beaders? Continue to support local bead shops and bead fairs as much as possible.

 

"Remind people how beaders provide jewelry with a soul—it’s so much more than just the materials and tools. It’s all the hard work—sometimes hours upon hours of labor intensive stitching—uniqueness and love that’s put into it."

 

While Marla no longer has Gracie by her side when she beads, she keeps a picture of her next to her bead tray at all times. The picture shows Gracie as if she's pushing the bead board towards Marla. 

 

"It makes me think she’s pushing the beads towards me to help push me forward towards whatever may come next."

 

And whatever the next thing may be, we can't wait to see it.

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