Falling In Love Again: A Continuing Mystery about Stitched Glass

By Sam Norgard

Sam Norgard grew up working in her family-run flower shop. By her grandmother’s side, she learned design, quality crafts(wo)manship and humor.  A long career of university teaching as well as working in a number of design industries, Sam assembled an unusual array of skills in a variety of media. Sam’s current focus is contemporary geometric beadwork.  Recently, she has been honored to work with Kate McKinnon, connecting Sam to a network of thousands of beaders worldwide.  A Professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design Sam delights in the adventure of learning, teaching and creating.  She is grateful to the women who, by wearing her jewelry, provide a showplace for her work.

Each day I bead.  Is bead really a verb?  I looked it up and they tell me it’s a noun.

To me it feels quite like “Each day I breathe”.  I’m not always making great work but it is a practice, it is a way of connecting the head, the hand, and, the heart through this often repetitive movement.  It helps me find my path.

Using simple materials, a needle pulling thread and small glass orbs with holes, tiny bits of glass are woven together.

My writings here will reflect upon stitched glass, and, it’s relationship to the symposium topics: connecting the topic, history, and my own work.  The symposium “Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port” is such a rich title.  In this writing will be examining two of the words:  Port and Labor.

Port:  My Comments

Port:  a city, town, or other place where ships load or unload

The Symposium will be held in the drop dead gorgeous city of Savannah, GA.  If one is to drive out to Tybee Island you may time it just right to see one of huge cargo ships making it’s way up the Savannah River.  At points you will notice that your perspective makes it appear that these huge heavy ships are being dragged along the land, it is nothing if not magical and a bit surreal.  I highly recommend it.

Port:  A bit of history:

Early days beads were made of hard materials in which a hole was either formed by happenstance or by human.  Materials such as wood, stone, seeds, pits, ivory, bone, or resins were used and the reasoning seems to be connected to the wearer’s protection, decoration or indication of status.  Beads became a form of currency especially in areas such as Africa or the Americas where currency did not exist.  When trade routes were established trade beads began to be used.  Trade beads became popular in Africa and often were referred to as slave beads because they were exchanged for slaves.  Trade beads were made from a variety of material but often were made from glass.

Port:  One of my works:

Beading creates a space very much like the definition of a port.  If we think of the goods as ideas brought by ships to the port the process of beading creates the port where the exchange of ideas takes place.   This exchange feels a lot like thinking through your hands.

Currently, I am working on a piece called “My Life in Triangles”.   It’s a fairly small work – or it will be once finished.  It combines my love of the transfer of knowledge (teaching) and my passion for these orbs of glass (beads).  It will be constructed of 64 triangles; each triangle is created through teaching and beading.  I teach this simple form and through direction the students learn the structure.  Each student creates two triangles; one to keep, one to share.  The triangles are held together by my construction using 24 kt gold Delica beads.

Here is an in process photo of  “My Life in Triangles” on my work table in my Nova Scotia studio:



Looking at a second word in the symposium title: “Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port” I am selecting “labor”.

Labor:  My Comments

The second from the last word in The Symposium title is labor.  When looking up labor I was surprised to find 15 definitions.  Let me share a couple:  Physical or mental exertion, a specific task or effort, and childbirth.  With beadwork the final piece creates a physical form that bares witness to the time spent making the piece.  The maker may say something like “Each row took me 45 minutes” or “Each of the 12 forms took 2 hours.”  Like tick tocks of the clock the placement of the beads take us through the time that was needed to make the work.

Labor:  A bit of (contemporary) history

Focusing on the word labor I would be remiss if I did not mention Liza Lou’s work.  I was fortunate to attend her talk, several years ago now, at the SCAD Museum of Art.  She spoke about labor and the beauty of it.  I believe this is why the representational aspect of her work has more recently disappeared.  Newer work, such as “Color Field” does not let representation stand in the way of the viewer’s immersion in

color and the physical metaphor the piece provides for labor.  Here we see a picture of her working on this recent piece in Neuberger Museum of Art:  a sparkling field of individual beaded four inch wires.


Labor:  One of my works:

When I first saw Liza’s work in the 1990’s I was so taken with it that I decided to create a life sized sculptural dress in her honor. Liza’s beaded “Backyard” from this period was a full scale beaded replica of a suburban backyard complete with a grass lawn made of individually beaded blades of grass.

The sculptural dress combines elements from my own background with Liza’s work.  I grew up working in my family-run flower shop.  By my father and grandmother’s sides, I learned design, quality crafts(wo)manship and humor. My florist family background, Liza’s grass, my humor (yes, it is a grass skirt), and my father’s code for structure and craft all come together in the piece called “Liza and the Code of Art”.  Yes, believe it or not, my father’s name was Art.

Liza and the Code of Art: