Arts in RI Featured Member - The Venerable Bead

Our first featured member is Paula of The Venerable Bead, a talented glass artist. Her background as a jewelry designer combines with her love of color to create exquisite glass pendants. Her shop is well worth a visit!


DB: Give us a little background on yourself.

PM: My name is Paula McDonough and I'm a clinical social worker by day, lampworker by night. I love birthdays, and I love to dress up and go out. If there is a party anywhere, I want an invite. I love color and I'm comfortable in everything from a ball gown to shorts and a tank top. I accessorize all of it, of course! Other than melting borosilicate glass and jewelry design I love photography, scrapbooking and geocaching. I'm an animal lover who has had, at different times in my life, dogs, cats, lizards, a potbellied pig, turtles, and most recently 14 hermit crabs (which belong to my son but, of course, I take care of).

I have a truly wonderful life. I am blessed with a supportive husband and two healthy, smart and beautiful children ages 9 and 6. I have a wonderful family and great friends who have supported my hobby and helped turn it into a business. I am having so much fun and anyone who knows me will tell you they have never seen me this excited about anything. My heart is singing. Can you hear it?

DB: When did you first become interested in your art form?

PM: In 1994, on my first wedding anniversary, I walked into a little bead shop in Boston's Haymarket Square and picked up a polymer clay bead. That was the start of a bead obsession that has changed forms several times but has never waned. For four years following that day, I made Polymer clay beads and jewelry and did the craft show circuit. Then I put the clay away and started designing Bali silver, Swarovski crystal and semi-precious stone jewelry. My "family name bracelets" were born shortly after my daughter Emma and I have been doing home jewelry parties ever since.

The glass bug hit in early 2005 while I was reading a Bead and Button magazine article about a Borosilicate bead artist who started glassing in her 40's. I had never seen Borosilicate glass before but I felt drawn to it. After that, I started buying little Boro (for short) beads to incorporate into my name bracelets. Then it occurred to me that I could probably learn how to make them myself. In the spring of 2005 I took a wonderful nine week lampworking class at the Worcester Center for Crafts taught by the very talented Jennifer Geldard and in July 2005 I set up a glass studio in my home.

DB: What inspires you?

PM: I am inspired by trends in fashion and jewelry. I love picking up fashion magazines or taking a walk around the mall. I love to surf the internet and look at my lampworking sites. I have a serious bead and glass magazine addiction too. Etsy inspires me. I love to sit and travel through the time machine. The colors the textures it's all so inspiring. I am a geocacher and nature often inspires me too. My kids inspire me. They are funny and my toughest critics and they tell me what works for them and that makes me want to be a better lampworker. I take all of it with me to the torch but then I go to my zen place and all that has inspired me is revealed on more of an unconscious level.

DB: Does living in Rhode Island influence your work in any way?

PM: I think being near the ocean does influence my work. I can't imagine living anywhere else. There's an organic quality to my pendants and many people tell me my implosion pendants look like creatures and plants from the sea.

DB: What techniques do you use the most in your work?

PM: My favorite techniques are off mandrel meaning that I am usually melting larger blobs of glass using a glass punty or holding rod rather than making a round bead on a steel rod or mandrel. The pendants for me have become my addiction. I love the implosion technique where colored glass is heated into clear making a bloom or glass flower. I think my boro pendants look distinctively feminine. I have spent a lot of time learning how to achieve vibrant boro color. I always make my bails on mandrel meaning they are a colored bead and not a clear loop. I like that look. I think it allows my pendants to be incorporated into strung beaded necklaces better which goes back to my roots as a jewelry designer.

DB: What do you find most challenging in your work?

PM: Well I think my biggest challenge is in trying to educate people about handmade glass and how it is different from imported sweatshop glass. People who think you can buy the same beads at the local craft store frustrate me but I have developed a thick skin and a friendly educational approach in my dealing with those customers. While it's frustrating it can also be very rewarding when that person walks away with a new understanding and appreciation of hot glass.

DB: How did you find Etsy?

PM: I found etsy last spring while spending time on I started seeing that other glass artists had set up shops and were singing Etsy's praises. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I think one of the things I like best about Etsy is that the customer base has already made a commitment to buy handmade and appreciates the talent and the time involved in the craft. That customer means everything to me. That customer knows when she has received one of my pendants in the mail that she has purchased a little bit of me. That customer feeds my soul.

DB: Apart from your Etsy work, what do you do?

PM: I am a master's level social worker and I work three days a week for an employee assistance program. It's a different kind of gratification from the glasswork. There are no
finished products. People evolve and hopefully move towards mental health and happiness but I don't often get to see tangible evidence of that. I bear witness to a lot of sadness and it's rewarding to be able to come home and put all that away and create pretty things from fire and glass.

DB: What's your favorite place in Rhode Island?

PM: Someday I will live in a big house in Narragansett right on the beach. My studio will be set high up on the top floor so I can torch and look out at the ocean as I work, but for now my favorite place in RI is my little basement studio in Warwick.
If you like this Arts In RI blog post...spread the love!
Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Facebook Tell Your Tweets
2 Responses
  1. Jen Says:

    lovely work! I know what you mean by "tangible" evidence.. I used to be a social worker and am now a full time mom and photographer. I do miss working with my clients though.

    p.s how do I get involved on this board? I'm new to RI and an artist/photographer!


  2. syn Says:

    I have read the above article its interesting.
    Rhode Island Drug Addiction