Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel November 15, 2014
Even though he no longer participates in Open Studios or exhibits much, Thom Atkins makes quilts that are absolutely worth seeking out. You can see his work on his website, www.thomatkins.com, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person. His beaded quilts are a visual and textural wonderland.
|The beads added to this beaded-quilt sample used for
compliment the fabric design in perfect harmony—a symphony,
of dots, some recessed and others rising off the surface.
This piece also features buttons and tiny mirrors as embellishments.
Examining Thom’s quilts I am reminded of the impressionist painter Claude Monet, for whom the effects of light on a subject became as important as the subject itself. For Thom, I think the effects of beads—and light reflected by beads—has that same over-powering attraction. The shiniest beads catch the light and give his quilts movement and a shimmering quality like sunlight on water or summer leaves fluttering in the breeze.
This beaded bag, made by Thom, features a
cabochon in the center, attached by a network
of seed beads embroidered around the edges
of the stone holding it in place.
Although there are thousands of books about quilt-making, there is only a handful about adding beads to quilts, and of those, beads are typically treated as an embellishment rather than a major design element. Of course making a quilt is also about fabric choices, but as Thom writes in his own book, “Beading Artistry for Quilts,” “My ultimate goal…has been to find the balance between the fabric and the beads.” And it’s that willingness to seek that balance—even if it means many months of attaching beads—that makes his quilts (and his book) so revolutionary.
In defense of beads, Thom writes, “Why use plain stitching when you can use a bead with a color or finish that will add to the surface? Should you become a ‘beadaholic’ like me, you may find yourself using beads for everything…”
As a life-long artist, Thom Atkins has worked in many different two- and three-dimensional media including oil paint, stained glass and bronze casting. When a 2002 traffic accident damaged his wrist and thumbs, he took up bead-embellished quilting. His sister, Robin Atkins, a national known bead artist, author and instructor, initially taught Thom the basis stitches. “I needed a new job. I looked at what quilt people were doing at that time and there was a little dab of beads here and a little dab there. That isn't fair to the beads,” he says.
|On an outing with a friend, Diedra |
was inspired to make this set of
lavender-hued pieces after discovering
an alleyway full of lilacs.
“I like versatile jewelry,” says Diedra, holding up a necklace that can be easily disconnected to be become three bracelets. Another necklace she has designed has a clasp with a large bead, so that if the clasp/bead combination is worn in front instead of the back, it looks like a pendant—essentially giving you two necklaces for the price of one. “My goal,” she says, “is never having someone say, ‘Oh, your clasp is in the front,’” as if it were a mistake. She makes her clasp designs worthy of being the focal point.
Undoubtedly some of Diedra’s most spectacular pieces of jewelry are her butterfly necklaces, inspired by the Monarchs which cling to branches in the eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, beginning each year in October. Her butterfly wings—made from hundreds of tiny orange, white and black seed beads—are every bit as beautiful as the real thing. Her most ambitious Monarch-inspired necklace is made from thousands of beads. “It took me 15 years to figure out how to do it,” she says, “and then three months to actually do it.”
Diedra says she is largely self-taught, although she uses magazines and books at times when she can find new techniques she doesn’t yet know. She describes herself as a tactile learner and her inspiration comes from the world around her. “Whenever I go on a trip I have to make something when I come back that captures that trip,” he says. “I have to come back and “sketch” it into beads.”