Beading with the Masters: Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is a Mexican painter who has been described as a surrealist or a magical realist. Her work has been very important socially and politically to many groups. She’s celebrated internationally as an idol for Chicanos, feminists, and the LGBT movement. Her work began as a hobby during her recovery from polio as a child, and she returned to her art while she was healing from extensive injuries she sustained in a bus accident when she was 18. She eventually became a full-time artist. Frida lived with ill health, a fragile body, and disability for most of her life—a subject she painted about often.
ABOVE: La Casa Azul – the Frida Kahlo Museum (Photo: Nachtwächter), Svetlana Chernitsky’s Mariposa Bracelet, Michelle Heim’s Caño Cristales Bracelet, Sandra Kane’s Voodoo Queen Necklace, Carole E. Hanley’s Cactus Flower Bracelet, Diane Fitzgerald’s Floral Collage Necklace, and Evelína Palmontová’s Ocean Treasures Bracelet.
I’m an art geek and love exploring art history. I’ve been enjoying learning what inspired artists’ work and tapping into their stories. I’ve selected my favorite notable artists, and in the month of their birth I’ll share their stories with you, and draw correlations between them and beaded jewelry design.
If you’re into art history, too, be sure to check out my previous article about artist Paul Gauguin, or read the entire Beading with the Masters series to get all caught up with what I’ve shared so far!
La Casa Azul
Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City is called La Casa Azul, or The Blue House. Now it stands as a museum dedicated to her life and her art. She was born there, and it remained in her family throughout the years. While she traveled with her husband, Diego Rivera, and they lived elsewhere, too—it was always home. She spent the final years of her life in La Casa Azul and died there in 1957. Here are a few beading patterns that remind me of the richly hued blue-purple paint of the house’s exterior:
- Michelle Heim’s Caño Cristales Bracelet features an alternate colorway in metallic blues and purples. Caño Cristales is a Colombian river that’s also known as the “River of Five Colors” or the “Liquid Rainbow,” because of its striking, vibrant colors.
- Svetlana Chernitsky’s Mariposa Bracelet uses jet AB pryamid hex beads that have the same “wow” factor of the rich blue pigment of La Casa Azul.
- Wendy Ellsworth’s Steelstack Pendant has two colorways that both fit right in. The vibrant purple-blue, rich turquoise, bright orange, and juicy lime green are all seen at La Casa Azul as well.
Frida Kahlo’s work and a lot of Mexican art from the 20th century feature a lot of bright, bold colors. From 1910 to 1920, the Mexican Revolution had a large impact on Mexican art. Muralism and Revolutionary art became very popular, and with them, vibrant colors to attract the viewer’s attention to the artist’s message. Color gets noticed. The same holds true for bead artists, as well. These bead weaving patterns feature bright, bold colors to attract the eye:
- Diane Fitzgerald’s Floral Collage Necklace is an impressive bouquet of color. If you’re trying to get attention, this necklace won’t disappoint. The beautiful beaded flowers are each an individual work of art.
- Carole E. Hanley’s Cactus Flower Bracelet is a geometric brick-stitch bracelet that uses bold and contrasting colors to make the design pop. The navy blue, bright turquoise, and golden hues make the flower motif jump out and grab the viewer.
- Evelína Palmontová’s Ocean Treasures Bracelet features calming mint greens, happy yellows, and even some firey oranges in its three colorways. Each one is created in its own hue to elevate and accentuate the color.
- Cindy Kinerson’s Riding Day Earrings are a colorful twist on a rustic-looking design. The classic, vibrant color combination of coral red and turquoise makes the design eye-catching. Warm chocolate brown and copper help balance the colors.
Frida Kahlo’s posthumous fame has exploded over the last few decades. The term “Fridamania” was even coined to describe her popularity, and she’s now one of the most instantly-recognizable artists of history. Her art, her image, and her life have been lifted up as a story of openness about pain, tragedy, and non-conformity that speaks to the hearts of many people today.
Sandra Kane’s Voodoo Queen Necklace, while inspired by New Orleans and campy TV horror, feels right at home with Frida Kahlo, to me. The elegant beauty of the bead weaving and the “scary” imagery of a skull are juxtaposed in a very “Frida” way.
I find inspiration in Frida’s work and her life as a sort of memento mori, a reminder that we are all mortals—only guaranteed this one life we’re currently living. I intend to make the most of mine!
Technical Editor, Beadwork magazine