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Inspiration in the Desert: Tucson Gem Shows

Polymer clay pendants by Andrew Thornton for Allegory Gallery at Beads of Courage

The Tucson experience is difficult to describe because it’s so different from other shows. There are venues all over town where you’ll find beads, rocks, gems, fossils, tools, metals, and more. Each one is like a treasure hunt where you can find inspiration to fuel your beadwork and jewelry making for the coming year. Read on for photos from my Tucson journey—from shows, to purchases, to fun events!

Tucson cactus

Even if you couldn’t attend the shows this year, check out the Tucson Show Guide for an inside look at the vendors. For most companies and artisans, you can search their sites and shop right from the comfort of home. Or, take inspiration from the many desert-inspired patterns you’ll find at Interweave.com.

Tierra Cast make it take it
TierraCast make-it-take-it]

Sit & Stitch

My first stop in Tucson was at the TierraCast showroom. Stores that sell TierraCast are invited to see the new product introductions – and press gets a sneak peek, too.  It was so lovely to visit, sit and make an easy piece of jewelry after my drive into town. I used brick stitch to attach Czech glass beads to one of their new Hammertone components, then connected a dagger to the center and suspended it from a chain. This technique would make beautiful earrings and also works well with circular components. It was fitting to start my week with this inspiring little make-it-take-it, plus, I wore my new necklace a lot in the following days.

Beadalon challenge Melinda Barta
Beadwork April/May 2020 Bead Artist Melinda Barta at the Beadalon Jewelry Design Challenge

Art & Design

The Whole Bead Show at the Viscout Suites Hotel is another of my favorite places to start the week. It’s an intimate show where you can take time to talk with the artists and vendors. It was great catching up with artistic siblings Andrew and Cynthia Thornton; ceramic bead maker Diane Hawkey; regular Beadwork contributor Kim Leahy; Bead Fest instructor Leslie Venturoso; and other artisans. Beadalon hosted a Jewelry Design Challenge one evening at the show and it was exciting to see what all of the participants made. Each person was provided with the same set of materials from a variety of sponsoring companies. Their creativity came alive in really interesting ways. All of the photos were posted for voting on Beadalon’s Facebook page.

Tamara Honaman  Anie Piliguian
Tamara Honaman & Anie Piliguian polish a ring on the Jool Tool

Tucson Synergy

Interweave Content Director Tamara Honaman spent a day at the ViviMagoo Art Retreat in the Desert held at the Westin La Paloma. She practiced her metalsmithing skills and learned sand casting with instructor Robyn Cornelius. Tamara made an impressive bezel-set ring, which she wore while we were shopping later in the week, across town at the To Bead True Blue show at the Casino del Sol. Our friend, Jool Tool inventor Anie Piliguian, took the ring right off Tamara’s hand and polished it to a gorgeous shine. It was an inspiring example of the kind of synergy that frequently happens at the Tucson gem shows.

Polymer clay pendants by Andrew Thornton for Allegory Gallery at Beads of Courage
Polymer clay pendants by Andrew Thornton for Allegory Gallery at Beads of Courage

Fun for a Cause

Beads of Courage is an arts-in-medicine program that’s based in Tucson. Children experiencing long term illness receive beads for the challenges they face during treatment. For the last few years, I’ve been hosting a fundraising Designing with the Stars party with the help of my jewelry instructor friends. We hold the party at the Beads of Courage headquarters. It’s a fun time for a good cause! There are lots of treasures to be found here, too. I picked up a new Carry-a-Bead set, a pretty heart pendant and a crane necklace.

African Art Village
African Art Village

Colorful Inspiration

There are so many shows to explore, and many of them have beads and beyond. The African Art Village is a fun place to shop for beads, baskets, clothes and other wares from various African countries. There’s music and plenty of inspiration. I was especially smitten with the beaded chairs—so much work! And, I love the ingenious colorful, striped necklaces and bracelets made from recycled flip flop straps that are shaped into tubes. Make your own African Odyssey beaded beads for a taste of journey.

Rocks from around the world amethyst
Rocks from around the world

Rough & Ready

I always love visiting the Kino Gem & Mineral Show. We’re so used to seeing stones like amethyst and rose quartz as beads that it’s mind-blowing to see them as big rock and slab forms. There are also stone dishes, giant quartz points, gemstone trees, and just about anything you can think of that can be made from stone. This year, there was even an amethyst boulder with a door cut out of the side. For a donation to a local non-profit organization, you could sit inside and be surrounded by amethyst crystals. Get the Kino vibe with the projects in the Fast & Fabulous Rough Gemstones Pattern Pack.

Swarovski Innovations 2021
Swarovski Innovations 2021


Swarovski invited Beadwork editors to their trend presentation in the Catalina foothills, where the Spring/Summer 2021 Innovations were introduced. We’ll be sharing more about the Time to Shine collection but suffice to say it is an inspiring take on the cultural trends that will influence us in the year to come. The new color is iris and there are two new pearls, iridescent dreamy blue pearl and iridescent dreamy rose pearl. There’s a back-to-basics approach with the shapes and a creative take on the finishes and effects. I’m tempted to try some of the new opal shimmer effect bicones with Cubic Right-Angle Weave with Marcia DeCoster: Prismatic Right-Angle Weave.

Party On

Beadwork and Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist hosted a party at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson for contributors and advertisers. A red carpet welcomed guests into the party and was an engaging way to highlight everyone’s amazing creations. The event provided a gathering place for industry luminaries to catch up and share their stories from the week and beyond. Next time we get together, it will be at Bead Fest Philadelphia. I hope to see you there!

Happy beading,
Katie Hacker, Beadwork editor

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2 comments on “Inspiration in the Desert: Tucson Gem Shows

  1. Susan Gibbons says:

    Yes! This is great. I’ve always hoped to get to these shows someday (I’m on the east coast), but after reading your posts, I’m wondering: Is this mainly a show for vendors? Or is the general public welcome?