What Rocked Tucson in 2010

What is the Tucson Bead Show?

Tucson during the bead shows is impossible to describe. It is not “a bead show,” not even “bead shows.” It’s a universe of about 50 independently produced venues of beads, gems, jewelry, minerals, fossils, and imported goods of all kinds,  all converging on a single city. Just 60 miles from Mexico, Tucson is set in the center of a bowl of craggy purple mountains, its brown, winter landscape as rich and dry-brushed as an Andrew Wyeth painting in shades of umbers and sage.

Fields of dreams
The shows fill football fields of territory—enormous tents span once vacant lots, sometimes with temporary structures two stories high. Gyms and convention centers overflow with vendors. Hotel rooms become showrooms, displays spilling out onto patios. Canvas shielded tables line parking lots and surround hotel pools, groaning beneath piles of minerals, fossils, strands and strands of beads, and who knows what else enduring the sun or rain or dust in crates, boxes, janitor-sized drums and containers of liquid preserving raw gems. Rows of huge, crystal formations hold court with entourages of glittering geodes.

Even viewed from a parking lot the mountains are majestic. And, they really are more purple than my camera could capture.

 From the main highway, one can get a glimmer of the scope of a large show called the Tucson Electric Park, with vendor RVs and trailers.

Buyers inspect mineral specimens outside along a road of hotel shows commonly called "the strip."
Glassclay boothGlasclay(TM) from Claymania Art Clay, Inc. wins my Invention of the Show award; their malleable glass in a binder needs no torch to form, just a kiln to fire. Hot stuff!

Innovations and trends
Several shows are dedicated more to the art forms of what we know as beading, with beads, beadmakers, makers of beaded art, and sellers of jewelry-making supplies from beads to tools to totes.

My trendspotting yielded pearls doing well in every color and shape. Dakota Stones reported matte stone beads flying from the tables, black onyx in particular. Greens, blues, and bright red are the colors to watch, lots of triangular and rhomboid shapes, peace signs, skulls (go figure), new easy and fun tools in wire manipulation from Beadalon and Soft Flex, Beaducation and The Urban Beader.

Buttons from vintage German glass to contempo copper were abundant. Seed bead colors multiply way into the hundreds, now, so apparently I will never have every shade of green. Super-multi-faceted gemstones were also the rage.


Editor in chief of Step by Step Wire Jewelry Denise Peck admires one of many spectacular amethyst "cathedrals." Sadly, her magazine budget does not cover such acquisitions.

Triangular shapes were a real trend. These lampworked glass beads are from Bokomo Designs.
Overheard at the shows
Here’s a few gems from the mouths of attendees:

Vendor: These are really cheap.
Buyer: Your cheap and my cheap could be very different.

Woman in ladies room: Sue? Are you okay?
Voice from stall: Yes, it felt so good to sit down I didn’t care where I was, I just didn’t want to get up!

Guard at show to man and woman entering near closing time: Only 35 minutes, folks.
Woman: That’s the best news he’s heard all day!

Shopper to friend during final hours of their trip: Are we in frenzy mode now?

Discoveries from around the world

The economy didn’t keep people from buying but it had an impact: the Dollar tent is now the $1.30 tent. I admired ancient Roman glass, bought an embroidered tunic from Pakistan, painted silk ribbon from a German artist, silver from Tibet, palm nut beads from the Philipines, and seed beads from Japan and the Czech Republic. The most exotic import I saw: meteorite fragments. Can’t get more imported than that! I really loved the bezeled pottery shards from the town of Mata Ortiz. This craft revives pre-Hispanic art forms using symbolism and Smithsonian-recognized historic recreation.

Two artists combine their skills to make these recreations of ancient Mata Ortiz art: one re-creates the pottery, the other is the silversmith.

Ute Bernsen proves that Silk Painting is Fun with her saturated color ribbons and cords.
Big love
I also tracked the biggest things I saw.

These Buddha beads were as long as I am tall, and almost as heavy! Steve from Hands of the Hills had to help me stand up again.

The top of this ring from Silk Road Treasures is carved, and was used as a stamp or seal.


Does this bead make any part of me look big?
Margeritas are never too big when you're in Tucson.
Come to Bead Fest for the real party
Tucson is a feast, but Bead Fest is a party. The best thing about our bead shows is the people. Tucson is huge, and I do see many people, but the hugeness is not always a good thing. Nothing beats the fun and camaraderie of our classes, soirees, and impromptu show-and-tell gatherings.

Even though I just came from Tucson. I can’t wait for Bead Fest Santa Fe. There’s so many new people to meet, new classes to take, old friends to see again––and those new shades of green seed beads I have to get!

Meantime, have fun making these FREE EARRINGS, with beads and feathers for a Southwest touch. Designed by Melody MacDuffee

Have you heard beadists say funny things at shows? Share them here!

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