Enameling and Jewelry Making with Sara Lukkonen at Bead Fest
If you think C-Koop is a cute nickname for former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, then it’s likely been awhile since you’ve visited a bead show or read a beading magazine. C-Koop Beads is owned by Sara Lukkonen, a Minnesota artist who named her bead business after her chicken-coop studio. “That didn’t last long,” she admits, “once it turned October and began to snow.” Her chicken-coop studio may not have survived the winter, but Sara’s interest in enameling has steadily grown since the mid-1970s, when she first experimented with a hobby kiln.
Sara enjoyed the results, but found the process slow. After reading about torch enameling, she began using this method and selling simple jewelry with her handmade beads. She took a break to start her family and her dietitian career. Then in 1998, she purchased a huge lot of glass powder at an estate sale and began crafting jewelry for herself in her basement studio.
A year later, Sara walked into The Bead Monkey wearing a bracelet with her handmade enameled copper beads. The beads caught the manager’s attention, and she asked to sell them in her shop. Eventually, Sara hired her niece Jenny Emig full time to help her with torch work, along with two other employees. Now, she’s back to working solo.
For Sara, the excitement of enameling is that no two beads are exactly alike. First, the copper shapes need to be cleaned, domed, and holes added. The magic comes with the colors, Sara explains. Glass powders in hundreds of colors, including some vintage ones, provide bright layers of color when she dips the metal into the glass. Frit—finely crushed or broken glass—adds tiny flicks of color on top of the base. The result is a Monet-like bead, charm, button, or toggle in more than one hundred different styles and shapes.
Her customers’ comparisons to Monet surprise her, as does the question about her art background. “I don’t see myself as an artist,” she confesses. “I see myself as a chemist.” Enameling does require knowledge of how copper and glass react chemically. The temperature has to be just right for the glass to adhere to the copper (not too hot or it may burn). It’s also important to cover at least 75 percent of the back of the bead with glass, Sara explains, or the glass might pop off, especially when the temperature changes.
While she may not view herself as an artist, Sara always made things as a child. Her attempt to excel in a college art class, however, was unsuccessful. Her professor told her that she had no sense of design. Given C-Koop’s tremendous popularity in the beading and jewelry community, it’s safe to say that there are thousands of jewelry makers who would disagree with that art professor’s assessment.
Beaders crowd around her table at the 16 national and local shows she does each year. She also sells beads at bead shop trunk shows and online. She laughs when she hears that some beaders hoard her work. “I’m making beads all the time—you don’t need to do that! If I ever decide not to do them any more, I’ll give everyone plenty of warning.”
Despite her sometimes 18-hour days, an announcement about her retirement doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon. In 2019, Sara will teach four workshops at Bead Fest Philadelphia as well as will have a booth in the marketplace. Don’t miss the chance to learn from this master enamellist and collect some of her enameled components! Visit BeadFest.com and sign up, today!
View more of her work at CKoopbeads.com.
Excerpted from Beadwork April/May 1996.