Conversation with the Artist: Laura McCabe
Conversation with the Artist: Laura McCabe
All images courtesy of the artist. Please do not use without permission.
Laura McCabe is a primarily self-taught beadweaver with an education in historical costume reproduction and restoration, and anthropology. She produces elaborately beaded body adornment and sculpture that combines Native American, African, and Victorian beadweaving techniques with modern materials and color schemes.
She started Just Let Me Bead in 1995, at which time she sold her original designs to boutiques and museum shops. In 2002, she began teaching her art and has continue to do so across the US and throughout the world. She has exhibited her work in national and international beadwork exhibitions and continues to sell some of her finished work as well as teach workshops in beading and the creative process.
She maintains a private studio in Hampton, Connecticut where she, her husband Michael and a dog named Lucy continue to live the creative life.
MOB: What meanings do beads hold? Why is beaded art important?
For centuries those creative acts which have been most often associated with body adornment rarely have been accorded the status of Art. While beadwork has existed in virtually every culture throughout the world since the beginnings of modern man and has played a significant role both spiritually (with amuletic properties) and socially (as an indicator of status), it is generally viewed as a functional craft rather than an Art form in its own right.
Egyptian Revival Necklace, 2018: circa 1890 real beetles ("new" old stock from a Parisian jewelry supply company), precious metal seed beads, gem pearls, cubic zirconia stones. This is an example of taking a Victorian tradition of using real insects in jewelry.
Beads and beadwork have, throughout time, maintained a universal appeal that links people across cultures and across the ages. Beads date back more than 40,000 years, and are a uniquely human phenomenon, not found amongst other primates or even earlier human species. In addition to serving the human needs of vanity, adornment, and social status, beads have a deeper, more spiritual aspect. They have provided us good fortune, protection from evil forces, and a link to a more spiritual realm (both through prayer beads and elaborately beaded ritual body adornment).
Eyeball Creature, 2017. Creatures are made from a variety of materials including glass doll eyes, stone points, crystal, feathers, pearls, seed beads.
From early hunter gatherers in the pre-agricultural age, to the Ancient Worlds of Egypt, Greece and Rome, onto Renaissance Europe, Tribal Africa, the Orient, Native America, the Victorian Period, and up through the Modern Era, beadwork has represented an uninterrupted tradition throughout time amongst virtually every culture on Earth. In a world of human differences, beadwork is a common link, fulfilling the most fundamental human needs.
Gang of 5, 2013.
It is in this history of ancient traditions, spiritual importance, timeless handcraft, and human commonality that the Art of Beads can be found. They represent more than precision handwork, personal adornment, or social significance. Each bead, beneath its lustrous surface, tells an age-old story of human fear, human desire, and the human need for beauty.
Exotic Eye Cuff from 2012: example of work inspired by Georgian era lover's eye jewelry. Antique prosthetic glass eyes, seed beads, gem pearls, exotic leather (crocodile and toad), crystal rivet, sterling clasp.
By drawing on my education in historical costume and textiles and applying variations of Native American, African Zulu, and Victorian beading techniques to contemporary colors and designs, I strive to create beaded body adornment and sculpture that celebrates and reincarnates the dying tradition of fine handcrafts and helps to elevate beadwork to the status of Art, which it undeniably deserves.
MOB: What are your current inspirations and influences?
Inspiration comes from all directions so I would include multiple sources on my list. I am, as many are, very inspired by nature and natural forms. I am currently teaching a master class on wildflowers so I have recently spent much of my time looking at these flower forms and recreating them in beads.
Black Eyed Susan Necklace 2016, collar style necklace features beaded black eyed susans - the individual flowers are a good example of the type of flower forms I have included in my current Wildflower master class. Glass seed beads, crystals, leather.
Given my background in historical fashion, I also like to reference historical dress and jewelry books for ideas. Included in my work are pieces inspired by Georgian Era traditions (my lover’s eye inspired jewelry), Victorian Era pieces (my beaded corsets as well as much of my jewelry, including those pieces made with antique scarab beetles), and punk rock area fashion (my multitude of stone spike jewelry) – just to name a few genres.
Beetle Wing Choker, 2010: example of punk rock inspired beadwork. Green gold stone stone spikes, glass seed beads, crystal, real beetle wings, 14K gold clasp.
I am also very inspired by people in the world around me. I love talking with others about what I am currently working on and I am always fascinated by their perspectives. Engaging with other people, especially those who live lives very different than my own, is always a source of ideas and inspiration.
MOB: If you were to pick a favorite piece from your collections and tell its story, what would it say?
Hmm...that is quite a tough question to answer because of the vast range of pieces I have done over the years. My sense of “favorite” changes over time as I come to work on new pieces. Perhaps I would be inclined to say that what I am currently working on is always my favorite piece – thereby it changes as each one is finished. I am very much about the process not the product and the height of enjoyment for me is in the process of creating not in the final piece of work. “The journey is the destination,” as they say, and for me the current stage of that journey is where in lies my favorite piece of work.
"Peep Show Corset," 2013, silk corset (I made that too), antique prosthetic glass eyes, doll's eyes, seed beads, pearls, crystal. An example of how I took my historical costume background and applied it to making a burlesque inspired corset.
MOB: Do you have any upcoming projects, concepts, and new work we should look out for?
While I am inclined to change direction at any given point as my interest changes, I am currently working on a couple of projects which I am quite excited about. The first is an off shoot of my current master class. I am working on fantastical flowers, inspired by the real forms but with an element of the surreal. They appear in a “specimen format” and are enclosed in cloche domes.
I am also at the moment working on a beaded chess set. I have recently decided I would like to teach myself chess properly. I have played it in the past but in more of a free-wheeling, I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing fashion. I figured there is nothing more appropriate for me than a beaded chess set, hence the current undertaking.
I am also continuing to explore and develop my new teaching format. Thanks largely to Covid I had to reinvent the business which previously was largely based on one-day workshops which I would teach throughout the country and across the world. I have switched to a multimedia format which includes detailed video tutorials. I am loving this new format because it allows me to work with students over a much longer period of time and also dive into the creative process which is really my favorite part of being an artist.
You can see more of Laura's work on her website, on her Instagram, or watch her amazing beading tutorials on her YouTube channel. Thank you so much, Laura!
-- Museum of Beadwork, May 2021
- Heather Kahn