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Studio Cruise 2010: Fynboh perfects glass-making techniques

Artist Sandy Fynboh wears one of the necklaces she created at her Blue Sky Beads studio at Akeley. She is one of 21 artists featured in the third annual Bemidji First City of Arts Studio Cruise later this month. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall1 / 2
Sandy Fynboh's work includes these hand-blown glass flowers. She will demonstrate the process during this year's Studio Cruise. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall2 / 2

Sandy Fynboh of Blue Sky Beads dreams of the day when she can open a bead museum with her expanding collection of beads - chevrons dating back 600 years, Tibetan prayer beads, antique sand cast beads, Black Sea coral and some contemporary pieces.

But for now, she is content making beads and jewelry that will last for generations, pieces containing her glass beads, made by either blowing glass or lampwork. There are bracelets, necklaces and earrings made with semi-precious and precious stones, blown glass native wild flowers (Yellow Moccasin and Trilliums) and an array of materials for novice as well as experienced jewelry makers.

Fynboh began her artistic ventures by making beaded embroidery on custom-made clothing but she was not happy with the quality of the beads available and started to make her own.

"So I bought a torch and some tubes and colors of glass," said Fynboh. "I started to study the chemistry of glass, annealing points, fuel sources and the different kinds of torches and what they could do for me or against me in the pursuit of the perfect bead."

Fynboh read books, asked for advice from other glass makers and practiced the procedures. However, she began to realize that glass chemistry is very complicated and there is no easy way to learn the craft. After spending about five years studying, she began to work with master glass artist Larry Scott from Seattle and Donnie Hartz, a scientific glass blower for Proctor and Gamble. Both tutors are well known in the field and have published articles in glass journals and bead making books.

"It is necessary to study under professionals who know what works and what doesn't work because they can assess a student's product and explain what they are doing wrong and how to correct it. There are also safety factor issues with fumes and cutting the glass. You have to put in your 10,000 hours of work to know your craft. As Gladwell said in his book, ("Insiders" by Malcolm Gladwell) it's not enough just to be talented. One must work at becoming a master. I think I'm on my way because I can feel what a bead wants to be - simple or stunning. It takes a lot of training to be able to do a 'switched axis bead' or a combination of blown and lampwork beads."

Visitors to Blue Sky Beads will see demonstrations of lampworking, an art form which dates back to ancient Syria in the first century, B.C. and was practiced in the 14th century and continues today by the Murano family in Italy. The French glass masters started making paperweights in the mid-19th century. They are highly prized collectors' items. Lampworking uses a gas-fueled torch to melt rods and tubes of different weights and colors. Once melted, the glass blob is then manipulated with tools, heat and hand movements to become a hollow bead. There will also be demonstrations of glass blowing which uses a blow hose or tube to inflate the glass blob or gather by blowing directly into it. These ancient skills are still used today in manufacturing scientific equipment, botanical models and glass models of tiny animals and scenes.

Fynboh said once a bead is created, the hard part or the fun part begins. Each bead is perfect for a particular jewelry design, and sometimes that design for that bead doesn't occur to her for some time. Each year brings a new skill with new ideas for Blue Sky Beads. Not only art work with handmade beads, but also with beads that are vintage or antique, beads from another crafts person whose work she likes, copper, stones like lapis, apatite to Herkimer diamonds, semi-precious stones like garnet and peridot and finally precious stones likes rubies, sapphires and emeralds.

"My friend Cindie is convinced that I make each piece (of jewelry) for one particular person, and when that person finds the piece there is no questioning it," said Fynboh. "I can see it immediately. I want to be taken as a serious artist and also want people to know that I strive to provide the best quality of work that is out there."

Although this studio is located in Akeley and about an hour's drive, do not pass up this opportunity to enter a modern treasure trove, an Ali Baba's Cave without fear of the thieves. Directions are U.S. Highway 71 south to state Highway 200 to Route 64 south for four miles and right on Hubbard County 33. The shop is two miles on the left, at 29029. A Blue Sky Beads sign is at the head of the drive.