|I am a Generalist.|
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In 1972 I worked for The Bead Store for nearly a year, which was my introduction to retail vending.
By 1974 I was collecting as many beads as I could find and afford (including antique and ethnic beadwork). Like many poor collectors, I bought a lot of stuff at bargain prices; and I was a frequent fixture searching the Alameda Flea Market—which is where I made contact with several other bead collectors and sellers. I began to pursue research at this time—with the goal of producing an informative article on amber, and amber imitations/substitutes. This was published in The Bead Journal (serialized) in 1975—introducing me to Dr. Robert K. Liu, and Southern California bead collectors. These people had already founded The Bead Society based in Los Angeles.
Although I initially became "famous" because of my exposé on amber and particularly "African amber," I already considered myself to be fairly well-versed in beads of many cultural origins, materials, and eras. And I have dedicated my life and career to this effort.
My areas of greatest expertise are: minerals (including enhancing treatments and technology); organic materials (amber, jet, ivory, coral, seeds, keratin, etc.); glass (from it's beginnings to recent times); and artificial materials (plastics and similar). Becoming an authority on beads involves a concerted interest in and knowledge of imitations and substitutes—because this is the history of beads for at least 5,000 years. I am admittedly less-proficient when it comes to metals, and ceramics. But, I did actually learn metal-smithing in the early '70s (having also taken Metal Shop in school), and I am well-read on the topics of concern. I don't consider ceramics to be important enough (as a bead material) to be too concerned with them. Nevertheless, I have a lot of ceramic beads in my collection.
I am one of the few authorities who deals with beads and personal adornments on a daily basis, who is also a hand-on artisan with over fifty years of experience. My collaborations with Naomi Lindstrom considerably broadened my exposure to beads from around the world. My partner Arthur Hills, and my Sioux friend JoAllyn Archambault, both taught me to pursue research from an academic perspective—and I began archival research at the University of California, Berkeley, library system in 1980. But, in spite of reading copious literature, that was a real quest just to find it, I maintain that it is the examination and contemplation of actual beads that reveals the most.
By the way, I was the first American bead researcher to see and describe pumtek beads in 1983; and also Indonesian jatim and Mali burial beads that same year.