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Local Woman Uses Fire and Glass to Craft Unique, Popular Jewelry
June 11 - With her cats Dragon and Fly keeping her company, Knightstown resident Janet McGuire sits at the work table in her studio and busily crafts glass beads of all shapes, sizes and colors. Her workbench is cluttered with various tools, completed sets of jewelry and bead chips in every color imaginable. Pictures of family hang on the walls and her bookshelf is crammed with literature relating to beadwork. It is these magazines and books McGuire often turns to for inspiration when she gets bored.
Wearing a necklace made from an old key surrounded by a hand-crafted bead, and silver and black earrings she made that morning especially to match her outfit, McGuire listens to either a CD of soft, calming music, or tunes the radio to WFMS, a country western station, while she works. Beside her worktable are two tanks, one with propane and one with oxygen. It is these tanks that fuel the torch McGuire uses to create her elaborate jewelry sets.
Born and raised in Fresno, Calif., McGuire came to Indiana and worked for several Cord Cameras locations in the state over a five-year period before gas prices and commuting distance became too much to handle. She went on to work at a stained glass shop in Greenfield and it was during her time there that she attended her first bead-making class. Shortly after taking the class, one of McGuire’s friends and fellow bead-maker went on vacation and loaned her the necessary equipment for bead making. McGuire then got the opportunity to experiment on her own for nine weeks.
Today, McGuire owns her own company, Classy Glass, and sells her work at many stores including J’Ann & Co. in Noblesville, Snips Hair Salon in Indianapolis, Co-Harvest Market in Carthage and the Cross Eyed Cat in New Castle. McGuire’s work is also sold at Jameson’s By the Sea, a gift shop in Hawaii. Other stores that may carry her work in the future include Love and Phaith in Broad Ripple and F.B. Fogg in Muncie.
In addition to necklace and earring sets that sell for between $35 and $45, McGuire also makes bracelets, cell phone beads, scarf rings, rosaries, orderve picks and bottle toppers. She also crafts wedding sets made with freshwater pearls and silver that sell for $150 each. She made her first wedding set four or five months ago after getting the idea for clear beads in a magazine. She then decided to make an entire set and string them together with silver wire and freshwater pearls.
“The first wedding set I put together, I thought ‘Damn, that’s beautiful,’” McGuire said.
But before McGuire can sell her work, she must first make it. Settling down at her work table strewn with bits of colored glass, McGuire turns on her tanks and puts on a pair of sunglasses with bluish-purple lenses. The lenses in the glasses help to diminish the orange sodium flame seen by the naked eye while the torch is on and enable McGuire to see what the glass is doing.
Before actually starting a bead, McGuire takes a welding rod and dips it in a clay mixture. Next she selects a glass tube from her assortment of sizes and colors, and gets to work. As the glass tube heats, she molds the bead around the welding rod. Depending on what type of bead she is making, McGuire often adds other colors and textures such as raised dots.
McGuire also uses bits of gold and silver leaves to create different designs within a bead. She gets many of her supplies at stores such as Michael’s, Bead Palace, Hobby Lobby, Jo-Ann Fabrics, and various bead mercantile shows she attends.
After a bead is complete, she places the rod in an annealing oven that can reach temperatures of 1078 degrees. According to McGuire, however, beads are normally baked at 960 degrees for about 30 minutes. After that, the beads harden as the oven cools. On a good day, McGuire can make between 26 and 27 beads, which is how many welding rods will fit in her oven at one time.
After the beads are complete, McGuire sits down and assembles the jewelry with silver wire, beading wire, or cord that she knots together herself. When she isn’t crafting a piece of jewelry, she volunteers at Glen Oaks Health Campus in New Castle, and the Henry County Arts Center. She is also a member of the Indiana Society of Lampwork and Art and Glass Artists.
To get new ideas and practice her skills, McGuire also attends classes at Inspired Fire, a studio and gallery in Lafayette. A class is typically 10 students and one teacher and a two-day class costs about $350 depending on the instructor, McGuire said.
It was at a bead-making class that McGuire saw the key necklaces being made, and she asked the instructor for permission to use her design. Before selling any of her jewelry, McGuire wears it first to be sure that the color and style are what she wants. If a piece doesn’t suit her, she will take it apart and re-work it until the desired effect is achieved.
“There are some I have a hard time getting rid of,” McGuire said. “They’re pretty and just fun to wear.”
For McGuire, bead making is something she does for enjoyment rather than the money. While only one store, J’Ann & Co., has bought her work outright, other stores, such as the one in Hawaii, work on consignment and keep a percentage of the profits.
“I do this for pleasure and I do this for fun,” McGuire said. “For the most part it’s just seeing what the glass will do in the torch.”
(Eric Cox photos)
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