Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead


Changing Exhibitions Gallery
May 18, 2013 to January 5, 2014

Symbolizing power, enabling ornamentation, and facilitating trade, glass beads are miniature masterpieces that have played significant roles throughout time and across cultures. This major exhibition explored glass beads and beaded objects made by various cultures, representing 3,500 years of human history. Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead showcased, for the first time, many important works from the large historical glass bead collection of The Corning Museum of Glass as well as objects on loan from seven institutions.

Life on a String explored the use of glass beads for fashion and ornament, as symbols of power and wealth, as traded goods, and as objects of ritual, as well as illuminated the processes of beadmaking and beadworking. Highlights of the exhibition included early Venetian chevron and millefiori beads, Roman mosaic beads, West Africa bodom beads, Egyptian eye beads, Chinese horned eye beads, Japanese magatama beads, Bohemian beads imitating precious stones, North American beadworked garments, and contemporary beaded objects by Joyce Scott and David Chatt.

The size of glass beads often belies their importance. They can represent wealth, symbolize gender and family relationships, or indicate social status, all through meaning signified in their color and patterning. Economic and political relationships around the globe—especially during the period of European colonization—are embodied in the beads manufactured in Europe and distributed in Africa and North America. Their styles influenced indigenous bead production, and ultimately, beads made in formerly colonized lands followed a reverse course back to Europe.

Traded globally for centuries, glass beads are among the earliest attempts at glass production and have been found at ancient glass manufacturing sites in the eastern Mediterranean from the second millennium B.C. The beads in the exhibition demonstrate the variations in manufacturing techniques used to create beads and beaded objects through time. A loom for beading and molds used to make powdered glass bodom beads was on display along with images of beads produced around the world, to illuminate the vast and rich history of techniques for bead production.

During the run of the exhibition, the Museum offered special narrated flameworking demonstrations to show techniques used to make glass beads, and visitors had the opportunity to create beads in hands-on Make Your Own Glass experiences. On October 18-19, 2013, the Museum hosted its Annual Seminar on Glass focused on glass beads and beadwork through time and from around the world.

Lenders to the exhibition include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, Eliot Elisofon Photo Archives at the National Museum of African Art, Rockwell Museum, Fenimore Art Museum, Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, and Longyear Anthropology Museum at Colgate University.

Bead with Feather Pattern - Artwork
Composite Eye Bead - Artwork
String of Beads - Artwork
Beadwork Bag - Artwork
147 Drawn Beads - Artwork
Beaded Bottle with Stopper - Artwork
2 Beaded Slippers for Bound Feet - Artwork
Kiffa Bead - Artwork
Xhosa Seed Bead Necklace - Artwork
Chevron Bead - Artwork