With Maggie Meister’s first book, Maggie Meister’s Classical Elegance, part of Lark Jewelry & Beading’s best-selling Beadweaving Master Class series, due to reach stores in the next few weeks, I asked this incredibly busy teacher and designer to take the time to answer a few questions about her work, her life, and the new book. Maggie teaches nationally and internationally, and her designs have been featured in virtually all leading bead magazines. She is one of the artists showcased in the inspiring gallery book, Masters: Beadweaving. Maggie lives with her family in Norfolk, Virginia.
Maggie, when did you start beading—and beadweaving—and why?
I started beading in 1993. My son’s kindergarten teacher was wearing a great pair of earrings and told me that she made them. It had never occurred to me that I could make jewelry myself.
I took some classes and liked it. When I tried seed beads, something immediately clicked, and I was hooked. I liked the colors of the beads and the rhythm of the stitches.
How much time do you spend beading? What does your beading space look like?
I bead about 7 to 10 hours a day, particularly when I’m getting ready for a show. I take breaks throughout the day to catch up on administrative tasks and work on my Beadventure trips to Italy.
My beading space? Maybe I should let my husband answer this one! He always says that I have my bead room—our sun room is my studio—and the rest of the house is the “bead annex.”
One of the tables in my studio is full of components that I am using for projects or plan to use for projects. I have cabinets full of beads and stones that I love.
The walls have mosaics, prints, and postcards of things I love and my framed piece of vintage beaded fringe that I found in Murano.
In your new book, Maggie Meister’s Classical Elegance, your inspirations are explicit: classical architecture, jewelry, mosaics, textiles, and motifs. What do you think it is—about you and about it—that draws you to the ancient world?
As far back as I can remember I’ve loved ancient history. Maybe it started when my parents would take us to museums when we were young. I don’t know, but the interest has always been there, and when we lived in Italy it really came alive for me. It opened doors for me while learning the history.
I love the ancient myths and the iconography of those myths incorporated into the art and architecture. I think I’ve always been drawn to mosaics and patterns in rugs. I love researching the history and stories behind pieces that I see.
I’m also interested in other periods of history and gradually working my way through them. What I find interesting is how the ancient motifs find their way into each period of history.
What design principles guide you?
The line! When I studied mosaics, I learned that the lines in the mosaic were so important. I think they’re also important in beadwork, whether it is the lines in a geometric pattern or building a three-dimensional component. When I see a piece that inspires me, I look at the lines and try to determine which stitch will give me the lines I need to make the shape.
Color is a big challenge for me, so I try to remember what my friend Kathy Dannerbeck once told me: Always have a little bit of yellow or metallic beads in your work. Of course, I overdo it, always going first to that matte metallic gold bead!
You teach and use many beadweaving stitches in the projects in the book. What’s your favorite stitch?
I have two favorites: brick stitch and right angle weave. I tend to use circular peyote as a base for building quite a bit, but it’s not my favorite. It has its uses, though!
Stitch specialization seems to be more and more typical among many beaders. Does utilizing multiple stitches allow you greater versatility and variation in your designs?
For me, combining stitches is everything! I sometimes get carried away in a design and try to combine stitches when I may only need one stitch.
I think combining stitches allows you to build and shape components. Every stitch has unique properties, so where one stitch works for the base of a piece, changing to another stitch may be what’s needed to achieve the design.
More than anything, what do you hope to accomplish with the book?
I really hope people see how combining stitches can help them interpret their point of inspiration. Also, that they can look at different mediums—such as mosaics or historical jewelry, which inspire me—and interpret them with seed beads.
Do you have a favorite project in the book, and what makes it special to you?
Oh, that is a hard one! I think there are two favorites: Kilim Beads Pendant (I’m still playing with this design!) and Sappho Necklace, which I really enjoyed figuring out—it’s a design I’ve wanted to interpret for some time. Sappho Necklace is the piece featured on the book’s cover.
What other crafts do you do?
I really don’t have much time for other crafts, but I love making mosaics and hope to get back to it soon. I also have started dabbling with micromosaics after wanting to try this craft for at least 10 years! I hope to incorporate it in seed bead components in the future.
Which professional milestones have been the most gratifying for you?
Well, this book of course! Never in my life did I think I would write a book, and it has been a great experience. I’ve learned so much.
Actually, never in my life did I think I’d be fortunate enough to be doing any of this: teaching, designing, traveling (even though I’m terrified of flying), and selling my work. I am truly grateful for each experience that these little pieces of glass with a hole in them has brought me.
What advice do you have for someone just getting started in beadweaving?
Learn the basic stitches in all forms—circular, tubular, flat, etcetera! I would recommend peyote, brick, right angle weave, square stitch, and herringbone.
Take classes. Find projects you like in magazines or kits, and make them. You not only will learn the stitches, you’ll have beautiful pieces of jewelry to wear!
What do you think would surprise people most about you?
That I like my wine and Italy.
No, just kidding. I have no idea about this.
What are your favorite traditions, Maggie? Does one in particular resonate most powerfully with you?
I am not really great at the family tradition thing, although I have tried to set up traditions throughout the early family years. Once I even went to a workshop to show you how to set up family traditions, and it overwhelmed me so much with everything that I should be doing that I left early!
I guess my favorite family tradition today is meeting my husband on Friday night (when I’m home) at our favorite restaurant/bar—Fellini’s—and catching up. Often our sons will join us, which is a real treat.
Another simple but favorite “tradition” is when I am in Naples staying at my friend Giulia’s bed and breakfast. Every night at about 7 p.m. she calls me into her living room, and we have drinks and dinner. Our talks are refreshing after a day of solitary beading.
Having said all that, I adore the traditions of the Neapolitan people. They are usually centered on religion and holidays, with specific foods for the season, music, and unique nativity scenes, or presepes.
I remember watching a procession in my village outside of Naples. The older men were all dressed in suits and ties and carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary on their shoulders. They were followed by the musicians playing this wonderful primitive yet melodic music. The rest of the town watched or followed the procession, and I made sure I never missed it.
What are your professional goals now? And what would you like the future to hold for you?
My goal is to continue what I love doing: designing, teaching, and selling my work at craft shows. I am the luckiest person!
I would love to live and work in Naples, Italy, for a few months of the year—or maybe all year round!
*Stay in the loop! Get jewelry and beading news, interviews, and free project PDFs on Lark Jewelry & Beading’s Facebook page. Learn more about Maggie Meister on her website, www.mmmbeads.com. Watch for coverage of more great new bead books, Dimensional Bead Embroidery by Jamie Cloud Eakin and Rachel Nelson-Smith’s Bead Riffs, in the weeks to come. And we invite you to check out all our interviews with jewelers, beaders, and metalsmiths on the Lark blog, including:
Laura McCabe (with a project PDF)
Jamie Cloud Eakin (with a project PDF)
Nathalie Mornu (with two project PDFs)