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Self-taught bead weaver Fran Stockham brings ancient décor to life by crafting wearable art


Story by Tess Catlett

Arts & Culture | Art | September 2013

Marked by several horizontal rows, the pattern is laying on the table. The beads have been chosen; shades of blue, green and purple dotting the work area. A spool of thin, but strong, thread is at the ready, waiting beside the beading needle. It’s a familiar setting with any number of possibilities, but for one local artist, it often results in a piece of art done by way of the Peyote stich. Also known as the Gourd stitch, the Peyote stitch is an off-loom weaving technique found in many cultures, specifically in historic and contemporary Native American beadwork. “The Peyote and Comanche (Brick) stitches are ‘mother stitches’ that were developed early on,” says Fran Stockham. “It’s my favorite because of the way that it works; the way that the beads fit into the technique, the way that you string the beads into the design.”


Working with certain beads creates certain “looks,” and enhances the work through color and finish. While the type of bead used depends on the project, Stockham particulary enjoys working with Delica beads, a type of glass bead made in Japan. “Delica beads give the look of tile, it’s almost ceramic looking.“ Stockham says she gathers most of her inspiration from the colors and finishes of the beads that she selects for a project. “I love working with a variety of color combinations and experimenting with finishes, for example, a copper color with a matte metallic finish provides a versatile starting point for many different projects. “I love the intricacies of bead weaving,” Stockham says. “I am always on the lookout for the latest color, finish, design or latest innovations.”


Stockham has practiced bead weaving for more than 20 years, and has mastered at least 15 stitches. “I have mastered most of the popular stitches and techniques. I am always working to proficiently master the rest, along with keeping my bead weaving skills fine-tuned,” Stockham says. “This is where teaching comes into play.” Stockham is a participating artist at the DeSoto Arts Council Gallery and Gift Shop, meaning that she is able to show her work, teach classes and sell her works in the gift shop. Stockham taught her first class in April, teaching students a variety of techniques to create earrings and an “It’s the Great Gatsby” amulet bag. She will be offering a class on her own bead weaving techniques again in the Fall. “I found that I have a knack for teaching,” Stockham says. “It has been my pleasure to introduce and to share my knowledge of the art.” As for Stockham, she is self-taught. While living in Las Vegas, Stockham joined the Silver Meadows Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. “One of our members had just taken a bead weaving class using the Brick stitch to create an amulet bag,” Stockham says. “She did her best to help teach each and every one of us, but in the end there were just a few of us who completed the project.”


Stockham found her niche in the art of bead weaving, leading her to seek out more techniques and hone her skill. “I purchased every trade magazine and every bead weaving book that I could find. I scoured the Internet and was a frequent visitor to the local libraries to find anything pertaining to bead weaving.” Born and raised in Honolulu, Stockham settled on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in 2005 because of the warmer climate and the same laid-back lifestyle she was accustomed to in Hawaii. Shortly before Stockham and her husband, Paul, were to move, however, Hurricane Katrina hit the coast. “We knew that it would take years before the Gulf Coast would recover from the devastation,” Stockham says. “So our journey took us to northern Mississippi and we settled in Hernando in December of 2005.” Since coming to the area, Stockham has become an active member of the DeSoto Arts Council where her recent work “Rouge/Noir,” a red and black bracelet worked in Square stitch with slight wirework, was displayed in the “Free for All” exhibit. “Rouge et Noir,” another recent piece made in a similar fashion, is also on display in the gift shop for a class she is teaching this September. “When you view them the designs are similar; one has a wider surface with a black border and the other has a narrow surface without the black border,” Stockham says. “It is the play of colors that differentiates the two!” “I have never exhibited my pieces until I joined the DeSoto Arts Council. I just started putting some of my pieces up for sale. I have always concentrated on teaching and sharing the art of bead weaving.”


Stockham says that she has left entering contests and submitting art to her students over the years. “Some of my students have gone on to teach in their own right and have created magnificent works of art. Some have published their designs and received ribbons and awards,” Stockham says. “I am so proud of their accomplishments, and that is the best accolade that a teacher can hope for!”

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2445 Hwy 51  |  Hernando, MS 38632  |  662-429-6397  |  fax: 662-429-5229​

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