Mary Ellen Merrigan of Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque is Artist Assistant to Aissata Namoko at the 2019 International Folk Art Market Santa Fe.

Random acts of beading

A random act of beading  that is both timely and inspired, lifts my spirits and makes me do a happy dance! Let me explain by sharing just one such example.

At the urging of a friend, I impulsively volunteered for work as an Artist’s Assistant at the International Folk Art Market (IFAM) in Santa Fe. Two weeks prior to the event I attended a training session during which I received a volunteer shirt, a badge and the volunteer gift, six designs handcrafted by Ubuchule Besizwe Arts and Crafts in South Africa. Each of these Xhousa Love Letter Pins has a special meaning. I was thrilled to select Pin #6: “My Heart is in the Art” IFAM design. 

In my mind, I began to plan ways I might bead a similar pin. (The heart is one of my special symbols for the year. Read more here.

Filled with creative thoughts, I set about ta random act of beading: crochet a lanyard that complemented my shirt. I also completed one for my artist friend who launched me into the IFAM adventure.

This custom lanyard by Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque is an example of random acts of beading.
©2019, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Custom Lanyard for IFAM

Next, my eyes landed on a felted flower in the studio. Aha-Bam! Inspiration hit. Wouldn’t that be amazing on my hat? (Volunteer instructions included wear a hat, bring a refillable water bottle, etc.) I found myself completing beaded edging in odd size primary color beads, perfect in multicolor randomness to match my whimsical attitude. The flower was done with days to spare. 

The felted flower is embellished with primary color beads in a random act of beading by Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.
©2019, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Felted flower embellished with beads

The big weekend arrived and I arranged to be at the volunteer parking lot early Saturday morning. The crowds at IAFM included artisans excited to talk about their products, other volunteers and people, people, people. Many volunteers had cut their shirts into vests, made them sleeveless, collarless, or both. Some volunteers had strung pony beads (easy-to-string large-hole beads that come in various colors) on fringed pieces at the bottom or on the sleeves of their shirts. There were cut-outs, add-ons of cloth and yarn and endless variations to the bright orange cotton theme.

Saturday was a people-watching paradise, a time to notice attendees costumed in festive attire, decked out in fabulous jewelry with an ethnic flair, or just smiling at the world. Everyone seemed to be smiling. 

It was busy! I’d chosen to work with the founder of Djiguiyasa Cooperative, French-speaking Aissata Namoko from Mali. Her small booth was piled with indigo blue pillow cases and placemats. Scarves of all shades of blue hung to the left side. On the other, short and long dresses and blouses lined the racks. Aissata’s indigo was brilliantly colored and fairly priced. This was her third year at the market and, as a result, we were busy, busy, busy. (Of course, I’m now the proud owner of one large indigo scarf, but you may have already guessed that.)

Even during a brief rain shower I wrote sales for Aissata. The rest of our booth helpers crowded under the tent with customers. We donned scarves for warmth because the temperature suddenly dropped several degrees after the storm. Me? I asked attendees to stand on our umbrella platform in order to keep writing up sales tickets. The result was that we all kept dry, had a great time and loved spending time at the global event.

To put the market into perspective: 

  • I served one of 178 artists, Aissata Namoko of Mali, one of 52 countries represented
  • I was one of 2026 volunteers
  • I worked one of 4058 shifts – representing 6 of 22,790 hours worked by volunteers
  • The official statistics for the event show more than $3.1 million in sales. Since 2004, IFAM has generated more than $34 million in earnings and hosted more than 1000 artist participants from over 100 countries.

Would I do it again? You bet. Next time, my random acts of beading will also include my t-shirt. 

Will you join me in this great event next year?