Artist: Making glass beads 'magical'

She may not be a magician, but Margie Shanahan feels that way sometimes.That's how she describes the work she does to create glass beads and jewelry, some of which are now on display at the Passageway Gallery in downtown Omaha.

"There's something very magical about taking a chunk of glass and creating something brand new with it," said Shanahan, who teaches English at Papillion-La Vista High School. "Even if it is just a spacer bead, it will still very neat."

Working with glass is something Shanahan said she has always enjoyed. Before venturing into bead and jewelry making, she worked with stain glass to create stepping stones and other works of art.

But four years ago, she found out there was more to glasswork.

"I was watching a program on PBS about handmade jewelry," she said. "I still remember sitting in front of the TV with my breakfast. I was enthralled."

She said she ended up taping the program and eventually wore the tape out because she had watched it so much.

That's when she said she began looking for someone to teach her the skills she needed to make her own glass beads. She said her new hobby was much different from the work she did with stained glass.

"When I saw that I could do 3-D items, instead of flat, I was thrilled," she said, "It's also neat and a big change to hold a piece of my art in my hand."

Since her first glimpse, Shanahan said, she has spent a lot of time taking classes and going to shows to not only to learn, but to see what other people are doing.

The making of bead jewelry has been popular at times, but that popularity did go down for a few years, she said, but they are becoming popular again and is starting to become a collector's items.

Shanahan said its because people are finding ways to use them other than for jewelry.

"Some people wear them while others put them up a display," she said. "People still see the value of art beads. I think there will always be people that love beads."

Making the beads involves a process of heating rods of glass while turning them on a stainless steal rod. The details of the beads, which can include dots and flowers, are done in layers. When she's finished with the details, she then puts the bead into a kiln, which cools it down slowly.

While she has been making glass beads and jewelry for four years, Shanahan said, she's far from an expert.

She also said she hasn't been working on them long enough to create a signature piece, although she said she loves to create beads reflecting garden, fish, cat and galaxy themes.

"It is fun to walk around and look at things and find inspiration," she said.

In addition to remembering the first time she learned about bead and jewelry making, Shanahan said, she won't forget another milestone - the day she officially became an artist.

That happened when she was one of 20 artists selected for a show at the Passageway Gallery in December 2000.

"Being received by other artists is a great accomplishment," she said.

Up to that point, she considered herself a craft person, not an artist.

Crafts, such as painting on fabrics, were something she began as a young adult. She said she was one of the people involved in starting the Papillion-La Vista High School Craft Fair, where she and her sister had a booth.

These days, the venues have changed. Her work can be found at the Joslyn Museum gift shop and area art shows and bead shows.

She's also involved with bead-making groups, such as the Midwest Lamp Workers Guild, which she helped form. Lamp workers was the term used to describe glass workers in the early days, because they used to melt the glass over kerosene type lamps, Shanahan said.

Having a full-time job doesn't give Shanahan as much time as she wants to spend on her bead making during the school year, but she said she does spend a lot of time going to shows with her husband, Ron, and working on projects in the summer.

She hopes in another five years, which is when she plans to retire from teaching, she can do those things all year.

In addition to making beads, Shanahan also teaches classes at Metropolitan Community College and the Hot Shops art studio in Omaha.

600450 Artist: Making glass beads 'magical'

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