The Art of Czech Beads with Lenka Bindzar from Raven’s Journey –
Our special guest today is our friend Lenka Bindzar, the owner and creator of Raven’s Journey, a superb supplier of Czech beads. Her intricate designs of pressed and cut glass beads are highly regarded due to the attention and artistry in the creation of each bead.
Lenka, give us a little back story about how you were able to create Raven’s Journey.
“The story of Raven’s Journey is really the story of our owner Lenka Bindzar. The fall of communism changed things for everyone in the Czech Republic. For Lenka it opened the door to travel and the wind blew her wayward seed all the way from Czech to a tiny island a short ferry ride from Seattle, WA., where she made beeswax candles for sale locally.
Out of supplies for her small beeswax candle business Lenka wandered into a craft store. After picking up what she needed for candle making she browsed the bead section looking for some interesting decoration for her new puppy’s collar. She was delighted to find a vast selection of beautiful glass beads that were all from Czech! She talked with the store owner for a while and learned that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find unique high-quality Czech glass beads and if she could find some he would happily take them off her hands. A customer was earned, and an idea was born.
On her next trip home to visit family Lenka traveled to the mountains north of Prague to the center of the Czech glass industry. It was in the Fall of 1998. She managed to pick up some leftover beads and sample cards but couldn’t locate anyone who was willing to supply a new business. Not to be discouraged she decided to drive through the region one last time.
When they say that Czech glass beads are a cottage industry they mean it literally. Czech bead pressers have a unique feature to their homes, two chimneys. One for heating the house and one for melting raw glass to be pressed into beads. Lenka spotted one such house on the very outskirts of Jablonec overlooking a peaceful mountain valley filled with grass and sheep. The gravel driveway sparkled with the color of countless tiny pieces of discarded glass. An endearing older couple answered the door and invited her in. They were the second generation to run a small family-owned bead pressing company out of that house. They supplied Raven’s Journey with our first custom inventory and we still work with them all these years later. We hope to work with the next generation to come!
The first few years Lenka bought what was offered to her as a direct importer. The glass was beautiful, and her customers were happy, but she was always a little dissatisfied with the beads that were readily available. She dreamt of a time when she could combine the raw glass colors and available finishes in a more modern and elegant way. She wanted a unique style of Czech glass beads.
After 20 years and many trips back to those same Czech mountains we have developed relationships with industry artisans that allow us to affect every detail of the production of our glass beads and buttons. Recently this has extended to the design of custom contemporary molds for pressing beads. In this way we hope to offer our own humble addition to the history of Czech glass bead making.
Working with artisans in Czech to make the highest quality glass beads and buttons possible is a passion for us here at Raven’s Journey. Our 20-year commitment to working with small suppliers gives us the flexibility to innovate and bring unique and beautiful products to market
Where are your products made?
All our beads are made in the Czech Republic. I am from Czech, I love Czech glass beads and its makers. I really have never had the intention to import from any other country.
All our Czech glass beads are made in the North region of Czech, in the hills and mountains around the town of Jablonec.
Our beads are made by small family-owned businesses that survived the changes to the industry after communism in Czech. They press, tumble, and facet the beads in home workshops. The beadmakers will then take beads, after pressing and polishing, to another artisan to apply the special finishes like “Picasso” (an oxide of silver) or “Aurora Borealis” (called AB), two very traditional and popular finishes. There are many different finishes and washes requiring different techniques and equipment to apply.
Each step in the bead making process requires special training and years of knowledge so we understand why the work is split up between these specialized artisans.
What makes Raven’s Journey Czech beads special?
I consider Raven’s Journey Czech glass beads special because of our attention to detail. We are intimately involved in every aspect of the production of the beads and I know personally all the people involved in their making from the very start to finish. Some of our vendors have been working for us since the 1990’s. Most of the ideas are born in my mind, but it’s the collaborative hard work, dedication, family tradition, and love for the trade from all involved that bring all of those ideas to life.
I love the full rainbow of colors and shades, including expensive fuchsia pinks or always popular turquoise or deep red opal glass. I really try to create beads using unique or unusual glass colors that are available in limited supply from the main glass factory that produces all the raw glass we buy and use to press our beads. Some colors are made only once or twice a year and we must wait for them if not available when I create my orders. Some are made only once ever. I work hard to never design new beads with price or time in mind, just quality.
Just like a seed in my garden grows and turns into plants bearing blooms or fruit at the end of the season I will let the seeds of ideas grow in my mind. Then, when it is almost unbearable, I hurry to my desk, gather all my notes, hope for no distractions, and get into the brave mindset of translating my jumbled ideas into directives for the beadmakers.
It can be a challenge to translate those ideas into glass color and finish codes in my computer spreadsheets. All glass colors and shades and variations have number codes. The same is true for finishes which also vary from company to company in color shades and identification numbers.
Once my spreadsheet is full of my ideas in written codes, and I feel like my color pallet for each shape is satisfying, I get together with the bead makers and we spend hours in refining the order. I always try to make sure they fully understand what my desires are. Sometimes I may try new combinations and those ideas will break down when we get to the actual making of the bead so constant communication is vital. When production starts, challenges arise and just like with my garden I apply the knowledge I have gathered over the years and together with the bead makers we find the best solutions.
In the bead garden if all the factors come together just right, and we get a little lucky, I will see the outcome of my bead dreams about six to twelve months later. We ship in big containers across the Atlantic Ocean and then the USA. All the way to us on the West Coast where more work awaits in the form of unpacking, organizing, sorting, pricing, photography, storage, marketing and finally sales and shipping.
Of course, this is only one stage of the bead’s life, the beginnings. They go on to customers’ hands where they get reorganized and resold again until they reach the final place in someone’s bead studio, dining table, or a craft nook. They turn into amazing art that gets to be admired and loved. How these beads do travel!
Your Czech beads come in many intricate designs, like your leaf beads, Hibiscus flowers, goddess, etc, where do you find your inspiration for each design?
In a broad sense I tend to find design inspiration in my daily life. I have always lived near wild nature; it is easy to do in the Pacific Northwest. I am never far from a forest, mountains. or a lake and beach. I have found nature to be the best teacher for me and find much inspiration there.
The history of Czech glass is long and there are thousands of molds available in the town that has been making these beads since the 1400’s. We are fortunate enough to have access to these “mold banks” and we choose beads that I think stand apart from the rest. For example flowers, leaves, and many faceted shapes were found that way.
A good story regards one of our specialized shapes you asked about. The Goddess bead, we call it “Venus Bead” in Czech. The mold for the bead was created by my oldest bead makers that are in their mid 70’s and retired now.
The bead is a celebration of a historical find in the Czech Republic in 1925 near the small village of Vestonice. A tiny 4-inch-tall fertility goddess statue. Vestonicka Venuse is her name, she is the oldest known ceramic statue to ever be found. Its dated all the way to 29 000- 25000 BCE, surprising lots of historians which did not think ceramics were made then just yet. But she was proof of that, and Czech was proud of the find. Our bead makers made the bead in the image of the statue as their own way to celebrate the find.
Another way we find bead shapes is in our imagination! For a few years now we have used computer software and master mold carvers in the Czech Republic to realize some of our contemporary ideas for bead shapes. The process is slow for now, but we are working hard to streamline the process. Raven’s Journey so far has created 6 original shape designs such as the Lotus Coins and Horned Owl. We are always working on what is next and trying to be as innovative as we can.
Besides deciding the bead shapes, I spend a lot of time with color combos and finish choices. I like good quality beads and always seek quality colors and try to only use time tested finishes while still seeking new and unusual of course.
What are your favorite ways to design with Czech beads?
I do not have as much time to make things as I would like but I am lucky to spend so much time with our beads in the warehouse helping customers, and my office dreaming up what comes next.
When it comes to my own jewelry designing, I go for simple techniques that do not take days to complete. Perhaps one day I will have more time to play and learn new techniques. I’m always amazed at the creativity of our customers!
My most favorite time playing with beads is when my younger sister comes to visit from Czech and we spend our quality time together pouring over new beads. We are always in such a hurry to create new jewelry we can wear right away. We like to make jewelry that we can wear every day, on any occasion. My sister loves glass beads as much as I do. She pays attention to all the beads, not just the new ones, she has learned they all have their time to shine in her designs. Many beads we produce are forgotten forever in the never-ending desire for new products. Czech glass beads are so unique sometimes we can’t make the same thing twice even if we try! Some due to lost or broken molds, sometimes we just can’t get back to the same color of raw glass material. We try to stay focused on what is new and exciting.
Photos by Lenka Bindzar.
If you’d like to purchase some of these artistic Czech Beads by Raven’s Journey, make sure to get them at GoodyBeads.com today!