FORT LARAMIE – Catherine Taylor only took one class to learn how to bead.
She took just one class in 2005 – and then spent 14 years perfecting the minute details you’ll see in her work, which is displayed at The Red Bead Barn, which opened for business Saturday on her property outside of Fort Laramie.
Inside the small red barn, Taylor’s skill and expertise are on display in the form of intricate bead-woven bracelets, ornate bead-embroidered necklaces and other items she has crafted in her studio.
“It is very tedious,” she said. “You can work for 12 hours and maybe do one section. With bigger stones you can cover more ground, but with all the small beads it takes more time.”
Taylor has an Associate’s Degree in interior design and spent some time in the field, but eventually found her way into the insurance industry. She made a living in the field, but the work didn’t suit her background, and didn’t satisfy her need to create.
“I was bored, because insurance is a pretty boring subject,” she said. “This was just kind of getting back in touch with my artistic side. I felt like I was missing something. I was selling aprons and pot holders, but eventually I knew I wanted to learn how to bead.”
She made her exit from the insurance industry after her husband, John, lost his leg due to complications from a blood clot. According to Taylor, it made more sense for her to stay home with him, as paying a nurse cost more than her insurance salary.
During the year she pent at home with John, she began to think more and more about trying her had at bead work.
“I was buying beads and I was putting them in my closet,” she said. “I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to put a crimp bead in and keep the beads off the wire. I didn’t know stuff like that. It was one of those deals where I’ll take a class someday.
“When he was finally able to function without me being there, I went and took my very first beating class. I learned how to string the wire, how to do a crimp bead, and I was real happy with that. I made a pair of earrings and the bracelet.”
And with that first taste of the art, Taylor was hooked.
She kept practicing and taught herself bead weaving and bead embroidery – two of the most complex types of bead work. She originally just wanted to make one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry for herself, but the quality of her work drew some attention, and she decided to do more.
“I knew I wanted to make my own jewelry,” she said. “Originally, it was just supposed to be my own. Then I kind of went into jewelry making on steroids.”
Her work is influenced by Native American artwork, as well as southwest and western fashion. Taylor said she has always had an interest in fashion, and that shows in her jewelry.
“I think bead embroidery is probably my biggest passion,” she said. “I have a passion for more Native American kind styles. When we came out here, I was really excited to do some more Southwest and more western styles. That is what I started doing.”
Taylor’s more intricate designs can take several months to make, but she also has smaller, more simple projects she can turn around faster for art shows and casual customers. Unfortunately, though, like many artisans and creators, she can’t compete with cheap imports from big box stores. The quality of Taylor’s pieces, though, stands out when compared to cheaper products.
“I think what really hurts is that there are a lot of inexpensive things that are shipped into our country from China and other places,” she said. “You can even buy beads in those countries cheaper than you can in our own country. It really hurts us because I try to be competitive. I buy the beads as low as I can, so I can pass on the savings to my clients. Sometimes though, they still go and buy something inexpensive from China. I’m guilty of that, too.
“That is what drove me to wanting to make my own jewelry because I bought a bead woven necklace from China and the second day, it broke. Beads went everywhere. It was all these little tiny beads.”
That won’t happen to Taylor’s jewelry. She uses quality beads, backing material, threads and bead wire in her work – and unlike cheaper manufacturers, she takes pride in her work and stands behind it.
“I’m hard on close and I’m hard on jewelry,” Taylor said. “I have to have something that is going to hold up. I wanted something that look better with dresses and suits and stuff like that. I stand behind all of my work.”
Taylor currently markets her jewelry online, in art shows and, as of Saturday, at The Red Bead Barn. The Red Bead Barn is a combination studio and retail space on the Taylors’ property in the Pine Ridge Ranch subdivision north of Fort Laramie. There, she displays her jewelry, the beads she sells and gives customers a glimpse into her creative process. It doesn’t have set hours, but the best way to ensure she’ll be there is to call ahead.
“Most of the time, I’ll be here,” she said. “If I’m not in the building, they can always call and I’ll come down.”