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The business of beadwork

Sandra Fynboh Andress works long hours at her bead business outside of Nevis. But she is able to make it pay, with a fanatical following. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith

Maybe it had something to do with Sandra Fynboh Andress’ youthful fascination with fire.

“We had an old gas stove,” she recalled. Every time it was lit “there was a flashback. I thought that was the coolest thing.”

Andress transformed that love of fire into the business of beads. She fires her own glass jewelry at Blue Sky Beads outside of Nevis and has been since 1999.

She readily admits that making artistic objects doesn’t always gel with making a profit. Nevertheless, she has been a full-time professional artist most of her adult life.

Her labor intensive craft has a huge following, but she has been the proverbial “starving artist” in leaner times. It took years to build up her clientele.

“How do you put a value on it?” she asked of her work.

The liberal arts major was told by a placement counselor that she’d never find work as an artist, particularly with a history major.

She begged to differ.

A sister-in-law had a bead store. Andress began taking classes “everywhere I could” to learn how to fire glass beads from silica, studying under scientific glass artists and blowers.

“I was immediately hooked,” she said. The effortless way she fires glass from silicate rods took many years to perfect, she said.

She learned about how glass stresses and anneals. Annealing is a heating and cooling treatment that makes glass more workable.

“You have to anneal glass if you’re going to sell it,” she maintains.

Andress speaks like a scientist, explaining the metallurgy of molecules and how they behave certain ways in glass. She can in definitely add layers and colors, or heat glass to make it turn a different color.

She knows how to relieve the internal stress heating causes in glass, especially when two types are melded together.

Once fired, glass objects are then fired overnight in a kiln. Depending on the chemicals in the glass, she’s learned what type of heat treatments produce certain colors.

The painstaking process of firing under the burner, then in the oven, takes out ridges and bubbles that make the glass creations imperfect. Like most artists, Fynboh is a perfectionist. But she is able to seed glass, deliberately inserting bubbles, for certain looks.

She jokes that while she’s never had the fire department at her studio, there have been a few close calls.

And there have been plenty of burns when her attention wavers.

“I can take a hot dish out of the oven without oven mitts,” she joked of the scar tissue she’s built up on her hands.

But it’s the business of beads that takes her away from her torch.

From November to May she spends about 40 hours a week on her torch. From May through October “sometimes more than that,” she said. “It depends on which torch is crying to be put out.”

Her glass comes from Europe, so timing orders is paramount to doing business.

She frets when a shipment of glass arrives, wondering how she’ll sell it all.

Then comes time to reorder.

Working from home takes discipline, and being self-employed takes hard work, she said. But if you love what you do, an 8 to 5 job won’t substitute.

Her studio looks like a country cottage and it’s easy to see why her customers love coming to a charming little house off County Road 33.

Her number is 652-3212. She is generally open Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364