The other day, I sat on my dining room floor (the current official headquarters of A Little Something) and started going through the latest batch of necklaces and earrings the women turned in. Last week, Anna and Jaime went visiting, and spent some time with Sharifo and with our newest member, Sahara, and Sahara's daughters.
As I sat there on the cool hardwood, I looked over the work and I was stunned to realize that Sahara and Company had started making very pretty, truly original designs right off the bat. This group has an innate sense of design and color that is right-on. The technical skills need some work, but that will come with time and practice. In the meantime, I plan on inviting some friends over for afternoon iced tea and cookies, and when everyone is comfortable, I'll pull out the jewelry so we can make adjustments and then tag and bag. Hee hee.
I digress. After Anna and Jaime finished their rounds, Anna called me to let me know she had some things to drop off. She sounded very excited on the phone--and that's saying something for someone whose natural speech patterns tend toward the very, very mellow. Anna hurriedly told me that she couldn't wait for me to see Sharifo's latest work--it was, for sure, the prettiest work she had produced so far. We thought that Sharifo would take a break or stop altogether once her baby was born, but having a newborn hasn't slowed her down one bit! Her creativity seems to have gone into overdrive since the baby arrived in May.
Fatuma, Khadiga and her girls, Zahra, Mama Moumina, Sharifo, and Sahara were all teaching themselves. They worked out the measurements and the counting, the symmetry and color combinations. Double strands, pendants, patterns, and convertible pieces--when and how had they learned these things?
When I learned to make jewelry, I didn't have a teacher to show me what to do. I learned from books, mostly (Margot Potter's Impatient Beader was a lifesaver!), as well as from magazines and online resources. It took me a few months to find my groove and to try to find my own design style. It didn't come all that naturally, but eventually, I got there.
Anna and I recently discussed how when we went back and looked at our own first pieces of jewelry, we realized what mediocre attempts ours had been. When we started working with the refugee women, though, we both found new enthusiasm and just as the women were trying, we also paid more attention to our creativity and attempted new things. Shortly after that conversation, I noticed that Jaime had also started creating very pretty pieces for herself. The three of us all had a few girly-girl moments along the way where we complimented each other on our lovely jewelry and accepted lavish compliments from each other.
As I pulled more necklaces out of the bag, I wondered if the women felt this same sense of happiness about their creativity. Were they enjoying the journey from making saleable items to making beautiful, original crafts? Did they wake up in the morning thinking of a color combination or a particular bead they wanted to use in a necklace? Do they share our excitement for the creative process? These kinds of questions are difficult for us to ask, and even if we had an interpreter, this kind of conceptual language doesn't translate well.
I wanted to think that the beautiful, colorful, and detailed work I was holding in my hands had been created with joy and not just with a sense of doing business. It seems to me that it's not possible to make something so wonderful without having put heart and soul and passion into it.
Some of the women in our program have survived things that are far too horrific to share with you. It is a fact that many of them suffered terribly in the refugee camps, and most experienced profound depression after they arrived in the U.S. In addition, all of them, every single one, lost someone very dear in one armed conflict or another. Now I marvel at their resiliency, their survivor mentality, their willingness to start over, keep going and to try something that is new--and possibly a little frivolous--along the way.
There is so much more than beauty in art. The things we create carry some of our personal history, our emotions, our ingrained experiences, and our personality in every piece. When you look at the bounty of beaded jewelry created by the women of A Little Something, you might be tempted to see only a barrage of color and sparkle. But if you sit beside me on the floor and hold these pieces, these small wonders, you will soon understand that you are bearing witness to a handful of miracles.