And the Bead Goes On 

Bead Fest strings Memphians along.

Rarely do pyromaniacal tendencies turn into something productive. But when Margaret Zinser (shown right) started blowing glass beads in 2001, she was instantly hooked.

"As is often the case, a hobby turned into a complete and total obsession," says Zinser, a vendor at this month's three-day Bead Fest at the Cook Convention Center.

Yes, Bead Fest: "A weekend full of bead classes, bead-making, and shopping for bead supplies and equipment."

Since 2002, Bead Fest has traveled to Atlanta, Philadelphia, and now Memphis. Though this is the event's first year here, Bead Fest saw a turnout of about 600 people, each of whom paid $8 for admission and about 50 cents to $20 per bead.

"We sell a lot of beads and wire and jewelry and sparkly things," says Karen Keegan, who produced the event on behalf of and Lapidary Journal magazine. "We've seen everything from beginning beaders to advanced beaders."

At Bead Fest, the kid-in-the-candy-store factor soon kicks in.

"You can see that they look at something and go 'Wow!' because they get an idea," vendor Dianne Upshaw says of her shoppers.

Beads of all shapes and sizes, both handcrafted and mass-produced, in silver, wire, glass, and wood, were displayed at more than 50 booths. And if that didn't suffice, there were also 53 classes on various aspects of beadmaking.

According to Joseph Breck, Lapidary Journal's publisher, there are currently about 2,200 bead shops and 750,000 beaders in the United States. Most beaders are suburban, Caucasian women around age 55 who simply want a hobby, Breck says.

They make something pretty, explains Breck. They like it, and then their friends like it too.

"They all say, 'Ooh, make me one!'" says Breck.

For many beaders, the hobby soon explodes into an all-out business -- the more they sell, the more they invest. Typically, beaders spend $400 to $1,000 a year on the craft. But beading doesn't have to be expensive, and for Zinser, that's the beauty of it.

"It's art that becomes affordable -- it becomes accessible, it becomes portable," says Zinser, who abandoned her pending master's degree in entomology to make the beads she loves, including ones shaped like scarab beetles. Now the Arizona resident travels to shows across the country about 20 times a year.

Bead Fest organizers plan to return to Memphis next year, and that's good news for people like Holly Covett, event manager of the downtown Marriott. While checking out the event, Covett was quickly captivated. An hour later, she was sitting at a table with 12 pairs of earrings-in-progress.

"I think that this is an excellent hobby," says Covett. "It's something you can easily pick up, and it's so instantly gratifying. It's like shopping for shoes -- it always fits!"

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