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Born to bead

Craft becomes livelihood for Native woman

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2005

 

  Ann Goessel displays some of her own bead work at her shop Beads-n-Things in Fairbanks, Alaska Saturday, Jan. 15, 2005. Goessel's love affair with beads has been going on since she was a child in Stevens Village where she learned beadwork from her grandmother who sewed beadwork to support the family. AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Mi

Ann Goessel displays some of her own bead work at her shop Beads-n-Things in Fairbanks, Alaska Saturday, Jan. 15, 2005. Goessel's love affair with beads has been going on since she was a child in Stevens Village where she learned beadwork from her grandmother who sewed beadwork to support the family.

AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Mi

FAIRBANKS — Ann Goessel looks at her glass beads as rich paints and the felt or moose hide she sews them on as her canvas.

Her love of the objects led her to open her Beads & Things, where she sells beads and Native crafts.

''I've just had a mad love affair with beads,'' she said, while watching her 2-year-old granddaughter, Mikkiah, play inside the store on Second Avenue.

This July will mark the 18th anniversary of the shop, but her love affair has been going on since she was a child. Growing up in Stevens Village, Goessel learned the art from her grandmother who sewed beadwork to support the family.

''She was quite the sewer, that old lady,'' Goessel recalled.

By the time Goessel was 12 years old, she had become proficient enough to sell her own work.

The shiny glass beads fascinated her then, and even more so when a teacher told her that beads came from Czechoslovakia.

Things have changed since her early bead working days, she said. Now beads come from other countries. Japan, for instance, produces a wider variety of colors. But she still prefers her first love.

''I've always dreamed of going to Czechoslovakia and watch them make beads,'' she said.

Her life has been consumed with gathering beads. Goessel has always squirreled away beads around her home, calling them her treasures.

That's because she forgets about them and finds them unexpectedly, said her son, Ronnie Goessel, who works in the store. The store is brightly lighted and beads glint from the walls and display stands. Fur hats, beaded gloves and handmade mukluks hang from hooks circling the top of the walls. Outside, a midnight blue dusk crowds out the waning sun.

Passers-by on the snow-covered sidewalks can't help but stop to look in the large store windows at sun-catchers and bone and ivory carvings.

''Tell her about the blue suitcase,'' Ronnie said to his mother, stringing bone on heavy black cord while sitting at a card table where he was making a neck piece for himself.

The blue suitcase was an old-fashioned cosmetic case, Goessel said. In her quest for beads, she found that she could purchase them by the kilo years ago. After using what she wanted and giving hanks of beads to friends and family, she still had leftovers.

Someone told her she should go to Anchorage and sell them during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, so she filled her blue suitcase. Once at the convention, she was too nervous to try to sell them.

A girlfriend who went with Goessel saw another friend and beader and asked her if she wanted to look at beads.

''Beads! You got beads!'' the woman said loudly, Goessel recalled. ''Within a half hour we sold all my beads.''

Her friend held up a wad of bills and said: ''Let's go eat,'' Goessel said.

''I was hooked,'' she said.

Years later back in Fairbanks, Goessel heard that a Native craft shop on Second Avenue, owned by K'oyitl'otsina Ltd., an Alaska Native corporation, was closing. She wrote up a proposal and within a week she was standing inside the store as its new owner.

People warned her that as an Athabascan woman doing business surrounded by businesses owned by white people, she was doomed to failure, she said. That only made her mad enough to work harder.

''I just felt that 'I'll show you,''' Goessel said. ''I am not afraid to work.''

She bought Native crafts and resold them, along with beads, needles and hide. Tour companies used to bring buses of tourists downtown and drop them off.

She would be in the store from 8 a.m. to midnight during those summer months. Now the tour companies keep their customers on a tight schedule and she doesn't see as much of them as she used to.

There were a lot more Alaska Native crafters then, too, she said. Good bead work takes time and skill, and not too many younger people have picked up the craft.

And where Beads & Things used to be one of the few outlets around that sold Native handiwork, crafters now have the option of going to shows and fairs around the state, she said.

Bead work could never sell based on the time and creativity their creators put into them, she said. It would be more expensive than people would be willing to pay.

''You do your sewing because you love it,'' she said, sitting on the store's green carpet, stroking her granddaughter's brown hair. The child curled up next to her in a small blanket with a doll after telling her grandmother the doll needed to take a nap.

''There were a lot of older people who took pride and time in their craft,'' she said. ''For me that was such a privilege to meet them.''



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