Beadmaking

In order for you to understand and appreciate the solid work behind each individual bead in my designs, here is a brief description of the manufacturing process of glass beads and brass beads. 

How glass and Krobo pearls are born 

First of all, the raw material, glass, is needed. All glass is used; bottles (which give the transparent beads their color), window glass, concrete glass, yes even beads that do not keep the quality are reused 

The glass is crushed by hand (below) by the apprentice Peter Teyo and then filtered. The coarser pieces become the transparent beads, while the glass flour becomes the opaque ones. 

The molds are made by hand from termite clay from termite stacks, the molds are then dipped in kaolin to make the bead come off more easily. The whiter the color, the older the molds. The molds hold for about ten burns before being discarded. The broken glass is placed in the molds. A bead master's tools are simple and he always makes them himself and according to the measurements he needs. 

When the broken glass is distributed in the molds, they are baked in an oven which is also handmade by the manufacturer and, like the molds, is made of termite clay. A kiln lasts about six months before it has to be demolished and rebuilt. When the glass melts, they are taken out and the holes are made by hand while the glass is still glowing. And it's hot in front of the oven - I promise! Then the pearls are ground and voila - a finished pearl in my hand!

The production of the opaque and hand-painted Krobo beads is largely the same as above, but in the fine glass dust you add glass paint, pack it in the molds with an acacia branch in the middle (where the hole will be), burn them and hand-paint the pattern on top before burning them again. The Krobo beads are available in a variety of colors and decorations, while the transparent ones are limited to the colors that the glass has when it is crushed.

Casting in brass - the  "Lost Wax" method 

Ghana is not called the Gold Coast for nothing and in the past this technology was used to cast the amazing jewelry that kings and higher dignitaries wore. (and still wears), as here at the annual Durbar of Chiefs in the Krobo region. 

Casting in brass is a time-consuming method that takes about three days from start to end (of course depending on how complicated the design is). I had the privilege of spending two days with master caster Christian Frimpong up in Sokoban-Krofrom in Ghana to see and participate in the work. 

Before starting to cast, beeswax is processed, which is used to form the beads. by first heating it in a water bath and then pressing it through a metal tube and out through a small hole in a cap into long thin strands. The strings are then laid in patterns around molds made from cow manure and water.

When this is done, you grind charcoal and mix it with water which you then soak the molds with. This is done three times and the molds should be sun-dried between each layer.

When the third layer has also dried, they are put together in "clusters" with a number of pearls in each of which each has its own shell. These pearl clusters are dipped three more times until they look like a black lump (see below). When the carbon shell has dried, they gently brush the top layer away until the top of the beads is visible (in the picture it was pendants). A thin wax wire is attached to them, which the molten brass must then follow. Everything is dipped again three times until a small pyramid has been formed. When it has dried, everything is packed in clay and they dig out a bowl on top so that the ends of the wax threads are visible. 

The brass used is recycled from taps etc. and purchased in already melted lumps, which are then placed in a clay pot and melted again in an oven. The molten brass is then poured into the recess on the mold and the hot brass follows the wax threads down into the mold and replaces the wax, which floats up and settles in the recess on top. Hence the name "Lost wax" about the technology because all molds are destroyed in the process and must be redone for each individual bead and pendant.

When the molds have cooled, they are crushed and the finished objects are picked out and freed from their casting strings, filed and polished together with lime in a rice sack. And so, after three days, the pearls are ready to be purchased and used! 

I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to the craft of the African glass and brass bead making! I want to thank mr. Okrah Tetteh and mr. Christian Frimpong who took of their valuable time to let me participate and learn about their craft. They are not only my suppliers, they are also my friends!