Ella Bentley: Artist whose beads speak to her

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2000

Bead sculptress: Ella Bentley takes beadwork to a level unheard of a few years ago. She's created beaded baskets of beaded fruit, miniature beaded boots and a miniature beaded replica of one of Elvis Presley's famous blue suede shoes. She's created beaded geodes (crystal-filled gemstones), bead-encrusted intertidal beach rocks (complete with beaded seaweed and bead barnacles) and bouquets of flowers all made of glass beads.

``Much of my work is one-of-a-kind pieces,'' she said.

Listening to beads: Bentley, 63, moved to Juneau in 1948 and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1955. She began beading 14 years ago, starting with beaded earrings.

She works in a studio in her home and said she works every day.

``One of my friends called me a compulsive producer,'' she said.

She said beads speak to her. She doesn't really plan her pieces, she just starts working.

``My love is whimsy,'' Bentley said. ``A lot of my personality goes into my work. I'm a happy person and sometimes I chuckle to myself as I work.''

Bentley said she also names all her sculptural pieces. Sometimes the piece grows from just the idea of a name and sometimes they name themselves as she's making them.

Glass eye: Some of her pieces are built around a single, one-of-kind handmade glass bead. Several years ago she created a sculptural work that featured a large handmade glass bead that was essentially a life-size glass eyeball.

Bread and butter Jewelry has been her bread and butter work for many years. She makes beaded necklaces and bracelets, beaded eyeglass cases and eyeglass holders, and she's made hundreds of pairs of beaded earrings.

``I like the tactile feel of beads, especially against your skin. They warm up and feel nice,'' she said.

Teaching artist: Bentley teaches beading at home, and has taught at local workshops as well as national beading conferences and seminars. Her bead work has been featured in national arts magazines. Her beaded sculptures also have toured the United States and Canada as part of art exhibitions.

Gallery art: Bentley displays her work at the Juneau Artists Gallery. Her pieces range in price from $4 to $1,800.

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