Craft Shop Breaks from Ordinary


Lifestyle Staff Writer| Alexis McCurdy| | Twitter: @AlexisMcCurdy14

Nestled on Shafer Street is a craft shop incorporating art, spirit and culture in one hub. Beads and Things lies in the west residential area of Athens, absent of littered beer cans. Its robust red hue, with pops of pink and colorful lanterns that frame the shop offer a refreshing view compared to that of many weekend nights spent on Court Street.

Founded in 1990 by couple Jo Merkle and Phil Berry, the walls of Beads and Things have been constantly adorned with thousands of — you guessed it — beads. Pendants, lockets, crystals, chains, gems and sculptures also decorate the interior. Customers are encouraged to transform this expansive creative terrain into their own work of art.

“I would say it (Beads and Things) is about expressing yourself and about learning on other people’s cultures, since a lot of what we have is made in the United States and carries its own backstory,” said staff member Nicolette Anderson. “So it’s about learning about how other people express their beliefs and express themselves artistically.”

Customers can use the materials in Beads and Things to make a variety of works, including earrings, necklaces and bracelets. But it’s more than just jewelry, says Anderson, so much so that she would not even consider it a jewelry shop. People can also use the assortment of beads and charms to create beading crafts, wall decorations, window hangings, and bead embellishments on clothes and purses.

While the idea of crafting may seem challenging to some, Anderson says that anything can be done, as “the only limitations are the ones we impose upon ourselves.” If you do run into trouble, the staff is readily available for instruction.

The materials available in the store come from a wide range of sources, such as Turkey, Italy, China and different parts of Africa. The owners travel across the globe, collecting stones and gems from different exhibitions or people they come across.

Its spirit of vibrancy attracts vibrant patrons, as well. One customer, Vicky, enthusiastically said that she had been coming to Beads and Things for years. For her, the morning was a routine stop. She came to pick up a few beads for a project she had been working on: polar bear footprints.

“There’s too much stuff for you to come just once. You can just spend hours and hours in there getting lost,” Vicky said.

The role of the spirituality in crafting is also very relevant to Beads and Things’ core values.

“Art is the foundation for which individual expression and faith is conveyed,” says the Beads and Things’ official website.

In 2005, The Drepung Gomang Monks presented a “puja,” or offering to Beads and Things to “heal their anxious hearts in these troubled times.”

Beads and Things encourages customers to have this same mindset when approaching the store. Whether you’re making a gift for someone or just crafting, it should be done with love and good intentions.

“If they start to get frustrated (while making something), leave for a while. You’re putting your energy into the objects you’re making and you really want to think loving thoughts,” said Merkle. “It’s subtle but it’s very powerful. The bonus is when you put that love into it, it just comes right back at you.”

Anderson said this spiritual interpretation is, however, entirely subjective.

“I think everything kind of has a spiritual side to it if you look hard enough. If you make something sacred, then it will be sacred to yourself…. (It’s) something that might help you in your own spiritual journey. It’s as powerful as you make it,” said Anderson.

However you approach it, many can agree that there is something inherently different and unique about this store.

Vicky said, “Who would’ve thought that you would have to go into the residential area to find something like this? It’s awesome! The only way you’re going to find things like this are by getting out and talking to people.”

Anderson says the aura is what makes the distinction between the shop and more corporately centered shops that sell similar products.

“It’s the service that people receive here. A lot of people know Joe and Phil personally so it’s like coming to your friends’ house. And I think that feeling is what works the best when you’re in this giant field of creation, just someone to guide you. So I think that’s the difference, the intimacy and the friendliness,” said Anderson.

All photos courtesy of Alexis McCurdy.