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Brief Biographical Statement
About Robin Atkins
Traveling widely to teach, lecture and research beadwork for over 25 years, Robin Atkins is a nationally known bead artist. She has authored 8 beading books, including her latest, The Complete Photo Guide to Beading, published by Creative Publishing International, and numerous magazine articles. Robin enjoys all types of beading. However, she especially loves to sew beads on cloth. Currently her two passions are designing wall art using her eco-dyed fabrics with bead embroidery, and combining bead embroidery with bookmaking to create bead-embellished journals. She is excited to see the development of beadwork in the past two decades, as it has shifted from the world of craft toward the world of art.
From an Interview of Robin Atkins
The following biographical statement is partially taken
from an interview of Robin Atkins by a reporter from Quilts, Inc.
The original interview was published on-line in conjunction
with the Embellishment Conference.
Many artists in any number of disciplines can vividly recount the exact turning point which forever after influenced or directed their art. But bead artist and former bead shop owner, Robin Atkins, can point to several such epiphanies, each contributing their own distinct impression on her life and art.
Born in California, where she lived until age seven, Atkins spent her formative and college years in Minnesota (receiving a Masters in Counseling Psychology at the University of Minnesota), before relocating to Washington State as an adult. All the while, she explored personal artistic hobbies and interests. "My interest in making things, craft and art goes way back to childhood," she explains. "My earliest memory is when I was six and my brother was five. We wanted to put on a ballet for the neighborhood. We asked our grandmother to teach us to use her treadle sewing machine, and our grandfather bought us some packages of crepe paper. We sewed costumes out of that for all the kids in the ballet."
Later, when an illness kept her in bed for a year at age 10, she took up origami, embroidery, and hand sewing to make fanciful costumes for her own collection of dolls. She also explored beading in grade school, making a loomed piece for Girl Scout credit, and later used beads in a variety of arts, crafts, and sewing projects.
In the mid-'70s, Robin Atkins began apprenticing the craft of metalsmithing, making gold and silver art jewelry. Learning mostly from books and her friend Elizabeth Chenoweth, Atkins utilized hammers, saws, files, a torch, and her own two hands to fashion unique jewelry. After five years, she gave up metalsmithing because of the intense demands of a new "day job," though it would ultimately be an area to which she would return.
"The beading hook came in 1986, when I wanted to have a necklace with lapis, gold, and pearl beads," Atkins remembers. "If I bought one at the department store, it would have cost me $300, and I just knew I could make it for less than that."
So with an investment of a few dollars in raw beads and the tuition for a stringing class, Atkins did just that, her experience stoking a creative fire that now burned for
beads. "That was a big turning point in my life - I got hooked after that," she says.
Another watershed occurred while on a trip to Hungary on a folk dancing expedition (another Atkins hobby). It was there that she found sources for unusual glass beads and began a long-term interest in the ethnic beading of Eastern Europe.
Another turning point was meeting bead artist Carol Berry - who quickly became a mentor, teacher, and pal. "Meeting her was an important event; two months later I quit my job and started a bead shop, which I called 'Beads Indeed!,' even though at that point I still didn't know a whole lot about how to buy and sell beads."
And finally, a really big influence was bead historian Elizabeth Harris. "She was the great goddess of beads!" Atkins enthuses. "She had so much knowledge about beads and an indomitable spirit, which was fascinating to me." Atkins first met Harris when the latter presented a lecture on glass bead making at a NW Bead Society meeting, which gave Atkins good leads on where to find and buy glass beads abroad.
The business and retail knowledge would come later, the hard way - through trials and experience. Never intending to cater to "off the street" crafters, Atkins set up her shop/studio to appeal to discerning and serious beaders, relying only on word of mouth and her newsletter to attract new customers, since the shop's opening in 1988.
"I had no reservations about it at all - it happened so fast!" she laughs today. "I had an idea to fill a niche. I also looked at other two bead shops in the area, and they were more craft-oriented. I wanted to push beading in the direction of a true art form."
What draws her to beads, she explains, is their "infinite variety" and many ways to incorporate them into creative projects. Also, as she further explored the history, usage, and background of beads and beading, she could appreciate them on a deeper level. Put simply, she says "I learned that beading is more than a craft, but art and history as well." Today, though Atkins lectures, teaches workshops, and has her work shown in galleries and venues around the country, she still feels very much like a student. "As much as I know and understand about the history, technology, and art of beads, there will always be ten times as much around the corner."
On the subject of her own artistry, there is an area which she favors above all the rest. "Improvisational bead embroidery is what I like most," she says. "I think as an artist, that's the direction I'm going, using bead embroidery as part of a larger picture of improvisational art where it can be part of collage pieces." For example, Atkins, also interested in creating artists' books, is using beadwork on both the covers and pages of her books.
In the fall of 1998, Atkins moved to a small island off the coast of Washington State, where she has built a studio/workshop. She continues to travel as required to teach and lecture. She spends as much time as possible in her studio working on her beading projects, and also has begun making beaded jewelry to sell.
Robin has been given the honor of judging several regional and national beadwork and other art competitions, including, most recently, "The Beaded Cloth" competition sponsored in 2002 by Beadwork Magazine. She says of this experience, "I am in awe of the incredible beadwork people are doing these days. The advance during the past ten years of both the techniques and the art of beading is amazing."
In 2000, under another of her business names, Tiger Press, Robin published her first book, "One Bead at a Time, Exploring Creativity with Bead Embroidery," which is now in its fourth printing. She is also the author and publisher of a non-bead related book, "Nautical Highways, Ferries of the San Juan Islands," which she produced with her photographer husband, Robert Demar. Robin authored a third book, "Beaded Embellishment, Techniques & Designs for Embroidering on Cloth," in collaboration with another bead artist, Amy Clarke, of Colorado. In addition Robin has authored many magazine articles and two booklets. Her plan is to continue writing and publishing beading books.
In 2003 a call went out to bead artists around the world to submit photographs for "500 Beaded Objects," a new book to be released in the fall of 2004 by Lark Books. From over 2,500 entries, three of Robin's beadwork pieces were chosen for the book, one of which will be the front cover piece. According to Robin, "This is just the greatest honor and validation of my artistic process. I'm still pinching myself!"
In conclusion, Robin says, "I'm grateful to my family and husband, my students, my teachers and my beady friends beyond anything I'm able to express. Perhaps even a few angels deserve some credit as well. Without their help, support and inspiration, I wouldn't have become the bead artist I am today. The ever-growing beading community offers continuing challenge and a broad knowledge base for this new art which has such deep roots going all the way back to prehistoric mankind. I'm thrilled to be part of it."
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Partial List of Teaching Engagements
Coeur d'Alene, Billings, Chicago, San Juan Island, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Anchorage, New York, Washington DC, Budapest (Hungary), Detroit, Denver, Seattle.
Embellishment (Austin - '95, Houston - '96, Austin - '97, Sacramento - '98, Portland - '99-'02, and the closing Embellishment Conference in Chicago - '03), Council of American Embroiders (St. Louis - '93), Bead Expo (Santa Fe - '98), Design & Sew (Oregon - 2000), International Quilt Festival (Houston - 2000, '01, '04, '05) Spring Quilt Festival Chicago - '03, '04, '05), Crazy Quilt Conference (Omaha - '02), Puget Sound Bead Festival (Tacoma - '03 - '06), Beadwork Retreat (Sonoma - '05), La Conner Quilt Conference & Show (La Conner, WA - '12, '13).
Valley Ridge Arts Center (2006), Coupeville Arts Center (1997 - 2005), Pratt Fine Art Center, Kirkland Art Center,
Beading, Textile, Weaving, Doll and Quilting Guilds:
Reno, Chicago, Seattle, Honolulu, Friday Harbor, Denver, Anchorage, Sitka
King and Skagit Counties, WA
Dava Bead and Trade (Portland), A Bead Company (Anchorage), Findings (Ann Arbor), Bedazzles (Atlanta), Baubles & Beads (Berkeley and San Rafael), Creative Bead Castle (Los Angeles).
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Partial List of Speaking Engagements
Seattle, Portland, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Billings, Chicago, W. Virginia, Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, Anchorage, Washington DC, New York, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Honolulu.
The Third International Bead Conference (Washington DC - '95), Bead Expo (Santa Fe - '98), Embellishment (Austin - '95, Houston - '96, Austin - '97, Sacramento - '98, Portland - '99 & '02), International Quilt Festival (Houston - '00 - '01), National Button Conference (Tacoma - '98).
Museums and Universities:
Ethnographic Museum (Budapest), Bellevue Art Museum, Whatcom Art Museum, Kirkland Art Center, Denver Museum of Natural Science, University of Washington (Textile Department), Hawaii Pacific University.
Various guilds in Washington state, Reno, Denver, Chicago, and Honolulu; Contemporary Quilt Association, Smocking Guild, Antiquarian Society, Button Society, Textile Guilds, Needle Arts Guilds, Weaving Guilds.
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List of Publications
One Bead at a Time - Exploring Creativity with Bead Embroidery, 2000
Booklets and Project Chapters:
Nautical Highways - Ferries of the San Juan Islands, (with Robert Demar), 2002
Beaded Embellishment - Techniques & Designs for Embroidering on Cloth, (with Amy Clarke), 2002
Beaded Treasures - Finger Woven Bracelets, Necklaces, Tassels & Straps, 2006
Heart to Hands Bead Embroidery, Fresh Ideas and Techniques for Creating Art with Beads, 2008
The Complete Photo Guide to Beading, 2013
Finishing Techniques for Bead Embroidery Projects, 2001
Magazine and Journal Articles:
How I Made Rosie, The Uncaged Hen, 2001
Beaded Handbags, (project chapter), 2003
Spirit Dolls, 2005
Beading for the Soul, (project chapter), 2005
The Beader's Color Palette (2 project chapters, and 9 project samples), 2008
"Inside the Jury: Beadwork Design from a Judge's Perspective," Beadwork Magazine, June/July, 2003.
"Beadwork of Hungary and Transylvania," Beads: Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers, Vol. 14, 2002
"ABC's of Seed Beads," Quilting Arts Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 2, 2001
"Treasure Necklace, Fabulous Finger Weaving," Bead & Button Magazine, Oct., 1995
"Patricia Frantz, Lampwork Bead Artist," Ornament Magazine, Vol. 15 No. 3, 1992
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