Nestled in the heart of Nebo is the home studio of McDowell County artist Ann Gibson.
For the last six years, Gibson has made one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry with glass ornaments and clay beads.
Gibson’s work began after she started helping her husband, Dave Gibson, who makes pottery.
“What is so funny is, when I first started doing jewelry I was going to bead stores or to Walmart and buying beads and stringing them,” said Gibson. “I was helping Dave one day with his pottery and I told him I understand why they call it throwing on a wheel, because I have no patience to do pottery. I was playing on the wheel and I thought ‘I can do beads.’”
That’s when Gibson starting creating her handcrafted beads which range in size and texture, but all start with one of two types of low-fire clay, either red or white.
“There’s a lot of trial and error with this (clay bead making),” said Gibson. “You really do have to do a lot of testing the water, before you really want to go to all the time and trouble.”
Before deciding on a color and texture for her beads, Gibson tests different glazes on test tiles to see how they fire or adhere to clay.
She then gets in her workshop where she hand rolls up to 200 beads at a time. From there, she will wait sometimes up to 3 to 5 days before she fires her beads.
“During the first firing of the beads, you have to let them dry completely before they go in the kiln,” said Gibson. “Depending on the weather, if we have a high humidity, it can take the beads anywhere from 3 to 5 days to dry enough to put into the kiln. If there’s any moisture in the clay at all, the beads will explode. If you hear an explosion in the kiln, you automatically know that 50 percent of what’s in that kiln is no good. If one bead explodes, it pretty much wipes out half of what you’ve got in there.”
After firing her beads, Gibson then glazes her beads several times to get the right color or texture on her beads before they are ready for stringing.
The whole process requires a lot of patience and attention, since one false move while firing can mean that a whole batch of beads is ruined.
“I have to be really, really careful about what I do,” said Gibson “I do a lot of test tiles before I glaze my beads. Things can vary up to 25 degrees in the kiln before colors start burning. If color burns off there’s no fixing it. If that happens, you have to throw your work away, because it’s no good.”
Like her bead making, Gibson’s glasswork requires a lot of attention from the artist.
Gibson began working with the material because of leftover colored glass that her mother had.
“Through trial and error, I learned that when you swirl your glass you need to do it quickly, because the slightest variation will make it crack,” said Gibson. “My glass pieces I will probably fire five or six different times, till it comes out the way I want it.”
Gibson and her husband Dave were recently invited to the Boise Art Museum’s Art in the Park event in Boise, Idaho. Attending was an honor for the couple, since many artists wait years to obtain a spot at the prestigious event.
Locally, Gibson’s unique, one-of-a-kind pieces can be purchased at MACA on S. Main Street in Marion. Her work is also available in Southern California, Philadelphia and in Idaho. The couple is currently working on an online store, where individuals can purchase Dave’s pottery and Ann’s jewelry.