Mad in Pursuit Notebook

bead collection

What Possessed You to Buy That Thing??? (Part 1)

Mon, 2.16.2015. (Cont'd from 4.17.13, 4.18.13, 1.10.15) For one of my writing projects, I'm trying to delve into the mind of the collector. Collectors of old things are almost never portrayed in a positive light. They are cultural criminals, like Nazi art thieves. Or they are bloated and ultimately lonely egotists as in "Citizen Kane." Or they are psychopaths, like the dweebish coin collector in Stephen King's "A Good Marriage." Or they are pathetic hoarders requiring intervention (see reality TV). Or perhaps they are the stereotypical, obsessive-compulsives portrayed throughout mass media as people who melt down when someone disturbs the alphabetical order of their vinyl collection--small, brittle people.*

But the collectors I've met over the years are always lively, energetic people with avid curiosity and love of learning. And I must tip my hat to the healthy obsessive. While the rest of us prattle on about achieving "balance" in our lives, the healthy obsessive is fired up with passion, always follows through, and accomplishes remarkable things. Just my humble observation...

Of course, Jim is my archetypal obsessively passionate collector--gathering up curious old things since childhood and studying them all in depth. The "hunter" to my cautious "protector." But wait. I wasn't a born collector, but at the age of 42 I was bitten hard by the bead-collecting bug. I am surrounded by boxes and boxes of ancient to merely antique strands of beads as proof that I too can lose my head in the pursuit of passion.

So I can ask myself... what's the process? How can I argue that collecting is not just for freaks? The impulse is embedded in both our intellect and our emotions. Curiosity + falling in love. Here are some thoughts:

1. A nugget of curiosity, a pinch of learning. Who doesn't love a strand of beads? After girlish infatuations with pop beads and love beads (see Tribe of the Breakaway Beads), the first ones to really spark a craving and a curiosity was a strand of Murano (Venetian) glass millefiore beads that I bought in a department store in the 1970s (photo below). I was fascinated by how different each one was. I bought a second strand from a museum-shop catalog. The string of the first strand broke, but I still have them all. Once I discovered the ancient and complex process behind them, I treasured them even more. So... openness and curiosity come first.

millefiore glass bead from Murano, Venice, Italy

2. The "moment of aesthetic arrest."** The eyes are dazzled and tell the brain to shut up. It's love at first sight. "You're the one I've been waiting for." This beautiful thing is calling your name. You are seized by its authenticity, its power. The artisan who made it is sending you a message in a bottle, conveyed by a sea of loving hands over time and across cultures. It will share its power with you, whether that power is about elevating your status, healing your restless heart, or lending you enough mojo to get you through another day at your miserable job. If it were a person, you'd be plotting a rendezvous.

My first such encounter was at the night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as described in Tribe of the Breakaway Beads and here on Mad In Pursuit. (See image of the Karen tribal necklace below.)

Karen tribal beads, Burma

This purchase kicked off a positive feedback loop: the more I experienced handling beads, the more I wanted to learn about them; the more I learned, the more in love with them I became. And this love is not the chaste love of seeing artifacts in a museum or the abstract love of history and culture. It's not the calculated "arranged marriage" of the art investor. It's not the slambam faux-love of the shopaholic who compulsively accumulates artifacts she has no authentic connection to. No, for the true collector, this is amor--this is enchantment, this is romance.

For the collector, this seizure, this moment happens again and again, but certainly not with every purchase. In a field as plentiful as beads, there are many "good buys"--a little magic for a sensible price--all part of "filling out the collection," all part of the hunt. Each "catch" teaches you a little more about the game. But, like fishing or hunting, there is always that "big one" hiding in the shadows, tempting you to go a little farther into the dark forest, a little farther into the deep waters. It is amor, but also marriage--a commitment that requires organization and thoughtfulness.

But I shouldn't get ahead of myself. There are really two steps here: the moment of aesthetic arrest (love!); then, in some cases, the insanity of the purchase (sacrifice). For the old amber beads below, it was love at first sight, but they were out of my price range. Months went by and I couldn't get them off of my mind. When we next visited NYC, the dealer had a display at a tribal arts show. It was destiny. I bargained the price down and brought home my enamorata. These beads prompted a little story from me on a January day in 2003, which you can find here>>>

amber beads from Mali, Africa

Continued>>> | Notebook Archives | POSSESSED! Archives


PHOTO, top. A sampling of beads from the collection.

* A more sensitive portrayal is found in the family memoir "Hare with Amber Eyes" by Edmund de Waal.

** "Moment of aesthetic arrest" is a Joseph Campbell phrase, describing the seizure of romantic love outside the prescribed rituals of sacraments and arranged marriages.


Books by Susan Barrett Price:

THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.



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