The history of Bead Paradise
After just three and a half years, it was time to expand. Ruth moved down the street and merged Bead Paradise with a clothing store called The Studio on the Park. Combining contemporary women’s apparel with Ruth’s jewelry designs and unusual beads was a perfect fit. Over the coming years Bead Paradise grew in both fame and inventory. In May of 1997, Bead Paradise moved to its current location at 29 West College Street, a beautiful two-story building facing Tappan Square. In July of 2001, Ruth purchased the building, which is listed in the National Register of Historical Places as part of the Downtown Oberlin Business District.
Back in the 1960’s, Elsie Schmiedlin, one of Ruth’s many mentors, owned and operated the original Bead Paradise in her landmark home in North Olmstead, Ohio. Before opening her own store, Ruth purchased the bulk of Elsie’s inventory over a period of five years. Ruth always loved the name Bead Paradise, so much so that she asked Elsie if she could use it for her store. Elsie said sure, with one condition, that we always tell the story of Elsie Schmiedlin and the original Bead Paradise. And so Elsie’s memory and legacy lives on at Bead Paradise II.
I grew up in the small college town of Oberlin, Ohio and was exposed to music, art and performance my entire life.
As a child, I quickly learned to love antique jewelry and beading. Drawn to crafts, I dabbled in many mediums but always came back to my favorite love: collecting beads and designing jewelry. Early on I incorporated natural elements in my jewelry using feathers, driftwood, shells, beach glass and assorted found objects. I imitated Native American beadwork which I saw displayed in the Plains Museums. I combed our local flea market for broken necklaces and recycled the pieces and parts into new designs. I hunted for stores where I might buy some beads, but they were few and far between.
I was first exposed to African trade beads in 1986, when Kissima Drammeh, an African Bead Trader, called me out of the blue to see if I would like a sample of African beads. I said, “Of course!” and four days later, a 90lb box of beads arrived at my door step! After hours of admiring those beautiful strands of beads, I knew I was hooked.
My jewelry designs took an immediate turn, and my quest for “old time” colors, shapes, and patterns became a full-time obsession. I traveled to West Africa for the first time in 1995 with Ebrima Sillah, my future husband.
I was completely inspired by the music, the smells and taste of new foods, the bright colors and gorgeous fabrics, the abundance of light, and of course the beads and jewelry! My artistic expression embodied in my new life experiences took hold, and I proceeded in new directions with my beadwork. First, I gathered every old-time color of seed beads and all sizes of heishi spacers to incorporate into my designs. Colorful molded glass, found in traditional Fulani jewelry inspired my bead work. I wanted to be a purist, using only old beads and no new substitutes. I felt a spiritual connection with the former wearers of these beads, imagining all the generations of previous owners.
As a bead merchant, I feel deeply connected to the age-old traditions of the bead trade and a desire to keep beads circulating, to be the provider of beads to a new owner.