Our Store - Hours of Operation
Join Our Mailing List    Facebook
About Us

The history of Bead Paradise

Bead Paradise was founded on August 15, 1987 by Ruth Aschaffenburg. Bead Paradise was first located in the upstairs of the Co-op Bookstore in downtown Oberlin, Ohio. It was an instant success, mainly because there were very few bead stores in Ohio at that time.

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.

Ruth’s Story





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.

I’ve had many mentors who inspired and guided me in my quest to expand my knowledge of beads, and my technical skills as a silver smith and jewelry designer.

Ruth Braun was a pioneer in metal work, and taught me a multitude of silversmithing techniques. After instruction from her, I went on to teach silversmithing classes at Oberlin College from 1983 through 1987. Her watchful and critical eye drove me to see detail and technique in a new way, and I think of her often.

Allen Chaney, owner of the infamous Allen’s Rocks & Gifts, employed me for two years. Under his steady tutelage I learned many skills: how to cut and polish stone, how to grade and appraise stone, how to cast metals, how to repair just about everything, and how to efficiently serve a vast array of client needs. His invaluable gift of shared knowledge will stay with me throughout my life.

Elsie Schmiedlin, the owner of the original Bead Paradise, was a very generous and artistic beader. Her influence is clear in my everyday duties as a store owner and jeweler.

Libby Gregory, the founder and original owner of Byzantium in Columbus, Ohio, enriched my life in many ways. Without her advice and encouragement, I doubt that I would have had the confidence to open Bead Paradise. Her tragic death in an airline crash in 1991 was devastating, and though I miss her, she continues to influence many of my business decisions. I am forever grateful for her guidance.

I am grateful for Ebrima Sillah, my dear husband, who is never ever bored with beads and shares a rich intercontinental life by my side, bridging understanding between African traditions and our American life. For your unwavering love and steadfast support, I thank you.

Thanks to my parents, Walter Aschaffenburg and Nancy Cooper, who throughout life always encouraged and supported my endeavors and inspired a love of art, led me by example, and shed infinite love and acceptance upon me.

Thank you to my daughters, Taya and Silvija, who have always shared a passion for beads and jewelry design. It has been a thrill to watch you grow and establish your foot print in the jewelry and bead trade. I am so proud of your jewelry company, Tasi Designs, and I enjoy collaborating with you, inspiring each other, and always laughing together. And thanks to my stepchildren, Haji, Muhammadu, Lasana, Saibou, Mamie, Haruna, Molamini, Mustafa, Kausu, Mariama, Fatimatah, Alaji, and Sankung for their participation in our family business.

I am so fortunate to be employed in a business that brings me such infinite joy!