The Bead Zone is “the best kept secret in the Valley” according to owner and enthusiastic beader Colleen Hentze.
Hentze, a retired nurse, developed a passion for beading two decades ago when she attended a rock and gem show and saw a woman doing glass work, using a torch to make beads.
“I spent a long time watching her, and finally asked her if it was difficult and did you have to be really artistic to do it,” explained Hentze.
“She answered it was easy and no talent needed! It sounded like something I could do, so I signed up for a class in what is known as ‘lampwork’.”
‘Lampwork’ is a 2,000 year old craft of melting long rods of coloured Italian glass over a flame that reaches more than 700 degrees Celsius. Today, this is accomplished by using a torch, but two millennia ago master crafters would use an oil lamp and bellows, hence the name ‘lampwork’.
“I went to my class and when I walked in the door realized that I was probably in over my head,” said Hentze.
“This lady was not just a lampwork artist but an accomplished silver smith, and there I am not able to draw a straight line even with a ruler.”
Hentze, however, stuck with it and soon got the hang of making pretty glass beads. But, that soon raised the question of what to do with them once they had been made.
“After a few months of making glass focal beads, I asked a friend who was also doing lampwork what she was doing with her finished beads and she introduced me to bead work,” said Hentze.
“I had done some beading when I was younger but never really got into it, this time was different, it has become an addiction to me. One package of beads led to ten and then 20 and so on. There is always a new stitch or technique or colour combination. Oh, and a new colour of beads or style of beads!”
Eleven years ago, Hentze and her husband made the move to Merritt, bringing Hentze’s passion along with them.
“We brought with us a couple of crates of beads and 100 pounds of glass rods, torches, and various crafting supplies,” said Hentze.
“It did not take long to find out there was no source of good quality beads in the valley, so my hubby and I discussed opening a shop.”
However, those plans had to be put on hold as Hentze took on a full-time job soon after arriving in town. When she retired three years ago the idea came up again but was further delayed due to some unforeseen health issues. By the summer of 2019, Hentze felt that her plans to open were coming together.
“We had purchased a lovely portable yard shed and Bernie finished the inside for me,” said Hentze.
“I was searching out wholesalers for product and then another health issue cropped up, and it didn’t look like Bead Zone was supposed to be. But sometimes you just have to get mad enough and do it anyway. So, in November 2019, I opened Bead Zone with a Facebook page.”
Just as things really got underway COVID hit, and Hentze thought she had faced yet another setback. However, she began getting messages from all over Merritt and the province. Soon, Hentze arranged to ship orders and offer curbside pickup.
“In the summer of 2020 we started having in person shopping one person in the studio at a time, mandatory masks and hand sanitizer,” said Hentze, noting they grow a little more each month.
The Bead Zone inventory now includes 230 different sizes, colours and shapes of beads as well as needles, thread, cabochons, findings, foundation, wax, stone beads and naturally a few lampwork beads as well, “for old times’ sake”.
Through the Bead Zone Facebook page, Hentze hosts a monthly challenge in which photos of beading projects with specific parameters are submitted and the members vote for a winner. In January, the challenge was creating a piece of beadwork that related somehow to a nursery rhyme, legend or story. Hentze also offers classes when she can.
Hentze and her husband invite people to drop in, one at a time, to the studio for a browse. 2188 Granite Ave. in the little green barn in the backyard. You can also call 250-315-9542 or visit the Facebook page to place an order, view inventory and arrange for shipping and pickup.
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald