Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tagua Nut "Netsuke"

Greetings! I hope everyone had a great holiday and week. The family and I spent time in New York City again. Although the Short One's naps were only intermittent this trip (and the poor Husband had a business trip smack in the middle of our week away), I still managed to finagle a few hours to go bead hunting.

At the end of August, Katie Hacker had a great bead stash post which included a photo of some attractive dyed tagua nut slice pendants. It made me think about tagua nut netsuke-style beads, and, lo and behold, I found some last week in New York.

For the uninitiated, tagua nuts are extremely hard nuts that come from the ivory-nut palm. I believe they are mainly found in the rainforests of South America. Parts of the nut are carvable, and they are often referred to as "vegetable ivory". Beads and buttons are carved or sliced from nuts that are groundfall, and they are considered an eco-friendly alternative to bone. I find the material to be very warm and tactile - they make the kind of beads that you like to hold in your hand.

Again for the uninitiated, netsuke refers to a type of Japanese bead whose original purpose was to serve as a toggle for a purse-like ornament that was worn from the obi sash of a kimono (since the kimono has no pockets, the purse or container served to carry the wearer's small essentials, like coins). Original netsuke were carved from ivory, coral, boxwood (you can still buy lovely carved boxwood beads - I'll have to show you the ones in my stash sometime) and other similar materials. The carving of netsuke can be extremely intricate and beautiful.

These beads are much simpler in aspect, but they didn't cost a fortune (real netsuke can cost hundreds of dollars), and I think they're quite attractive and will make nice pendants for necklaces. My photo came out rather small here, but I think you can click on it for a closer look. From left to right, they are a tiger (frankly, I thought this was a dragon, but when I squinted at the receipt it was identified as a tiger, and when I showed it to my mother, who is visiting us right now, she said "Well, of course that's a tiger", so what do I know), a hen, a Foo or Fu dog (also called a Fu lion or lion of Buddha), and, well, a happy gentleman in snazzy dress. It is also quite common to see sets of twelve tagua nut beads with each of the animals of the Chinese zodiac carved on them. I was tempted to get a set, but ended up being seduced by some nephrite jade pendants (more on this later) instead.

So, the words for today are "tagua nut". And fine words they are, too!

On other fronts, I've decided to expand my blog horizons and start posting the odd interview here. I won't tell you right now what luminary I have as my first victim, er, interview subject, but her work appears here quite regularly, as she's one of my favorite bead artists, and, if I do say so, her beads are quite stunning. Please come back later this week to see who she is (and many thanks to her for agreeing to be grilled by me!).

Thanks for visiting!

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