"Catfish"
Positively the most embarressing Necklace I have ever strung

I loved this necklace, but good heavens, it got me into some terrible trouble. It all began the year of the ISGB's Boulder Colorado gathering, in which I was kitty corner to Alice Korach, who, among other things, was at that time editor of Bead & Button but was showing her wonderfully involved pate de verre figures—quite large objects of several inches, usually of human figures. She had been, she explained, grabbed by throat with this technique.

She admired the necklace, so of course I handed it over to her so she could take a closer look.

I should back up a little, and explain that all the necklaces in the lumpen series were typically made by doubling two pieces of beadalon at the clasp, run through a large focal, and ended with a tassel of 8 fringes (2 strands doubled, or 4 on each side equals 8) that I then finished off, using liquid silver as crimps. In the case of catfish, instead of using the transparent coated beadalon, I decided to use up some white-coated softflex (or maybe it was beadalon) my friend Peggy had purchased/traded with that bead store in Ferndale I can't quite recall the name of and which has gone out of business in any case and which Peggy subsequently traded with me.

This proved to be a big mistake.

The damn thing fell apart in Alice's hands—evidently the white coating was a little thicker; though the piece was at least several months old, and therefore presumably past the point of failure (yes, I had my suspicians about combining the questionable technique with the questionable material, but did I listen? Oh, no...) Of course, it wasn't. Talk about embaressing! To have your several-hundred dollar focus of your collection fall apart in the hands of the editor of the most popular bead magazine in the world. (And mind you, this was before there were so many of them). Believe it or not, Ms. Korach (who apologized profusely for something that wasn't her fault) reiterated her request that I submit the design for a magazine article.

I thought, ‘now that's bravery.’

But wait, it gets better. My memory of my humiliating experiences with this necklace have blurred, but I was pretty stubborn, so I think I tried recrimping with the liquid silver. A few yanks to test, and it seemed perfectly repaired. A year or so later, a lady came to my table—once again at the ISGB conference, Alexandria (near Washington DC) —pointed to the piece, and said, “I'll take that one.” I asked her if she'd like to try it on, but nope, she was one of those buyers we all covet, who comes to your booth, points to the most expensive item you've got, and has you wrapping it up before you've even quite believe you've made the sale.

As I said, my memory has blurred, but I think it fell apart again. At a fancy artist opening—the ISGB always arranges several shows in conjunction at Gathering, and this one, which I also happened to attend, was particularly nice. Even if it didn't fall apart, it most certainly marked the client's white silk dry-clean-only shirt with black stains, courtesy of the Indian silver beads (e.g. the fish) I'd put into the piece. Oh, and by the way, this charming customer just happened to be the mother of the then-president of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers, you know, the major professional organization (not to mention the sponsor of Gathering, the event were attending) of people like me...

The reason I think it broke again is that I have this memory of shipping it back to her, though maybe it was just the earrings I made to match. At this point you may be wondering why on earth I would be making earrings to match a necklace any customer in her right mind would've returned for a refund, so allow me to illustrate the proper method for salvaging customer-relations disasters like this one. The first thing I did, upon hearing the catalog of horrors this piece had inflicted upon its innocent new owner, was to apologize profusely—I presume I offered, for example, to either replace the blouse or pick up the tab to clean it, though the lady turned me down. I also explained that I had never had a complaint about these beads marking a customer's clothing before (true—even I wouldn't be so foolhardy as to incorporate them into such an expensive design, otherwise.)

This led to a conversation about the way Indian beadmakers patinate their silver/copper beads (these beads had too low a silver content to be sterling) by rubbing them with leaves of the neem tree. Turns out my customer is a gardener, and told me neem is used as an (organic) insecticide; also that we both grow bachelors buttons, for which she offered me a tip that is now part of a page about these flowers. I agreed that yes, clear nail polish on the offending metal beads should protect her clothing in the future (and not hurt the beads or the stringing material). I explained that I'd chosen the white-coated softflex to brighten the interior of the translucent beads, and hadn't realized the plastic sheathing was evidently thicker than the standard I was used to, and that the liquid silver had always been perfectly satisfactory before, but evidently couldn't grip through the thicker plastic to hold the metal cable underneath adequately. I offered to send her a free pair of earrings. I begged her to please let me know immediately if she had any additional problems with the piece.

I don't recall actually overtly offering to take the piece back (you can actually talk people out of sales—I've done it a number of times, though I think I've mostly wised up) though I certainly would've returned her money immediately if she'd made the slightest hint that was what she'd wanted. (The goal, in any sales situation, is to affirm your customer's belief in their own judgement—and returning something, even if it's just because it's defective, is not such an affirmation; on the other hand, if they truly want the item, they're going to feel better if the glitch can be resolved than merely taking it back.)

The difficulty, then is overcoming the natural instinct, during these snafus, too hide or deny the problem (at least for people like me). I am forever grateful for the job at a small, just-opened (and typically under-captialized) business, because I learned a lot about how to run a company—not least of which, is that if you can't, for whatever reason, meet your obligations (in this case, pay bills) you still keep the lines of communications open. Over and over again, the owner would get calls from the accounts receivable department of very large vendors for overdue invoices. He always answered the phone, always listened politely, confirmed the invoices that were due, explained what he could and would pay and when.

It was absolutely amazing to me, the way they put up with this—even being arrears, they still kept sending inventory. Over a course of months (years, really) I began to realize they kept sending him goods because he did always answer the phone, and keep them up to date. People, I learned, even in the cold hard business world, will forgive you a lot if you keep the lines of communication open and are polite, stereotypes of films (and some true, real bastards) notwithstanding. And I'm happy to report that small business eventually did just fine, and is now thriving.

So it was here. Because I was apologetic, accepted the blame for my bad decisions or ignorance of my materials’ failings, the customer kept the necklace. (I should note, however, nothing makes up for constructing a good product in the first place—most people, no matter how much you reassure them, are not going to call if there's a problem. They simply will never buy from you again, and tell all of their friends why. Right now, for example, I have a $700 concentrator I'm not happy with, and I still can't bring myself to call the company—imagine if the product is merely a $20 pair earrings, and you get my drift.) I offered various compensation for her trouble, one of which (free matching earrings) she felt comfortable accepting.

I've always felt this was a great story, but wasn't comfortable telling it, not because I looked like an idiot (I don't mind looking stupid, as long as I do it this spectacularly) but because I didn't want to portray my customer as a dupe; but I've come across, in the several years since this happened, any number of tales in which patrons have supported artists who were pushing their media by way of experimentation to its limits—sometimes with truly terrible failures. They were, in a manner of speaking, explorers, and willing to take risks. In this light, my customer's actions make a great deal more sense to me. My customer had mentioned some of the other pieces she'd acquired, so it finally dawned on me that she belonged to this wonderful subset of arts supporters.

When I saw her again, a year later, she reported she'd had no additional problems.

And there is, so to speak, an interesting coda to this story as well: with the wildly increasing popularity of cable as a stringing material, crimps, which one came in one diameter and two lengths, have now multiplied, and now are available in a wide range of diameters—including some tiny enough to serve as the (seamed) liquid silver did long ago.

So, now I can say I was merely a bit ahead of my times and technology.

File created 04dec05