Anna's Exclusive Interview
Anna Perelman was born in Tallinn, Estonia before moving to the US at the age of 35. She started beading professionally in 2011, and quickly rose through the ranks of jewelry-making, exhibiting her works at the largest jewelry shows and forums in the world, including the famous Bead&Button. Anna has been featured in magazines such as Fashion Handicraft, and her work can be found on websites internationally. Here are some of her recognized creations:
Living in the Moment & In Love again: finalists of the Fire Mountain Gems show, 2016
Eternity: Finalist at Bead Dreams 2016
Treasure Guardian: Grand Prize winner at International Beads Biennale Hiroshima 2017
Anna’s work returns us to the refined elegance of the 19th century. Her creations would fit perfectly on a lady in petticoats and veils, in a slower world where transportation is limited by the speed of a horse (and thus exists plenty of time to marvel at both jewelry and its wearers!) Her work awakens fantasies, evokes dreams of exotic countries, and endows mundane life with color and vibrance.
We talked with Anna in an attempt to understand the sources of her vision and unique artistic style. We hoped to learn what techniques assist her in her work and what we will see from her in the future.
Let’s return to the very beginning. What in your early life has served as the biggest influence on your current art practice?
I grew up in Tallinn. Tallinn is one of the the smallest capital cities in Europe, but history lurks around its every corner. The antique gothic cathedrals, which stand tall among remnants of medieval castle walls, create an almost fairy tale tone, with visions of armored knights galloping on horseback behind every spire and portcullis. My childhood was spent joyously wandering around the historical center, imagining that at any moment, a handsome prince would gallop out of a narrow alleyway, or that a carriage with a full equipage of white horses would stop and invite me for a ride At home, I would read the catalogs of famous museums around the world. I believed that this expanded the border of my tiny kingdom, that I would one day visit all of these European capitals and see the paintings with my own eyes. Perhaps, the flourishing of these adolescent fantasies is what drew me to the art that I create today.
To be fair, there is a pretty big distance between your childhood fantasies and work like your iconic dragon piece, “Eternity.” Where did you get the idea for this particular design?
I don’t know exactly how large this distance is. I began my association with the dragon much later the life. I’m unoriginal, and like many people, am completely in love with Paris. When you’re walking through the twilight in the poorly illuminated streets of the Latin Quarter, you feel the uneasy stares of rooftop gargoyle, jaws frozen mid-snarl, upon your back; you feel like their dusk-lit, frightening beauty isn’t a part of the utilitarian purpose of draining water from roofs, no, they are alive and can crawl out of the walls when no one is looking, stretching immobilized bodies and then trotting down the cobblestoned streets, claws sparking on the rocks with every step. You can consider “Eternity” to be their great great grandson, and just another product of cities that have inspired me.
In that case, from what city streets arose your octopus design?
I’m afraid that my source of inspiration for this particular piece is a little more prosaic In all honesty, I was mostly attracted to the technical difficulty of the design. How do you find the right positioning for all 8 octopus legs, while keeping intact the mysterious charm of one of the most fascinating ocean creatures? An octopus is perfect in its ugliness---there’s a reason for the proliferation of legends of gigantic tentacles destroying ships in their grip. I really wanted to toe the line between beauty and its opposite---to show how light and dark can interact.
Alright, while it’s easy to imagine the shape of a dragon or an exotic butterfly, it’s much more difficult to understand how to recreate them using tiny seed beads. What are some of the techniques behind your complicated works?
It’s not easy, but the technique behind seed beads is like any craft-- possible to master with the right amount of stubborness. Fortunately, I had plenty of stubborness! At first I drowned in the variety of possible techniques---ladder, brick, and herringbone stitches maddeningly floated around in my head as I attempted my earliest creations. But then, suddenly, everything fell into place and I found my hands as an extension of my mind; physical limitations stopped being limitations, or instead, only awakened fantasies.
In general, the labor intensiveness of beading isn’t too extreme, though to my husband, the amount of time I put in my work is incomprehensible. The more difficult part is putting purpose into the physical realities of my work. Jewelry isn’t made to hang on a wall; there needs to be a medium, a live person, a woman that will wear my designs and make them look even more beautiful. The wearer and the jewelry need to be harmonious, with the designs serving like an extension of the body, as a companion to the beauty that already exists within a person.
How much time do you spend on each piece?
This really depends--- typically about a month, maybe two. Sometimes I look at a piece after I’ve finished and I realize---it isn’t alive, and it doesn’t speak for itself. In that case, I have to undo the entire web of beadwork and start over. This only takes two minutes- two minutes to undo months of hard work! When my husband sees this, he cries, “Anna, you just wasted a hundred hours of your time! ” But this is all just part of the artistic process, because if you don’t love your work, it’s hard to imagine that other people will love it for you.
What kind of work have you been developing more recently?
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with antique seed beads, which usually come still attached to their original forms-- I get to undo these beautiful purses and tapestries, taking the beads one at a time and transforming them into the modern day. I think this is what makes jewelry making so special---the constant reinvention of what other masters have done before you.
Tell us---do you ever wear your own designs?
Of course! After all, I need to accept a small reparation for all my hard work! Wearing my pieces truly gives me a sense of what jewelry can mean to a woman. When I wear my pieces, I feel transformed---I feel confident, alluring, and refined. The best thing about creating such elaborate pieces is that they’re an instant eye catcher---everyone I meet is instantly drawn to them! My favorite moment is when people ask “Where did you buy this?” And they expect some expensive designer brand, Cartier, or Bvlgari. And I get to answer, “Oh, I made it.” That’s when I truly feel accomplished.
You regularly take part in international jewelry shows---are there any memorable moments you’d like to share?
Of course, the recognition of others is an amazing feeling; it’s wonderful to know that someone shares your vision and thus feeds your desire to be better. I always took great care in preparing for showings, although unfortunately this effort did not always pay back. For example, when my work won the grand prize in Japan, I decided to take the following awards ceremony very seriously. I didn’t have quite the courage to wear a kimono, but I laboriously made my own dress in a kimono style- a kind of “East meets West” style. I was so excited to appear at the ceremony---to show my respect for Japanese culture and the kindness they had shown me---so imagine how crushed I was when I learned that my baggage had been lost at the airport! I waited until the last possible moment, hoping for that famous Japanese dutifulness, but I never did receive my luggage, and with it, my beautiful dress. Instead, the morning of the ceremony I had to get up early and buy this incredibly cheap pair of jeans and a blouse (on sale!) at a department store. All I can say is that at the awards ceremony....West did not Meet East.
Finally, we've heard that you never sell your work. Is there a reason why that is?
There is a lot of possible ways I can answer this question, and the easiest would be to say---I would just miss my creations. But this of course, isn’t completely true. There is no such thing as applied art--- something is either art or it isn’t. Every creative person wants their creation to see light, to have the opportunity to make someone else happy. However, another part of me is afraid to put a price on weeks of grinding work, the disappointment and the miracles that come with it. The great artists of the Renaissance understood this instinctively, and a monetary price tag never prevented them from creating masterpieces. But I’m still learning. Maybe my attitude will change in the future, but as of now I’m not quite ready to sell---if I want recognition, I just make a present to one of my friends, and seeing them wear my work brings me all the recognition I need. I want to prolong the sensation that my work is priceless---which is a little different from saying that it does not have a price.