Whidbey Island studio tour opens world of art

Bev McQuary turns up the heat to blow glass beads. She is one ov many artists participating in the Whidbey Open Studio Tour Oct. 8 and 9.  - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Bev McQuary turns up the heat to blow glass beads. She is one ov many artists participating in the Whidbey Open Studio Tour Oct. 8 and 9.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Bev McQuary gets to play with fire every day. And when she turns on her torch, her creativity comes to life in vibrant whorls of color, unique bubbles and elegant feathering in her lampworked glass beads.

McQuary and 60 other Whidbey Island artists will open more than 30 studios to the public  Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8 and 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the 15th annual Whidbey Open Studio Tour, a free event presented by the Whidbey Island Arts Council.

To make it possible for the public to visit more artists, two or more artists will show in each studio.

Artists from Oak Harbor to Clinton will demonstrate their talents and sell their work. From handmade books and photography to paintings and textiles, the artists will cover all visual arts.

“It’s going to be a really good show. Everyone’s focusing on new works,” said Sue Symons, secretary for WIAC.

McQuary will demonstrate bead making and sell her jewelry.

It’s a very meditative process that also involves beating the glass into submission, McQuary said with a laugh.

When McQuary works, she said the hours drift away. Long sticks of candy-colored glass sit in jars on McQuary’s workspace and her lovingly worked garden is visible through the windows of her garden shed-turned-studio.

Eager to express the creativity brimming in her mind, McQuary turns on her torch and selects a rod of glass. After  heating the glass, she shapes it around a  long, thin rod, called a mandrel, to form the bead’s general shape.

Then the fun begins. Creativity reigns as McQuary heats the bead until it burns bright orange-red. She makes dots of colorful glass to add three-dimensional elements to the bead, rakes glass along the bead to form a feathered design and melts silver wire onto the bead to form silver dots.

The chemistry of the glass interacting is “truly an amazing, mystifying process,” McQuary said. All the bright colors intrigue her and the time just goes away as she creates intricately patterned beads.

“It’s magic, I tell you!” McQuary said, laughing.

Beads are annealed in a kiln overnight to reduce stress. In the morning, “It’s like Christmas” as McQuary looks at what she created.

Then McQuary moves to her next talents: wire-working and designing jewelry. McQuary converted a spare bedroom into a studio rich with everything beads, from the shelves of beading books and magazines to the containers of beads and wire.

When she works, she cranks up the Grateful Dead, Rod Stewart or the blues, her fingers moving skillfully over aqua beads with wave designs, wires shaped into spirals and clear beads with centers that look like slices of the ocean to find the bead that inspires her.

In the recent Penn Cove Gallery burglary, McQuary lost everything but one pair of earrings the burglars dropped on the way out. She feels for the artists who lost time-consuming projects like carvings.

“I’ve been scrambling to get inventory back in,” she said. Her hard work paid off because she’s crafted many intricate earrings and bracelets, plus loose beads so people can create their own jewelry.

McQuary will share Ann Wilson’s studio for the tour. Wilson, a painter, purchased a new studio so will be located at 603 NE Perkins St., Coupeville, a few blocks away from last year’s location.

McQuary has been creating lampworked beads for more than 20 years. She was offered classes while working as registrar at Pratt Fine Arts in Seattle. Since then, she’s taken many workshops to learn wire-working and more.

McQuary said she is enjoying her preparations for the Open Studio Tour.

“It’s really important that artists do volunteer,” she said. Not only does volunteering open the world of art to the public, but it gives artists a chance to market themselves. McQuary has volunteered for the past six to 10 tours.

McQuary does custom jewelry orders, especially as the holidays approach. She will teach one-on-one classes, eager to share her world of color.

“It keeps me busy,” McQuary said, her eyes bright as she put her creativity to work.

For information and an interactive map visit Guides will be included in Saturday’s  editions of the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record or at local chambers of commerce.


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