A bead on art: GJ woman’s jewelry designs lead to books, business

GJ woman's jewelry designs lead to books, business

Artist Virginia Jensen displays a variety of her beaded creations at her home.



Interested in seeing what cube bead designs look like? Find Grand Junction artist Virginia Jensen among the nearly 80 artists with booths at the downtown Art and Jazz Festival from May 11–13.

Jensen also will show her work May 19–20 at Wild Flour Coffee Shop, 2148 Broadway, on the Redlands as part of the spring Artspace Open Studios Tour. A map is available at artspacecolorado.org.

Jensen also can be found at virjenmettle.com, where examples of a few of her pieces are posted.

Call Virginia Jensen an artist. The way she sees it, designing and making beaded jewelry requires just as much creativity as painting with oils or fusing glass.

Artist Mary Shipley agrees. After all, Shipley has fused several glass pieces featured in Jensen’s designs.

“Her jewelry is very unique,” Shipley said. “She has a good eye for putting color together using different shapes to add interest.”

Grand Junction’s Jensen, 70, started making earrings, bracelets and necklaces primarily with cube beads nearly nine years ago with so much success her designs appeared in national publications such as “Bead & Button” magazine. It prompted her to write two books about her techniques in cube bead design and construction.

Kalmbach Books published her first book, “Cube Bead Stitching,” in 2010. It sold out on its first run, paving the way for Jensen’s second book, “Contemporary Cube Bead Designs,” released mid-April online and at stores such as Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

Cube beads aren’t the same as the round beads sold in neighborhood arts and crafts stores or seen in most beaded jewelry, Jensen said.

“There is a subtle difference in texture,” Jensen said.

Cube beads have a flat side, which reflects light and stacks differently in stitches than round beads, she said.

Jensen’s attention to detail and interest in design dates back to her college years when she minored in art at Winthrop University in South Carolina, but she couldn’t bring herself to pursue art professionally.

Instead, she had a brief stint as an English teacher in Georgia before moving west in the 1960s and making a transition into graphic design, advertising and publication.

She has not returned to her native South Carolina since.

By 1980, Jensen was principal of an ad agency in New Mexico, designing advertisements and publications, running a company and absorbing as much of the colorful life of the Southwest as possible.

“I just love color,” Jensen said.

When she and her husband moved to Grand Junction, where his family resided, in 1999, Jensen couldn’t find work because of her age and experience — she was nearing retirement with more than 30 years as a professional. So she wrote a yet-to-be published novel, and then, in 2003, saw a magazine advertisement for cube beads manufactured in Japan.

“I said, ‘I have to have those beads,’ ” Jensen remembered. “It was just an intuitive moment.”

Jensen set out to make her own jewelry with the colorful cube beads with no patterns. She experimented so much with different stitches and designs that within several years that she had enough material to publish her first book. She developed her own style and techniques, which are expansions of more popular techniques such as the St. Petersburg Chain, said Jensen, who is a member of the Art Jewelers Guild of the Grand Junction Area (artjewelryguild.com).

The combination of color and technique helped Jensen build her business, VirJen Mettle, through which she sells her beadweaving and bead embroidery pieces from home, through private parties or at special events.

“When I make things I try to make a broad range of things because when people buy jewelry, they want all kinds,” Jensen said. “But most pieces are one of a kind.”

At some point, Jensen would like to get her work, particularly the embroidered pieces that can take at least two weeks to complete, into a local gallery for more exposure.

Jewelry making is art, said Jensen customer Maria Currey, who owns “several necklaces, several bracelets and earrings. I love earrings.”

“What I like about (her pieces) is they are so unique,” Currey said. “I tell you, they get people’s attention. I love her stuff.”


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