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The 'Bead Lady'

World-class seed bead jewelry designer
Van Iten earns fame

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(January 2007) – Tatiana Van Iten was 6 years old and living in her native country of Russia (which at that time was the former Soviet Union) when she learned to how to bead. Courageously, she would help her grandmother repair religious textiles for the underground church in the former communist country. At that time, getting caught could have meant death for anyone in the underground church.

Tatiana Van Iten

Photo provided

Russian native Tatiana Van Iten
has earned international fame
for her unique bead jewelry.

Van Iten said her grandmother could not work on the tiny old seed beads of the religious icons because her hands were too large, so she taught her granddaughter to bead.
“The old seed beads were so small and delicate that I would have to make a stitch, unthread the needle, thread the bead onto the thread, and then rethread the needle to complete the stitch,” she said. Bead after bead, Van Iten would painstakingly continue her work while her grandmother would read Bible stories to her.
That meticulously-detailed work paid off. Today, Van Iten, a Hanover, Ind., resident, is a world-class seed bead jewelry designer. She has won awards from around the world for her champion designs. Her jewelry has been displayed in many magazines throughout the world, and she has traveled across the globe winning contest after contest.
An exhibit at Hanover College’s Geology Department will go on display in January and will feature several of Van Iten’s award-winning designs. These necklaces are made with fossils she has collected from geological expeditions with her husband, Heyo, and they may include one with an image carved from the tusk of a prehistoric mammoth.
While living in Russia, Van Iten graduated from Leningrad State University with a master’s degree in photojournalism. She was a successful photographer in Russia, and she won numerous accolades for her work.
However, 20 years ago, she married an American paleontologist and immigrated to the United States. Her husband is a professor of geology and paleontology at Hanover College.

Photo provided

Tatiana Van Iten resides
in Hanover, Ind., where
she creates her
jewelry pieces.

Although Van Iten still works as a freelance photographer, with some of her work on permanent display at Hanover College, her artistic focus at this point in her life is on her bead work.
She gets her inspiration for her jewelry design from her photography. Much of her photography work is centered on nature; she then recaptures the essence of the image in her jewelry design.
For instance, one of her necklaces is called “Hummingbird” and is made in the image of a beautiful, blue and green hummingbird she photographed. Another necklace, “Snow Fairy,” is a delicate, solid-white creation with soft fur trim. It is reminiscent of a beautiful snowflake.
She makes most of her necklaces free-hand, with no pattern, and each is unique. She uses a variety of materials, including freshwater pearls, gemstones, lamp work glass beads, wood and leather and fossil specimens that range from 150 million to 400 million years old.
“Her work is absolutely incredible,” said Lisa Smithley at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library.
Van Iten offers classes at the library several times a year on beading, and they are quite popular. Smithley said classes fill up fast when word gets out that Van Iten is teaching them. “Tatiana somehow manages to teach in very simple ways such difficult concepts. People just love her,” she said. Her 2007 schedule at the library is not yet available.
Van Iten actually began participating in beading and jewelry design competitions because she wanted to teach beading. “Three years ago, I applied for permission to teach beading classes at an art center but was rejected because my name was not well-known. I was advised to try to publish my work or enter some contests.” So she did.
Since then, she has won eight first places in competitions around the world, including a recent world competition “Treasures of Toho” beading competition. She won the grand prize in the Wearable Art category for her “Forest Dragon’s Tears” necklace and was awarded a week-long trip to Japan as a guest of the Japanese Toho Beads Co.
She is also proud to have won the 2005 Jewelry Arts Awards Contest, sponsored by the Lapidary Journal, the oldest jewelry magazine in the United States.

Tatiana Van Iten jewelry sampel

“The contest is very prestigious, and I won because my work was different than everyone else’s,” said Van Iten. She designed her necklace using fossils found during a New Mexico geological dig, while other competitors worked with the more traditional silver and gold.
Two of her necklaces, “Eleuthera” and “Georgia O’Keffe,” are part of a traveling exhibit that will tour the country for two years because she was a finalist in the 2006 Bead International Contest, sponsored by the Dairy Barn Art Center, in Athens, Ohio.
Because of all the publicity her winning has created, Van Iten now is asked to teach beading classes at major bead festivals throughout the country.
As if the jewelry design and photography isn’t artistic enough, Van Iten also spins her own yarn made from dog hair and then knits beautiful sweaters.
Plus, she is a second-degree black belt in Chinese Kung Fu and teaches classes several days a week at a local martial arts school.

• To contact Tatiana Van Iten about her bead work, email her at: vaniten@hanover.edu.

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