Retired Corporate Executive Pursues new Career as Bead Artist



Mid-life has meant a new career as a bead artist and jewelry maker for a newly established Penobscot resident.

This glowing ball of glass will bake in a special oven once Henderson is done creating her design. —JENNIFER OSBORN

This glowing ball of glass will bake in a special oven once Henderson is done creating her design. —JENNIFER OSBORN

Kathleen Henderson said when she turned 50 she began looking for a creative outlet.

Henderson describes it as “her bliss quest.”

She tried pottery, she tried painting, and she tried making jewelry, which she enjoyed.

So, Henderson decided to try to making her own glass beads for her jewelry instead of buying them.

“It just clicked,” Henderson said. “I said, ‘This is it. This is what I’m going to do.’”

Kathleen Henderson continually spins a glass bead on a steel rod once it’s out of the flame to ensure a perfect sphere. —JENNIFER OSBORN

Kathleen Henderson continually spins a glass bead on a steel rod once it’s out of the flame to ensure a perfect sphere. —JENNIFER OSBORN

That was five years ago when Henderson was still living in Philadelphia and working as a corporate executive for research giant The Nielsen Co. Now, she is the proprietor of 109th Bead on Route 1 in Orland.

Clad in safety glasses with blowtorch in hand, Kathleen Henderson puts one end of a colorful glass rod into the flame until it glows, then rolls the molten tip onto a stainless steel rod to form the bead. While continuously rolling the steel rod, called a mandrel, to keep the bead round, she pulls it out of the flame.

“You can’t think of anything else when you’re doing this,” she said. “It’s very Zen.”

Additional layers of molten glass can be applied before the mandrel and bead go into a kiln to bake for an hour at 900 degrees.

Henderson fell in love with bead-making.

“I got so I didn’t want to work, I just wanted to make beads,” said Henderson. “I was really tired of the corporate world.”

In 2001, she and her husband bought a house in Penobscot for retirement and they moved there with her father-in-law last year.

During her girlhood, the Massachusetts native spent two summers on Bailey Island, which she says were the best summers of her life.

“I’ve always felt at home in Maine,” Henderson said.

Henderson got the idea for the name of her business from spiritual-seeking author Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love.”

In the introduction, Gilbert writes about meditation beads worn by Hindus and Buddhists, which have 109 beads. The beads have 108 tales for 108 beads with the 109th bead providing time to rest and give thanks.

“That just really resonated with me because I’ve been through 108 beads,” Henderson said. “I’ve been through half my life. I had my career.”

Henderson has had a great reception to her beads so far.

She had a booth at the Down East Bead Show at the Maine Grind this spring and sold most of her inventory.

“There seems to be lots of beaders and relatively few lampworkers,” Henderson said.

Henderson finds inspiration everywhere, including the woods on her Penobscot property.

Chico’s and Travelsmith catalogs also inspire her beads.

She has photo holders full of clips richly-colored apparel sitting on her work table.

Henderson has begun fashioning little glass owls, which sit on tiny twigs.

A lot of the challenge in working with glass is knowing what the material is going to do. Even if you know what the glass will do, the work can be tricky. For example, putting red glass on a black bead is challenging because red glass turns black when it’s heated, so it’s difficult to see the design you’re making on the bead.

Like any good artist, tools can be found nearly everywhere.

For example, a silver chopstick is indispensable.

She also has graphite tools called marvers for rolling and shaping. Glass doesn’t stick to graphite, which is relatively warm, Henderson said.

She also has one press for shaping glass, which she uses infrequently.

“I kind of like the feel of shaping my own beads,” she said.

Henderson also teaches glass bead making. E-mail her for more information at [email protected]

Henderson’s beads are available at www.109thbead.com.

For more arts & entertainment news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

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