Artist finds muse in pile of beads
Hot Springs is home to one of the richest art communities in the South. Artists from all over the world flock to Hot Springs to display, sell and share their craft. Still, some of the most remarkable pieces are home-grown.
Vanessa Ratliff has lived in Arkansas for 28 years, spending a lot of her spare time perfecting her skills in meticulous crafts such as cross stitch, macramé and, eventually, bead work.
Three years after doctors re-diagnosed her with throat cancer, a longtime friend, Marty Noble, came to her for help with a piece of jewelry. Neither realized the visit would soon change Ratliff’s life and help her process the diagnosis in the long run.
“Marty had designed a piece of jewelry, but she didn’t know how to bring it to life. Neither did I, so it was a bit of a learning experience. From there it just evolved,” Ratliff said. Today, she is an established 3-D artist within the community, making commissioned pieces for those familiar with her work.
The piece in question required a more intricate touch for some key components, something she knew Ratliff excelled at. From there it was down the rabbit hole; Vanessa spent countless hours reading books and watching video tutorials, slowly teaching herself how to string loose beads into exquisite creations.
For the past 11 years, Ratliff has worked on perfecting her technique, dazzling others with the precision and detail of each piece. Recently, Ratliff was commissioned by bead workers in Australia, Jordan and the Netherlands, to name a few, to test out new beading patters for jewelry.
“There are numerous beading groups on Facebook, and I’ll occasionally post pictures of my work in these groups. People from around the world just started contacted me asking to work out the kinks in their jewelry patterns before they make them available to the public,” she said.
Ratliff is very particular in every aspect of her work, from the types of beads to the methods used to put them together. The beads she uses are specially made so that each type is consistently the exact same size and shape she needs. The beads range in sizes, sometime only a fraction of a millimeter in diameter, and Ratliff strings them all by hand.
“Some of (Marty’s) creations required me to use these very small beads, and I just fell in love with them. It wasn’t so much that they presented a challenge, but that I had more control over the smaller beads. They’re just very versatile and fit together easily to create different patterns,” said Ratliff.
Ratliff’s interest in mixing stitches, like the peyote stitch with the brick stitch, adds different values and patterns to her work. Mixing styles of beads, as well as stitches, brings out the beautiful possibilities that exist within a pile of beads.
The Fine Arts Commission has asked her twice to create works to raffle off for benefits. The first time, in 2010, was for a raffle benefiting the arrival of the famous racehorse Zenyatta, and again in 2011. In 2011, they named her among the top five 3-D artists in the area. She has also been featured in juried art shows and local galleries.
Most of all, Ratliff enjoys sharing her work with others. She previously
taught classes for adults enrolled in First Step in Hot Springs, hoping to share the joy bead working has given her.
“A few of the pieces the students made were just so interesting. I really enjoyed getting to work with them, but I had to stop due to my health,” she said. Despite the struggles she faces on a daily basis, Ratliff finds a way to bring light into the lives of those around her with her passion and creativity.
Amid all the adversity Ratliff experienced she manages to keep her head up and continues to make her presence known in the art community with her exceptional talent. Although her work is no longer featured in local galleries, she continues to make commissioned pieces out of her home in Royal.