Ornamental Beadwork

Ornamental Beadwork

by Barbara Comienski, Collections Volunteer/ Docent, Bay Village Historical Society

The Rose Hill Museum is excited to be premiering our special exhibition for the year on ornamental beadwork in costumes and accessories Beadwork: The Beauty of Small Things. Every room features an aspect of beadwork, in addition to the museum’s permanent displays.

Beads have been in existence between 70,000-100,00 years. Originally beads were fashioned totally of natural materials such as bone, shell, or wood. Metal and glass beads followed. Often these beads were strung as jewelry and were a visible sign of prosperity. For centuries few people could afford to embellish clothing with beadwork. One needed the wealth to buy beads and then to have the workforce to apply these to clothing and accessories.

Blue satin beaded bodice, 1860s, 1996.C.132

Eyeglasses with beaded case, owned by Ida Cahoon, circa 1910s,1996.C.624AB

Embellishment followed trends with beads losing popularity, then resurging. Lush fabrics and pearl and gemstone jewelry were popular in the 1700s, but simpler styles in the early 1800s resulted in less use of beadwork. The mid-nineteenth century invention of the sewing machine focused attention on fabric embellishment; however, jet beads resurged in the 1880s.  Decorative accents were achieved in the nineteen teens with metallic thread and sequins until glass beads returned to popularity in the 1920s.

Vase dripping with beads. Blue beaded necklace circa 1910s on left, 2005.C.08

The special exhibit includes jewelry and actual embellished garments. Early twentieth century Campfire Girls’ Indian dresses on display in the basement area replicate the wooden bead patterns used by Native American artisans. The Cahoon Library displays include wooden beads from Africa, and silver and stone ones from Mexico; other mediums include bones, polished stones, pearls, and even paper beads!

The historical society’s beaded purses, also on display in the library, show the intricacies of design possible in beadwork, as do design school sample strips from the newly accessioned collection of items from the Darvas School of Fashion Arts in Cleveland from which several Bay Village residents graduated. The school, established in 1910, operated into the 1950s. Students would use these design samples to learn beading skills.

Blue-green and peach chiffon gown with beaded overlay, circa 1910s, 1996.C.121. At bottom is an evening bag of white seed beeds with a pink flower motif, 2004.C.03.

Rose Hill is fortunate to have some beautifully preserved late nineteenth century berthas, bodices, and dresses ornamented in beads, a variety of 1920s beaded flapper dresses, and a stunning mid-twentieth century pink dress with silver beading upstairs. Even children’s clothing in the Nursery has beaded embellishment.

Detail of heavily beaded pink chiffon dress, 2023.C.04.01

Future articles will highlight specific aspects of the exhibition. The Historical Society hopes you can view these outstanding displays soon!


Come view these beautiful examples of bead art during our temporary exhibition Beadwork: The Beauty of Small Things at the Rose Hill Museum in Bay Village from 2:00-4:30 p.m. every Sunday, April through December. Admission is free and our docent guides will be happy to direct you.

If objects such as these are important to you, please consider a donation to the Bay Village Historical Society. Find out more on our website Support Us Page. You may also contact us by phone at (216) 319-4634 or email info@bayhistorical.com.