Suzanne Henley hadn't intended to write a book about prayer beads. She wanted to write a memoir. She'd found a publisher who wanted a book about the history of prayer beads and would allow bits of memoir as long as they were connected to the subject matter, and that was close enough. Although Henley had never been affiliated with a religious tradition that used them, she had her special relationship with prayer beads and could fuse these ideas as tightly as glass in the ornamental murals and wall-hangings she's known for.
Henley made her first set of prayer beads for a friend who was teaching a class on Episcopal bead traditions at Holy Communion. She's since made 800 unique sets. "It became a meditative practice for me," she says, describing the ancient beads she works with exclusively and an assembly process that starts early in the morning in her second story Midtown studio with its two walls of wavy, bubbly glass.
"I sit and hold rough, naturally formed beads of Mongolian Gobi desert sand in my hands," she says. "200 BCE Roman glass fragments. I have ancient beads made out of Dead Sea salt and old African beads that are individually handmade. To hold those beads in my hands and think how they've been passed over centuries from one hand to another across continents and oceans and ending up in my hand with all the patina of those other hands on them. It's a humbling experience, really."
Henley celebrates the release of Bead by Bead Thursday, March 22nd at Novel.