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As the World’s First Ornament, Beads Take Their Place Alongside the Latest

For Naomi Lindstrom, beads are a girl’s best friend.

“They may not be diamonds,” Lindstrom said of her collection of ancient and tribal beads, on display at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, “but they have a cultural significance that is so much more important.”

Which is not to say Lindstrom dismisses “ice"--also on view last week when Cartier jewelers staged a reception for the museum’s Art of Adorning festival.

“Beads have such depth,” said Lindstrom, of San Francisco, during the reception.

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“In our society, we forget that ancient jewelry was worn for special reasons--like the red coral beads that symbolize life to the Tibetans.”

The 400 guests who attended the Cartier party were intrigued by the displays of adornment--from more than $5 million in diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds gleaming on models to showcases laden with beads, many made before the time of Christ.

“Naomi’s collection is one of the top 10 in California,” noted museum vice president Patricia House. “And it all started when she was a Pan Am stewardess in the ‘50s.”

Ask Lindstrom about her Pan American days, and her eyes begin to dance. “When you went around the world, you either walked on water or went on Pan Am--that’s the way it was then,” she said.

“In the piston days, there were only two flights around the world, per week.”

Pan Am gave stewardesses a $10 per diem. Instead of spending it on food--"I usually got somebody else to buy my food,” she said--she bought beads.

“We would have archeologists on the plane, and, once, somebody invited me to a dig.

“I found out very quickly that everything was carefully recorded, except beads. Nobody really cared about them.

“And I noticed that the diggers, who had little money, always had a few beads in their pockets. It was easy to transfer a bead for a dollar. That’s how I began.”

Among the guests was Helen Prince, 87, of Newport Beach, a member of the Bead Society of Orange County.

Sitting on a bench in the Leo Freedman Foundation Galleria, Prince surveyed the scene wearing a necklace of large silver beads from Mexico.

“I own thousands of beads,” Prince said. “So many that when the last earthquake hit, my 11-year-old granddaughter, who was sleeping in my bed, sat up and said, ‘Grandma! The beads are shaking!’

“Did you know beads were our first adornment? We wore beads before we wore clothes.”

Prince’s love for beads began when she was 5. “My mother was a milliner with a candy barrel full of buttons. I used to string them.”

Brian Lange, a member of Cartier’s marketing team, explained that diamonds weren’t discovered until the 18th century. “First in India, then South America and South Africa,” he said. “So, before diamonds were discovered, even a high priestess or a princess couldn’t have one.”

Before diamonds, pearls were the rarest thing, he noted. “Now, superb-quality rubies are the rarest. And colored diamonds--red diamonds, especially--are extremely rare. You only see them at auctions.”

*

A chat with Sybil Connolly: The Bowers Museum launched its International Design Council last week with a visit from Irish designer and author Sybil Connolly. Using slides, Connolly talked about the good life--from the gracious living she enjoys in her historic Dublin home to the Irish linen designs that made her a fashion rage in the ‘50s.

The next day, she met with representatives of Tiffany & Co. for breakfast at the Center Club in Costa Mesa. Over a bowl of steaming oatmeal, Connolly--who designs china, crystal and decorative boxes for Tiffany--talked about her career.

Her success in America, she believes, came to her because the Queen Mary was 48 hours late arriving in New York one day, she said.

It was the ‘50s, and Connolly, whose finely pleated Irish linen creations had the European fashion world abuzz, had been invited to show her line to the Philadelphia Fashion Group.

“I took the Queen Mary, and since it was going to be 48 hours late, the press was swarming around the ship when it arrived,” she said.

One member of the press was the editor of Vogue magazine. She asked Connolly if she could show her clothing at a fashion event.

Connolly said yes, and her designs made Time magazine. “Nobody had ever seen finely pleated linen before,” she said. “I call it the material that built my house.”

She became involved with Tiffany when its design director, John Loring, saw her paint a tiny flower that had popped up in her Irish garden. “John was in Ireland gathering material for one of the ‘Tiffany Taste’ books, and he saw me painting a dianthus.

“He asked, ‘Why don’t you do that for Tiffany?’ And that’s how it started--just like that.”

She had a wonderful friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who worked with Loring on the books, she said. “When I stayed at her home at 1040 5th Ave., she had lovely things in my room--books, fruit and a shell. We both loved shells. She was so thoughtful.”

And Onassis epitomized the kind of taste Connolly admires in a woman. “A woman should have a quiet elegance. Women who startle by what they put on do not have good taste,” she said. “You should be aware of something in a quiet, serene sort of way.”

And good taste in the home begins with a happy attitude, she believes. “The ultimate in beauty is a happy household.”

Possessions, such as beautifully painted china and crystal, “should be a celebration of that.”


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