You might not expect to see a retired librarian rolling suitcases down a busy Tucson, Ariz., roadway, but it happens. Jo Cannon does it during the mega bead show held there every year.

Lowcountry bead stores

Lowcountry bead stores include:

Beaded Venus, 761 Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant, 881-5690, or

Beads & Brushstrokes at Country Bumpkin Arts, 918 Lansing Drive, Mount Pleasant, 884-8808, or

Beads on Cannon, 87 Cannon St., Charleston, 723-5648, or

Charleston Bead Company, 2070 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., Charleston, 573-4940, or

Daniel Street Beadery, 65 Sycamore Ave., 556-6880, or

Cannon, who owns Beads on Cannon, is driven to go the distance to stock her shop with exciting beads. When she arrives at the vendors' tents, it's her goal to leave no stone unturned.

It's all part of Cannon's great adventure. She spent 17 years as Rivers Middle School's librarian. But in the six years since her husband, Charleston County School Board member Hugh Cannon, died, she's been indulging her fascination with beads.

Throughout time, beads have been used to adorn, for prayer, as currency and to ward off evil.

For Cannon, Bonnie Taylor and Jennifer Lowe, local beaders, there are spiritual connections to beads.

Around the world

“I go and snoop around and find out what they have,” Cannon says of those selling at the bead show. “I go from vendor to vendor dragging those suitcases along. I'm usually there for a week and buying every day.”

As a child, she collected china berries, boiled them to remove the pulp, dyed them with a little food coloring and strung them to make necklaces. Today, her favorite beads are a bit more sophisticated.

“The lapis lazuli I bought in Hong Kong and shipped back was gorgeous,” she says. “My mother's parents were immigrants from Russia, so I have an affinity for amber.”

Then there are those she's seen in books or heard stories about and still hopes to see someday.

Cannon's fascination with stone beads sold by Asian traders inspired her to study Chinese at the College of Charleston. As she sees it, learning to speak the traders' language is a sign of respect. It also came in handy when she visited Hong Kong to buy beads.

In addition to stones, Beads on Cannon carries a variety of vintage glass beads and metal parts (called findings) for making jewelry, Cannon says. For those who want to become more educated about the world of beads, the store carries bead books. Others, looking for fun, will find a collection of rhinestone jewelry inspired by the recent movie, “The Great Gatsby.”

Beads have provided her with many experiences she otherwise would not have pursued, Cannon says.

“Before I started beading, I was like a lot of people and thought only rubies, diamonds and emeralds were worth having but that is because I never really looked at a polished piece of Dragon's Blood Jasper before and noticed the vibrant greens and reds in it.”

Bead weavers

Bonnie Taylor was living in Arizona when a new store specializing in bead weaving piqued her curiosity. The store's owner invited Taylor and a friend to sit and try making something using the off-loom method.

Taylor, now owner of Daniel Street Beadery in West Ashley, made a ring using the peyote stitch technique, a needle-and -thread method of weaving beads together that often is seen in traditional Native American dress.

“It was like, 'Wow! I can sit here and a make these little rings and can use wire to make bracelets,'” says Taylor.

While she enjoyed crafts and was a quilter, she never intended to open a bead store.

She moved back to Charleston to be with family and met the woman who owned Demetrius Global Gifts. The owner died, the business was being closed and Taylor bought the beads in the shop.

“She had a large inventory of mainly gemstone beads and findings. I didn't realize I did not know that much about beads until I found them.”

Taylor called the friend in Arizona to come to Charleston and help run the bead store. It opened in June 2007, specializing and offering classes in bead weaving. The popular peyote stitch she first learned and teaches probably started out here with Native Americans, but it goes back to the Egyptians, she says.

Her days are filled helping customers, who often have sewing or needlepoint backgrounds, explore the world of bead weaving. They engage in a variety of stitches, including peyote, flat, spiral and brick.

“We all sit down and make something,” says Taylor, who encourages those meeting in her store to choose creativity over kits.

The opal did it

There is joke among Jennifer Lowe's family and friends that the day she swallowed an opal from her mother's ring was the day her fascination with beads and semi-precious stones began.

True or not, Lowe, owner of the Beaded Venus in Mount Pleasant, spent many dimes and quarters on thrift shop and yard sale beads. As a girl, they were at the heart of her jewelry making.

There's a world of difference in the beads she buys, sells and collects now, Lowe says. She no longer selects by price and color. Often, those things hardly matter at all.

Three of her favorite antique beads are Venetian glass, jet from Liverpool and kiffa from Mauritania.

“I really focus on the beads,” Lowe says. “I know about old beads, vintage beads and I can identify them. I am making jewelry with beads that have names and have stories behind them. I have so much respect for the societal implications (of those beads).”

Lowe says she is fascinated to learn how beads from one part of the world ended up in a totally different part of the world.

She's also interested in how some beads seem to have originated in more than one place on the globe.

“When I see a string of antique beads, I can feel the history in them,” Lowe says.

She wants to add whatever details the trader has about them to her own knowledge base.

Her love of beads prompted her to study sculptural bead work at the University of Minnesota with renowned bead artist Joyce Scott.

“She really inspired me to create things with depth and meaning. Now the bead work I am doing is an art.”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.