Barb Rossi Designs puts out products that are “gag worthy” according to Barb’s friends. Barb is ok with this description because, frankly, she started it. “I told them that I know something is really good because it kind of makes me gag a little bit. You see something that’s so beautiful, it kind of hits you, right in the gut.” Gag-worthy or gut punch, we all love when art moves us beyond words.
Friendship and Art
With support from friends and family over the past fifteen years, Barb built a business. Barb Rossi Designs includes jewelry, ornaments, and Bead Garlands. Barb credits these friendships with not only helping her to sell products but also helping to push forward her creative expression. “Our group had some painters and we had some ceramic artists and multimedia. We called our group Art Supplies and Unfolded Laundry. It’s doing the art instead of folding the laundry.” Barb laughed.
“When we were meeting actively, we had a show-and-tell session when we would all bring something that we had been working on. Then we would always do a little project while we were there to have something to take home. It was a lovefest! It would help us get a bunch of ideas. It was all because you love this thing. You clearly love it so much that we want to love it with you.”
The love did not mean preventing helpful advice to reach that gut punch reaction. “The leader of our group would always say my designs tend to be monochromatic. I would be putting cream on cream, or a light purple and dark purple. She said it was always so classy and refined looking. But I started creating a Pinterest board with different color combinations because I was finding that I couldn’t figure out how to put more than two colors together.” While Barb gradually learned to expand her palette, the group leader recognized she could incorporate elegance by toning down her color choices.
Finding What Works and Doing What She Loves
In her hometown of Corning, New York, Barb works out of a home studio. The convenience of being able to create in her house and the nature of beadwork suited her on many levels.“It’s very important to me to have a craft where I can come as I am.” This point resonates in our overly-scheduled, overworked, fast-paced culture. “With this, I don’t really have to do any particular prep work, and if something calls me away from the project, I just shut the door and it’s fine. I can leave it out on the desk without it drying up or doing anything and just come back to it later. I think that there is definitely something about the ease of that.”
Barb is grateful for this space because it takes a lot of beads to make her products. She designs ornaments for year-round use. She named them Everyday Ornaments because they are too pretty to put away. Barb uses a variety of designs in her ornaments, but she started because of a strong physical reaction to the style that looks like a chandelier covering a bulb ornament. “It was one of those really dramatic moments where I actually drew my breath! I kind of yelled, ‘What is this? This is amazing!’” Barb laughed. “I couldn’t shut up. I couldn’t stop talking. This is a really important thing.”
That is gut punch beautiful.
“I really needed something that didn’t have to be tasteful.”Barb Rossi
When I pressed Barb about why she thought this had such an effect on her, she paused, and then said, “It was so,” she paused for several seconds, “useless.” (Talk about a gut punch.) She laughed before continuing, “It didn’t have any practical purpose. It was just beautiful, for the sake of being beautiful.”
She continued, “My jewelry is tasteful and feminine. You know, I look at the clothes women are wearing. I try to make something that would go with them, and it’s very strategic with jewelry. And then these ornaments were ridiculous! But because you don’t put them on your body, you can just make it as crazy and as bright with as many colors as you wanted. I needed that.” Barb smiled, “I really needed something that didn’t have to be tasteful.”
Gut Punch Beautiful: Decadence and Technique
And yet, I suspect many people would find these ornaments to be not only tasteful, but also elegant while admittedly decadent. Barb uses a technique called bead weaving for the Chandelier patterns. “It uses seed beads and silk thread. There are no knots. It’s just one continuous thread that’s woven. Even when I have to switch, I just weave on and weave off so that there are no knots in the whole thing.”
Another type of ornament that Barb has designed uses thousands of beads sewed to each other over the bulb. She uses a square stitch that sews the beads together in fours. Each ornament has approximately 3000 beads and takes a full week to make. Barb has not even begun to try and sell these because pricing them is so complicated. However, she knows she will continue to make them because they bring her joy.
Creating Beauty: A Way Through
“The act of creating, I think it’s really very primal. We had to create through history to get our needs met, but I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote in Big Magic, that what separates us from the other species is that sometimes we decide to make things more beautiful than they have to be.”
Barb continued, “We might need something to function in order to survive, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be gorgeous. Sometimes we have to make it gorgeous. I find creating to be a big coping skill. I feel very active. I feel like I’m doing something. I feel like creating beauty is a big part in coping with anxiety or depression or stress or anything you know. It doesn’t certainly take away the problems but beauty helps.”
Beauty and Healing
That’s what my grief looked like that day. That’s what came out of my grief. You know this beautiful, long, ridiculous thing that serves absolutely no purpose.”-Barb Rossi
Barb has worked at creating beauty to help handle the darker times in her life. It was the loss of two people close to her that inspired her most recent creations that she calls, “Bead Garlands.” Barb described, “I had a couple of really rough deaths in the family, really close to each other and I went into a really dark place.” Her normal coping skills weren’t cutting it. “So I made this large ridiculous bead garland. That’s what my grief looked like that day. That’s what came out of my grief -this beautiful, long, ridiculous thing that serves absolutely no purpose.”
Barb deliberated for a moment and added, “At that point, I reached another level. The ornaments were blingy, and they are beautiful just for the sake of being beautiful, but they were still something functional that you were going to put on a tree. Even that felt too much. Too much thought, to have to put something together that was ultimately meant to be useful.”
I just did it one day because I couldn’t stand the thought of doing anything useful.Barb Rossi
She wondered, “What if I could make one of these crocheted necklaces, but big. It could go across the entire room. I didn’t even know what that meant, or what I was to do with it. But I just did it one day because I couldn’t stand the thought of doing anything useful. But I had to make something.”
She paused and continued, “And this was just one more level. Jewelry is the highest level of function, ornaments can be a little more ridiculous but you’re still going to be hanging it on the tree, but nobody needs a bead garland. It was absolute frivolity and that was all my brain could handle. I couldn’t do anything useful for anybody.”
Craftivism: A Good Kind of Gut Punch
And yet, the Bead Garlands comfort people going through life’s greatest challenges. Barb shared that she knows people going through cancer treatments who decorate their rooms with Bead Garlands. She has given some to friends enduring difficult periods who also find that their beauty helps them heal.
Barb also engages in what she has heard called, “Craftivism.” The celebration of Pride month has grown in popularity in Corning. Her rainbow-themed Bead Garlands and ornaments have become very popular. Her plan is to make up a themed display for the store, Finger Lakes Unique which sells her products to show her support. Finger Lakes Unique is located on Corning’s Market Street, a quaint downtown location that the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized as a “Main Street Prototype.” It is worth a visit.
The boutique is home to several local artisans in the Corning area. The shop sells soy candles, woodwork, chocolates, along with Barb Rossi Designs.
Barb feels lucky that this shop has opened given the challenges small businesses face during Covid-19. “I was creating, creating, creating with no outlet until this shop opened before Thanksgiving.” While her designs are selling fast and furiously during the holiday season, she knows there will be a dry spell in January and February. “It’s a difficult time in retail anyway, but with Covid, it makes things that much harder. We are coming up with some creative ideas to try and help us get through the slump. I hope people continue to support the local businesses and especially local artisans near them.”
What are you making that’s gut punch beautiful? Let us know!
Betsy Scotto-Lavino is the Director of Education and Research for The Artistic Fuel Foundation. She is also a Ph.D. student, wife, mother of three, and a nature lover. If you can't find me, I'm probably in the woods.