Intricate. Unique. Durably elegant. These are a few of the words that embody the hand-crafted jewelry made by Astoria artist Celeste Olivares.
For 30 years, she has used a needle-weaving technique to make pieces of wearable artwork that incorporate vintage beads and handmade wire cord.
“I can’t really stop at this point,” said Olivares, who exhibits and sells her work at Imogen Gallery in Astoria. “The work just calls to me to be made.”
Although Olivares has been stringing beads since she was a little girl, she was first introduced to the needle-weaving style 30 years ago by an artist who invited her to study one-on-one in California.
“She saw I resonated with it very strongly,” Olivares said.
Olivares was drawn to the technique’s meditative quality, the practice of patience, and the dexterity required of the fingers and hands. The cord has to be kept taut while the piece is being created. Unlike cabochon jewelry, Olivares’ style “evokes that spirit of fiber art, of weaving.”
“It’s such a pretty way to have something elegant but really sturdy,” she said.
Preserving people’s treasures
Originally, Olivares relied heavily on the use of seed beads for her bracelets and other jewelry. Her passion has evolved over time — she now works with unique vintage beads, crystals and heirloom pieces.
“When I walk into a bead store, it’s like a candy store to me. I’m wide-eyed, mouth agape,” she said.
Olivares has also refined her style and started making her own hand-woven cord to showcase beads and other alluring trinkets she finds.
Looking back at pieces she made during the first 10 years or so of her journey into needle-weaving — when she was mostly “product-testing” her work — Olivares notes that they are more stylistically rudimentary than her current creations. Her evolution as an artist has involved making each piece more elegant and refined, and finding techniques that enhance durability.
Over the past few years, she has gained recognition for her style of jewelry-making, resulting in more frequent requests for commissioned work. Often, custom orders involve taking the client’s prized antique beads or aging pieces of jewelry. then fashioning them into something new that preserves and showcases the valuable materials in a beautiful and durable way.
For example, one of her past projects involved crafting a piece of jewelry for a woman who possessed some old trade beads, sourced near the Columbia River. Another piece of custom work she’s doing for a couple in Manzanita will incorporate their vintage African trade beads made from amber.
Olivares views it as a privilege to be entrusted with these antiques and made steward of the stories they tell.
“That is very gratifying, making sure people’s treasures and old beads can continue being loved and become kind of a new heirloom piece that will carry on,” she said.
Finding a home for her work
Olivares moved to Astoria five years ago with her twin sister, Estelle. The two are well-known dance instructors at the Astoria Arts and Movement Center.
As an artist, the local area possesses a few important sources of motivation for Olivares, from its wealth of other creators and craftspeople to the natural landscape that encompasses both ocean and mountains.
“Living in Astoria, among such creative force — that’s inspiring to me,” she said. “Without that, I don’t think I’d stop making. But at this point, I just feel really bolstered by that.”
Olivares found the perfect home for her jewelry at Imogen Gallery. Her connection to the establishment started in early 2019, when owner Teri Sund invited her to bring in work and take part in a show that winter. Olivares recently participated in the gallery’s group invitational exhibition, titled “Hook, Pulp and Weave,” in December, but she also has work displayed there year-round.
“It feels good to be in such a small gallery, because the work (Sund) selects is eclectic but beautiful,” Olivares said. “This is exactly what I want to be doing and how I want the work to be represented.”