By Jane Claudio
Meredith Waterstraat is living her dream as an artist in the suburbs of Chicago, crafting art with beads from all over the world. She creates unique jewelry, beaded canvases, masks, and other handmade work (visit https://meredith-waterstraat-art-and-design.myshopify.com/). A dedicated wife and mother of two, Meredith crafts her pieces at home from the dining room table.
But her life didn’t always look this way. After spending time and money investing in her education, she received her MBA, then spent fifteen years working in corporate healthcare. After realizing that path didn’t bring her the peace she was after, she returned to her childhood whimsy of creating beautiful art. She travels far and wide to collect jewels and beads for her work—to places like the Czech Republic, Kenya, the Philippines, and Egypt. In the following interview, she shares how she found her path and turned her passion into a career.
Jane: How did you find your beginning in making jewelry?
Meredith: My interest in beads and jewelry began at a very young age. I remember getting party jewelry at my cousin's birthday and wearing the jewelry so proudly! I must have been 5 or 6. Later as a teen, I started going to the gem and jewelry show with my mother and picking up unusual beads from vendors that had come from around the world. I found myself lost in the piles of beads from Afghanistan and Africa. I would pick out a few and purchase them and weave them into necklaces for myself (think hemp necklaces from the early 90s). I still have many of the beads I purchased 30 years ago.
J: Your jewelry business didn’t begin until 2018, but you’ve loved beads since childhood. Describe the moments and events that led to this business.
M: I was in the healthcare finance industry and I always found myself to be a little off within the industry. I know I pushed myself, I even pursued my MBA, with a concentration in finance, and graduated with honors. There were a number of flags that had been flying in front of my face alerting me that I was in the wrong industry, but I found that I wasn't in a good position to leave and start over somewhere new.
After some personal decisions and some of our bigger ticket bills being paid off, my husband and I both agreed that it was probably time for me to call it quits from healthcare to pursue something that would bring me more peace.
The moments that I [had] between work, kids, side hustle, I would work on my beaded canvases. The 'moments' were few and far between, so it would take me a couple of years to finish one canvas at times! I was not making jewelry then, though I was still collecting beads and attending gem shows when I could. I also bought beads when I traveled, just to add them to my collection.
J: When you were getting your MBA, was a jewelry business on your radar?
M: Absolutely not! In fact, one of my classes was an e-commerce class where the project was to create an e-commerce platform business plan. I dove right into this, since I love shopping online, and knew exactly what I was going to sell. I wrote an 88-page paper and built my own website for environmentally sourced children's clothing. I had everything researched out, right down to the ballast water on cargo ships carrying my product. My second child was still an infant and I had sewn dresses, costumes, and pants for my oldest. I knew patterns, materials, cuts, stitching, etc. Oh, and I got an A!
J: What were your biggest obstacles in getting to where you are now in your career?
M: When I first made the jump into the art world, [I was selling] my beaded canvases. I had about ten of them and I wanted to put them in shows around the Chicagoland area. I applied to several shows and got into four. I was very happy that I was accepted, but less excited when I found out the entrance fees. I also found I had to buy a tent, pro-panels to hang the canvases, and have all my artwork professionally framed. It is all about presentation.
Some of my canvases took years to complete and contained vintage beads from around the world as well precious gems and jewelry. I did not hold back when it came to adorning my canvases with jewels and beads. So when it came to putting a price tag on it, I couldn't find myself parting with my work for less than a certain amount. I was told that my work would never sell at that amount until collectors got used to seeing me around more.
I did come up with a plan that would remedy this, which was to make smaller pieces with less beads at a price that art lovers would pay. Once I had more exposure, I would be able to sell the bigger pieces at the prices I wanted. In short, I would say my biggest obstacle so far, is finding products that art lovers will buy. I wasn't doing that at first. My pieces were new and unusual as well as highly priced.
J: What was your process of creating/discovering your style?
M: I think the discovery was happening for the last 40 years. Anything that I liked, or found myself intrigued with, plays a part in my style. Things I see when I travel become inspiration—color, detail, ornamentation, textures, history, customs, materials. I feel that my brain has been storing all the things I have seen over the decades and it comes out in my jewelry.
J: Why beads?
M: I’m not sure what my attraction was to beads out of all the materials that jewelry can be made from. It has always been beads with me. I have tried metal, I have tried macramé, but it always comes back to beads. I believe that I can create so many different textures, feels, and forms that I wouldn't be able to achieve with other materials. Or at least that I can see.
I love that so many beads have a history or story behind them. And I love to mix them to give a piece a unique and quite worldly look. And, I love the detail I am able to create with beads. In addition to jewelry, I like to embroider painted canvases for a mixed media painting. I feel I am able to better express myself with the beads than I ever would have with just a paint brush. It takes a while, but the time put in is worth it.
J: What advice would you give to your younger self?
M: It is cliché, but follow your dream and have a fallback as well. With my children, I let them indulge in their dreams and then encourage an academic focus as well. For someone like me, I need to be able to express myself this way and do something that has meaning to me. I can't work in corporate America because I tried, and I wasn't finding meaning. Other people can [find meaning], or don't [find it], and it doesn't bother them, but for me, it is like I was being locked up. I was suffocating. If you are like me, then it is important to put the dream first and have a fallback. Always have a fallback.
If you’re interested in purchasing pieces from Meredith’s studio, or would like product information, please visit https://meredith-waterstraat-art-and-design.myshopify.com/
[Jane Claudio is a regular contributor to clevelandedits.com. To learn more about Jane, visit her site: https://www.nightbirde.com/]