[Click on thumbnail photo to start slide show.]
Photos by Deborah Besanson
Article by Jeremy Evans

In the center of the room, surrounded by tables overflowing with tens of thousands of sparkling metal and glass beads, sit artist Sara Jean and two small girls.

"I want to learn how to bead, too," entreats the younger girl earnestly.

Jean smiles at her. "You do? That’s great!" she says, as she picks up some pliers and silver wire for a demonstration.

"Not today, honey," pipes up the girls’ mother from behind a dazzling display of red, blue and crystal beads. "We’re in a hurry. Next time.

The girl appears disappointed at first, until Jean quickly reassures her. "Don’t worry," she says. "I’ll be here next time and we can work on it then."

Such is a typical scene at Purple Sage, Saginaw’s premier beading supply store, where the personal touch of co-owners Jean and her mother, Vicki Hubbard, has gone a long way toward building the store’s devoted customer base in just five years.

Located on the northeast corner of Gratiot Road and Center Road, Purple Sage is perfectly situated to serve jewelry makers from not just Saginaw and Saginaw Township, but James and Thomas Townships as well. And as handmade gifts and do-it-yourself jewelry continue to grow in popularity, Purple Sage looks to become an indispensable resource for local beaders.

"Beading definitely seems to be more popular in the last ten years," explained Jean, a veteran beader for 20 years who has been in the business for a decade. "Definitely more popular than when I started. Even the big stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s didn’t have much of a selection back then."

But that’s all changing, as the chain stores rush to keep up with changing consumer tastes. Still, those stores offer nothing like the selection, variety and attentiveness of Purple Sage, where every customer is greeted warmly as soon as they open the door-many by name—and the friendly staff will help anyone, any time, with a quick tip or a full lesson.

That neighborly atmosphere, explained Jean, is a natural one for a business that sees itself as being a part of a community with its customers. "We’re proud to be a local business. That’s important to us," she said. It is also why the store offers so many individualized services: Informal walk-throughs any time; formal classes upon request (whether one-on-one, or for groups such as birthday, scouting, and church parties); even a service in which customers can choose their own beads, then leave it to the professionals to turn them into a stunning, personalized piece of jewelry.

The extra care comes because Purple Sage is, in many ways, a labor of love. After many years in Colorado working as a glass artist (as the kilns and torches and framed art for sale at Purple Sage attest), as well as managing a bead store, Jean returned home to reunite with Hubbard in this common venture. The mother-daughter pair have been going strong ever since.

"My mom’s really the one who got me interested in art," said Jean. "She's been painting and crafting forever. When she came out to Colorado and saw my bead store, she got into it, too, and we decided to do this."

Although she liked living in Colorado, returning to Saginaw was the right choice for Jean. "There was such a draw to the idea of us working together," she said. "Colorado's nice, but in the end, family's what's important."

That's the feeling that one gets from Purple Sage: A feeling of family. The faces of the many small children, mothers and grandmothers studying the walls of beads reveal the ways that making jewelry is not just a fun individual activity, but one that brings friends and family together across generations-whether through creating beautiful necklaces and earrings together, or just through the simple act of gift-giving.

And that's how Jean feels, too."I really love having this as a creative outlet for the kids," she said."It’s great for adults, too, but I get so much pleasure out of the kids. It lets them come in and be creative, and that’s empowering. They get to make something nice for mom, and that makes them happy; it makes them proud." As for Jean, one can easily tell that that’s what makes her happy, too—and yes, even a little proud.

© Jeremy Evans, 2010