Art

Artist finds a feathery passion for beadwork

El Rito-Latir artist Audrey Kunkel says 'I can bead anything'

By Anna Racicot
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/20/19

Audrey Kunkel's passion for beading began in the mid-1980s when a neighbor's relative showed her beaded earrings that she had designed.

Kunkel found herself enthused about each piece and asked, "Where did you get the beads?" Then, as now, Kunkel was well known in the El Rito-Latir area for her love of macaws and other parrots. So, she took some macaw feathers from her birds down to a small bead shop which used to be near the Taos Plaza.

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Art

Artist finds a feathery passion for beadwork

El Rito-Latir artist Audrey Kunkel says 'I can bead anything'

Posted

Audrey Kunkel's passion for beading began in the mid-1980s when a neighbor's relative showed her beaded earrings that she had designed.

Kunkel found herself enthused about each piece and asked, "Where did you get the beads?" Then, as now, Kunkel was well known in the El Rito-Latir area for her love of macaws and other parrots. So, she took some macaw feathers from her birds down to a small bead shop which used to be near the Taos Plaza.

"I went in there and, oh my gosh, I just fell in love with everything that she had. I went in with some macaw tail feathers, which people love, and I traded my first $40 worth of beads for macaw feathers."

Naturally, Kunkel started with earrings, though through the years she has added beaded designs to clothing and created beaded tapestries and three-dimensional objects. "I can bead anything," she says she often tells her husband, Paul Kunkel, a claim which can be easily verified by glancing around her home where a bottle, beaded in blue, sits above her stove.

Kunkel purchased a book on beading when she was starting out and is primarily self-taught, including one beading lesson from her dreams. "I was trying to learn from this book that I bought how to do the peyote stitch and I couldn't get it, I couldn't understand it and it came to me in my dream. When I woke up the next morning I said, 'I know how to do this.' And it was a eureka."

In addition to earrings, Kunkel beads necklaces, bracelets, rings, keychains and miniature wall tapestries. She embroiders with beads, puts beadwork on purses, and makes delightful, three-dimensional, life-size hummingbirds. "I love birds," she says. "Parrots are my favorite and hummingbirds my next favorite."

Currently, Kunkel has one parrot, a macaw who was hatched in the Kunkel's El Rito home. "I just love birds. They inspire me. Just different colors inspire me. I want to make something that color or those colors, that combination of colors. I don't really know what it's going to be. I just want those colors."

In 2003, Kunkel added a new skill, using a torch to make beads with soft glass, melting the glass rods slowly until they became "almost a taffy." At that point, an abstract design or something as intricate as a flower can be formed into a bead. After mastering this technique, however, Kunkel found herself returning to her original passion: beading the usual and the unusual.

A woman once asked her if she could bead a pair of tennis shoes for her. Kunkel admits that was a challenge, but her effort paid off and the woman loved her beaded shoes.

Taos no longer has a store devoted to beads and Kunkel does not like ordering beads online. Her process, she says, "is looking at the beads for starters. Touching the beads. That's the beginning … That's my favorite way to do it.

"After I pick the beads," she continues, "sometimes I know what I'm going to do with them and sometimes I don't."

If there is one thing Kunkel would like viewers to understand about the process of beading - it is the hours which go into any piece of beadwork. For example, her little hummingbirds take 12 hours to make. She has tried to make the little beaded pieces in fewer, but the process cannot be hurried. Fortunately, since Kunkel considers her beadwork a labor of love and not her livelihood, this has not become an issue. "Most of the time," she says, "I don't really care; I just want someone to have it."

Kunkel is also exacting about beading. "It has to be just the way I want it to look. If it's not, I end up ripping it out," she says. "And the colors have to be right. It just has to be all correct in my eyes."

Though Kunkel picked up the art of crocheting upon learning she was soon to be a grandmother and right now enjoys creating crocheted llamas, what she hopes to explore next artistically may come as no surprise to viewers of her work. Led always by the desire to work with colors and combinations of colors, Kunkel looks forward to learning to paint. She finds herself inspired to do so by the quality of artists in the area, particularly the paintings of Cami Thompson and Maria Mikhailas.

She says, though, "I'll always keep with the beading. I don't think I can stop doing the beadwork."

Kunkel's earrings, miniature tapestries and hummingbirds can always be seen on the Questa Studio Tour, though most of her work is sold through word-of-mouth. She can be contacted at beads2birds @gmail.com or by calling (575) 586-0681.

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