AmeriCymru: Hi Annie and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What was the inspiration for Black Dragon Crafts? When did you found the company?
Annie: It’s a pleasure to be talking to you and thanks for being interested.
Black Dragon began back in the early 70’s, when the world was a significantly different place. My husband and I had sold most of our possessions to go on an adventure to the USA – when we got home, we didn’t really have anywhere to live and a friend volunteered us their barn in Wales. We set up a workshop and I began using the leatherworking skills I had learned in San Fransisco while he made candles.
We were invited to exhibit our wares at a show and needed a name for our enterprise: Black (because we were trying to buy a house called Llyn Ddu), Dragon (because we were in Wales) and Crafts (because that was what we were doing).
This was in 1974 and our work started to sell quite well, mostly in local gift shops and at Craft Markets. But we didn’t buy Llyn Ddu because a better place came along, then two children arrived, business expanded into shops and markets in England and we were living the dream. My leatherwork was Celtic, the kids were happy and the sun was always shining. Then in 1989 he left us. There were clouds covering the sun for a while but the world didn’t end and I had created my first Celtic bead within a couple of years. I never looked back.
AmeriCymru: Care to describe your workshop for our readers?
Annie: My current workshop is the best ever. Everything started in a barn adjoining the cottage, then the weather changed and it all migrated to the kitchen table. It soon outgrew the table and I bought a big wooden shed to plant at the top of the garden. It lasted for over 10 years but the roof started leaking and everything went mouldy so I bit the bullet and built a proper building. Insulation galore, double glazed windows (with a fabulous view out of every one), green cladding, a pot bellied stove and proper workbenches. I started taking it all a lot more seriously and began winning prizes with my beads.
My workshop is a building of two halves – I make the beads in the dirty half (lovingly called The Beadoir) and the jewelery in the clean half. 15 years on and it has settled into the landscape, green was a good choice. Visitors think it is all very well organised but it’s a busy space, there has to be some order and a plan. Having said that, I currently only have one helper and she has been with me for over 30 years, seen it all. There are changes afoot – I ought to be contemplating my retirement but I seem to be enjoying a growth spurt instead. Do I need more staff?
AmeriCymru: What was the significance of beads to the ancient Celts? How are yours produced?
Annie: Beads have always been used for adornment and trade, by every tribe and everywhere. Mine are unashamedly decorative and I cast them in lead free pewter. I heat the pewter to around 350 degrees C, then pour it into rubber moulds in a centrifugal casting machine. I fettle and file them by hand, then tumble them in a big tumbly machine to burnish and polish them. It’s a hot, dirty, noisy, dangerous and dusty process, which involves many hours on my feet and zero romance. But I love it. To start with a 1kg stick of raw pewter and end with a batch of beads is wonderful and never ceases to amaze me.
AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the range of Jewellery available from Black Dragon? How is the jewellery produced?
Annie: In case you haven’t noticed already, I love my beads and I thread them in as many different ways as I can. I also love my gemstones, so we have developed different jewellery ranges which showcase the various styles of beads and stones. And each stone has its power or story, all carefully researched and printed on the packaging. There are massive 12mm gembeads in the Big Beady jewellery interspersed with our Globe and Bauble beads. Boxed Beady jewellery is made in many different bead configurations but mostly uses 6mm gembeads. Cwtch heart jewellery and Seren star jewellery both use mainly 6mm gemstones and you’ll find little hearts or stars dangling throughout. The agate jewellery is full of beautiful 8mm agate stones, in all of the colours you can think of. They are challenging to pair on earrings because they are all so very different but stringing the bracelets is quite therapeutic! And on it goes – with the Beady , Cyfrin , carded Beady and Dragon jewelley . Then there are little TWT bracelets for the wee ones and even a Boy-o range for the boys (large and small!) As you can imagine – there are lots of components for each range, so we use our tried and trusted “templates” to make sure that the bracelets turn out the right length and the necklaces are symmetrical!
AmeriCymru: You also offer 'Crystalight' and 'Celtic Chakra' products for sale on your site. What can you tell us about these?
Annie: We’ve been making Crystalights for many years – we stopped (for a decade!) when I realized that there was a spelling mistake on the packaging! Repackaged now, they make a perfect gift. “A cut crystal glass drop, genuine gemstones and a pewter Celtic bead...hanging at your window it will capture the sunlight and scatter glorious rainbows” What’s not to like?!
And what can I say about my Celtic Chakra jewelery? People are searching endlessly for “wellness” and everybody loves a rainbow. Just in case you don’t know about the Chakra – the human body has seven Chakras or energy wheels and each of the genuine gemstones used in this jewelery relates to one of those power centres. Combined with the magic of the ancient Celts and threaded with hematite to give you courage, this jewelery should help to keep you balanced and energized. Try it?
AmeriCymru: I'm sure that our readers would love to know more about the 'ORIGIN' shop in Carmarthen. Care to share?
Annie: The Origin shop in Carmarthen is a wonderful place to go for treats and treasures, all hand made in either Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion or Pembrokeshire – the old county of Dyfed. The shop is on King Street, which is in the old part of the town and far away from all of the multiple stores that you can find anywhere in anytown. On our street, most of the shops are independent and interesting – there’s an antique centre, three other galleries, a couple of nice eateries, a delicatessen, a couple of lovely gift shops, craft supplies, a smattering of charity shops plus vintage, interiors and clothing. Origin was the first Community Crafts Co-operative in Wales and was established back in in 1990, at a massive public meeting. It exists to promote local arts and crafts, to raise the standards of craftsmanship and to increase sales opportunities for local artists and makers. For my sins, I am a founder member and have been an active Director since the beginning. We all take it in turns to steward in the shop and we “muck in” to redecorate and move the displays around. We have three shop windows, changed every month, to give all co-op members their chance to shine. We have ceramics, fine art, glass, jewellery, metal, photography, sculpture, textiles, wood, slate and marbling – on two floors and all gorgeous.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Annie Wealleans? Any new products or product ranges in the works?
Annie: I’m 68 now and I ought to be thinking about retiring...but I’m not sure that I ever will. I love my work and I am very proud of my beads. I’m just an ordinary person but I have created something extraordinary – put ‘celticbeads’ into Google and there I am, top of the page. I had my first webpage in 1996 and have recently had a whole new website. You can register as a trade customer and buy for your shop, or you can buy for yourself. You can pick your preferred currency and have your own account, there’s plenty to look at and you can always ask if you can’t quite find what you want. And my beads are gorgeous – each one with its own peculiarities and flaws but that’s what makes them special. I’m always dreaming up new shapes and designs but each one takes an age and costs a fortune, so I can’t be constantly launching new ones. I’m currently wondering about more little pendants and maybe even some torc bracelets but that’s a whole new departure. The casting equipment in my Beadoir is all getting rather old and tired (most of it came over from Poland before the war, literally! It was used in London to create buttons and trims before I had it...but that’s a story for another day). I’m currently thinking about replacing it with something a bit more 21st century and taking on an apprentice. It would be a giant leap but this black dragon has still got plenty of fire left to breathe... and I may (brain permitting) start to learn Welsh soon. It’s kind of late, now that I’ve been living here for nearly 45 years ... but better late than never!
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?
Annie: Hey, it has been lovely talking to you! It has been a bit one-sided but still lovely. Wales joins us all and as you know, I am not born welsh but I’m certainly “honorary welsh”. It’s in my heart and I couldn’t live anywhere else now. If you haven’t been here yet then you really need to come. My parents had their honeymoon in Tenby, just a few miles from my workshop, back in 1947, They bought my sister and I back here for many family holidays – usually camping in a leaking tent but always happy. I wish they were all still here to see the way it all turned out - me happy with my beads and still loving life on the side of this Welsh hill with my dragons. I am,very lucky.