Traveler draws bead on her future from Annapolis port

April 28, 2002|By SUSAN REIMER

Robin Papadopoulos once traveled the world, first as a flight attendant for Pan American Airlines and then as a guide on tours of the Far East, Central America and the Baltic. The Northern Lights and the South Pacific, too. Name the destination and she probably has a luggage stamp from there.

She met her husband on a cruise -- he was the captain -- and their courtship took place on board during a string of cruises. When they had their first child, she created a floating family life.

(It didn't go well. "Everyone was 20 years old with a bottle of champagne and I was stuck in a room with a crying baby," she says ruefully.)

She still gets around more than the rest of us, what with a husband whose business is based in Greece and two children in college and high school in the United States. But most of her departures these days are from the worktable inside a tiny log cabin that sits a short walk from the front door of her Annapolis pied-a-terre.

"I just immerse myself in my beads, and sometimes I don't know where we go," she says.

Robin strings beads, making double-strand bracelets and watchbands, necklaces and the occasional key chain, and she has plenty of beads to work with. So many that she describes her beads in terms of pounds, not numbers. So many that she can't even count the colors or the kinds.

The beads spill out of bags and baskets all over the floor of her cabin workshop. More are sorted into dozens of little plastic drawers.

And that ain't the half of it, as they say. The other half of her bead supply is in a workroom in her home outside Athens, where she and husband Stamatis raised children Niki, 19, and Gregory, 16, until both began to attend U.S. schools two years ago.

The number and the kinds of beads that Robin works with are mind-numbing -- where do you begin when there are an infinite number of combinations?

But it is exactly that -- the combinations -- that are so transporting, both for her and for the customers who have made her jewelry such a smashing success at the League of Maryland Craftsmen on Main Street in Annapolis where her jewelry sells from $24 to $99 and where she was the top consignor last year.

"I have no education in art. I have no training in colors," the 49-year-old artisan says. "Ask my mother. She had to do all my art projects for school.

"It is kind of an out-of-body experience, I guess. I don't know what I am doing, but the more I do, the more I get into it."

It is probably genetic. Robin's sister, Laurie Deane, an Annapolis potter, works in the complex color artistry of majolica. And her mother, Aileen Thomas, also in Annapolis, works in fabric, piecing together textures, patterns and colors in combinations that startle with their originality.

Though she says she snatches her inspiration out of the air, Robin can also bring an art student's ethic to her work.

She has a collection of pottery at home in Greece by Giovanni DeSimone, an Italian potter who worked with Picasso.

"One day I just sat it all down in front of me and asked, 'OK, what is it that I like about this pottery?' " she says from behind her worktable, piled high with a kaleidoscopic mound of bracelets and watch bands.

She decided there was something about the way the artist put the glazes together that attracted her. She picked through her beads until she found those same colors, slipped them into a little plastic bag and put them aside: seeds for a new bracelet.

She has done the same with a favorite bedspread, a rug that catches her eye, a painting by Picasso that she covets. Each inspiration has been reduced to a tiny bag of beads, the starting point for a new piece.

"You look at the things you love and you ask yourself why you love them," Robin says.

"I like to see how colors are combined in other media and I try to translate it into my medium.

"Sometimes it doesn't work at all," she says. "But sometimes it does."

Robin has taken lots of inspiration from her adoptive country and its people. "The Greeks see things so differently -- different designs, different colors. And so when I am there, I work differently.

"For example -- orange and cobalt blue. I'd have never chosen those two colors on my own, but look," she says, holding up the finished product, a double strand in which orange and blue emerge in different hues from perhaps 25 different beads.

"She says it is easy, but it isn't," says daughter Niki, home on break from Brown University and distracting her mother from beading with shopping trips to Annapolis Mall.

Like lots of mothers of children who are about to leave the nest, Robin thought hard before re-inventing herself for this second half of life.

"I decided I had to start thinking a whole lot more about what I was doing. Stamatis said, 'Do what you know.' "

She knew plenty about beads -- she was a costume jewelry buyer for the shops on the same cruise ships on which she used to work. But cheap abundance from Taiwan and India drove out the demand for originality as well as middlemen like her.

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