I consider myself a serial crafter in the sense that I generally have some kind of singular creative outlet, soon replaced by another. I’ve dabbled in painting furniture, decorating trash-picked dollhouses, and developing makes for my own craft books (Google Tinkered Treasures – it’s all there). One endeavor that resurfaces every few years is playing with beads. I won’t say jewelry making because that seems to imply artisanship and tools; I simply enjoy stringing pretty colors on stretchy cord. Years ago there were places to do this. Pour one out for Beauty and the Beads on Thayer Street in Providence, where I once spotted actor Dustin Hoffman spelling his name with alphabet beads. Alas, one generally has to source the same ol’ mixes at big box craft stores and get busy at home – until now.
On a recent visit to Garden City Center in Cranston, a white brick facade caught my eye, and the sandwich board in front that reads “Where fast lives slow down” compelled me to enter Air & Anchor. One step inside and I was like a kid in a candy store. The back wall of the main space is lined with metal file cabinets, its drawers loaded with different charms; clipboards hang above stating the intentions of each symbol and material. There’s a section called The Factory, an alcove with spools of chains mounted to the wall, along with hardware, branding tools and machinery, and a long work table set with bead boards for planning bracelets and necklaces by length. And then there is the bead bar: a stunning display from top to bottom of wooden compartments showcasing sparkling beads by color, with three horizontal racks hovering above holding glass tubes of beads. Throughout the store there is also finished jewelry and a range of branded goods, from tote bags to candles.
I asked a salesperson if the store is locally based, and yes, all jewelry is made in Cranston in a factory just five minutes away, founded by one of the owner’s grandfather. When I came back down to earth, I realized this was the brick-and-mortar of Rachel and Omar Ajaj, the industrious couple who were guests on our own Hey Rhody Podcast, episode 68. And those custom shelves and bead cubbies? Made by Aaron Guttin of Edge and End, featured in Hey Rhody last October. I decided it was my duty as a Rhode Island lifestyle journalist to make a necklace and report on my findings (pun intended).
Returning on a Tuesday afternoon – and admittedly giddy about the opportunity to be on assignment – I’m greeted by Josh Raposo, a delightful chap who is happy to show me the ropes, or chains. He gives me a tour of all the materials and we discuss myriad options. To get the full experience, I decide on a half-bead, half-chain necklace with a charm and clasp. The process begins with choosing a chain and I go with the paper clip-style in polished stainless steel. Raposo hands me a bead board and small spoon and directs me to the BIY (bead it yourself) area to “go crazy!” and fill my tray. With so many glorious varieties, I decided to narrow my focus to a rose colorway plus some silver. I grab a stool at the work table and map out my necklace in the U-shaped channel of my bead board, and like my stretchy bracelets, the goal is a random pattern, which I’m well aware is an oxymoron. Indie rock plays in the background and there’s fun chatter while I work on my necklace. I’m having a great time.
After completing the stringing of beads on the dainty silver chain, I hand things over to Raposo to work his alchemy with various tools; he soon reappears with my half-bead half-chain necklace that now boasts the brand’s signature Cuff Keeper clasp. For the finishing touch, I select a charm and am drawn to the sparkling Here & Now crystal pendant. Raposo ceremoniously places my work of art around my neck, assisting with the clasp (which is clever but tricky to maneuver at first). He and coworkers Alicia and Mel tell me this is one of the prettiest pieces ever made at the bead bar, and I’m so delighted that I choose to believe them. While Air & Anchor looks as permanent as their welded-on options, at press time it’s only a pop-up through December, so visit this gem soon.
8 Midway Road, Cranston • 401-227-9929
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