Beadworking couple create a craft business
Story and photo by Craig Reed
Bone, glass, metal, shell and stone.
Those are five types of materials used to make beads, some of them being made for centuries. They were used as money and in trading, and were important in decorating clothing.
When Deek Heykamp became interested in Native American fancy dancing 40 years ago while a Boy Scout, beads found their way into the home of his parents, Bud and Cecelia Heykamp.
Initially, collecting beads was a hobby for the family. Deek used them in making his own regalia—the distinctive clothing and ornaments he wore during formal dances.
With the help of Native Americans, Deek made two feather bustles and leather leggings, each decorated with colorful beads.
“We helped with getting beads for our son, for the Scouts, for the native programs and then it got away from us,” Bud says.
Beads were a hobby for several years. It became a business for Bud and Cecelia in 1985 when they started Baker Bay Bead Co., working out of their home near Baker Bay Park in the Dorena area.
For a couple of years, both worked two jobs: Bud at the Bohemia lumber mill until quitting in 1987 and Cecelia for the South Lane School District until 1992.
There are now thousands of colorful beads hanging on display or in clear tubes in their retail store on the other side of the wall from their home kitchen.
The store is stocked with accessories, such as needles, thread, clasps and buckskin, that are used to decorate clothing, jewelry and ornaments.
On the walls above the cases are several examples of beaded work, including colorful breastplates Bud made.
“Those are for display so people can see what can be done with the beads,” he says.
In a room behind the retail store are rows and shelves with packaged beads and accessories that are available through mail and online ordering.
Bud and Cecelia have both become historians of beads. They have a chart that documents the history of beads going back 30,000 years. They own a Corinthian Venetian bead that dates to 300 to 600 B.C. They have a strand of Roman beads dated from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D.
“There are books in which you can research the age of beads,” Bud says, noting beads maintain their characteristics despite aging.
“Explorers traded beads with Indians for supplies during their journeys,” Cecelia says. “Francis Drake left a lot of beads along his travels.”
Bud says the heyday for older beads has “somewhat diminished,” but the market for present-day beads is strong. The Heykamps buy beads made in the Czech Republic or Japan from importers.
“Those are the only two places that make quality beads, and those are the only ones that we sell,” Bud says. “We buy graded, perfect beads of the right size. We don’t carry seconds.”
Through the years, Baker Bay Bead Co. has sold beads to customers across the United States and in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and the Netherlands.
“We’re rather small in the whole bead business so it surprises us how much business we get,” Cecelia says. “But our overhead isn’t much since we work out of our home.”
“We ship all over the world,” Bud adds. “That sounds crazy for a little business on the side of a hill.”
Until five years ago, when Bud had back surgery, the Heykamps traveled to 25 to 40 Native American powwows and mountain men festivals annually, mainly in the West. They set up a booth to display beads, accessories, and some of Bud’s beadwork. Cecelia says during the COVID-19 pandemic, online orders increased.
“People were stuck at home doing beadwork,” she says.
Cecelia says glass beads are the most popular. Shell beads are made from a variety of shells, with abalone the most popular, she adds. The best bone beads are made from water buffalo. Metal beads are primarily made from brass and nickel and may be gold or silver plated. Stone beads are from a variety of rock types, mainly from Asia.
Bud and Cecelia, both 80, say they continue to enjoy the bead business and the work that goes into it. They have been married for 60 years and enjoy working together. They first met as teenagers while picking strawberries in a field near Bellingham, Washington. They went to two different high schools, began dating after their graduations, and then married.
Baker Bay Bead Co. has a staff of seven part-time employees, so the Heykamps are able to get away when needed. But the couple doesn’t have any retirement plans.
“One of these days maybe we’re going to retire,” Bud says. “But what the hell would we do if we retire? We’d have to come up with new hobbies, and maybe it’s too late for that. With the two of us working together, we get a lot done so we stay busy.”