Liz Cunningham

Liz Cunningham creates her bead jewelry from her living room in Sandy Point. (Courtesy photo/Liz Cunningham)

Jansen Art Center mainstay Liz Cunningham crafts bead jewelry 

LYNDEN — For Sandy Point artist Liz Cunningham, math and art go hand-in-hand.

For most of her professional life, Cunningham worked as a math instructor at both Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College, eventually becoming a dean at BTC just before she retired.

Cunningham is a math person, and the precise nature of beading spoke to her mathematical mind.

“It seems like I’ve always done things that are very fine work,” she said. “I did quilting, hand-quilting and sewing, fiber arts, but it always ended up being things that were teeny tiny for some reason.”

Cunningham’s artwork is featured in the Jansen Art Center’s Fall Juried Exhibit running through Nov. 26. 

According to the center’s website, the juried exhibits “are open to the public as a way to showcase the artistic talent in Whatcom County and the surrounding region. Each season, artists are invited to submit up to five pieces to be judged by a qualified jury made up of artists, curators, and other figures in the arts community.”

For Cunningham, the beading process begins with sketches of beaded jewelry she dreams up.

“Then, if I get something that I like, the general sizes and shapes of something I want to put together, then I have to figure out what kinds of beads to use to achieve that, and also the stitches,” she said. 

There are a dozen to two-dozen basic stitches to choose from, Cunningham said, and there’s also the process of choosing the correct beads for each project.

It takes Cunningham about 20 hours of actual beading time to complete her jewelry.

“My eye doctor gets very annoyed at me,” she said. “I’m supposed to take breaks.”

Cunningham said her favorite part of making art is seeing the finished piece, because she’s not always sure if it will work. Sometimes it doesn’t, she said. But when it does, it makes the whole process worth it.

“You get an idea in your mind and you’re not sure if it’s gonna work,” she said. “Sometimes I work on a piece, and I don’t like it in the beginning. I say, ‘This is not gonna work, this is not gonna work.’ Then, it finally works out and you’re pretty excited.”

Cunningham first became connected with the Jansen Art Center years ago through her friend, guitar player Scrub Hubner. 

She knew Hubner from their days working at Bellingham Technical College, and she decided that the center would be the perfect place to showcase her art.

She said her first pieces were accepted years ago, and now she contributes one or two in each of their shows.

Cunningham works out of her home in Sandy Point, crafting her beads in a corner of her living room under a large MagLite at a rotating table created by her husband, fellow artist Steve Cunningham.