When you really love your craft, the materials can become an obsession. As beaders, we surround ourselves with the gems and baubles that form our creations. We wear them, decorate our house with them, and shop and search for them wherever we go. Some beaders write and blog about beads, or spend hours sorting and organizing them again and again.
I think most bead and jewelry lovers would be excited to learn that you can even take gems and crystals into the tub. When I first glimpsed the amazing rock and gem creations by Allegheny Hearth - aka the Soapsmith - I was stunned by their realistic beauty, and had to learn more. The artist, Bonnie Bartley, shares a little insight into these marvelous soaps.
Inspirational Beading: When did you become interested in geology and gemology?
Bonnie: I have always found all aspects of nature fascinating – gems and mineral formations are amazing to me. Since childhood I have saved bits and pieces of stone and rocks. I would sit for hours in the summer on a bank near our home that was filled with fossils, picking up rocks one at a time, examining them, saving the treasures. I still have them and bring a pebble home from beaches, forests, and fields where ever I travel.
Inspirational Beading: How did you first get into soap making?
Bonnie: When we moved into our home in 1975, the property was completely outlined with mature pine trees. The first autumn, our yard was covered with pinecones. I picked 21 bushels and decided to make pine cone wreaths as Christmas gifts. Several people who were gifted with the wreaths asked to purchase them for their family and friends. That began my crafting career.
I made my first soap in 1977. This is my 33rd year in business. I am always interested in trying different genres. Soaping was just one of many. I love the history of the craft, handed down through the generations. Modern methods improve on the product but I feel the soul of old time soap makers move my spirit when I create.
When I started making soap, selections of oils and butters were limited to what was available in local supermarkets. Now I can revel in kokum, shea, mango and cocoa butters, coconut, palm and avocado oils. Essential and fragrance oil choices are astounding. My studio shelves are filled with enticing amber and cobalt bottles that I can blend to my heart’s content. Colorants safe for cosmetic use are also readily available.
I dance for joy when the delivery truck brings a box filled with new delights, begging to be concocted into something unique and original that is sure to thrill my customers.
Inspirational Beading: How did you decide to combine these two concepts into one unique idea - what has the journey been like?
Bonnie: The gemstone/mineral formation soaps were first brought to my attention on soap making forums when others were trying to figure out how to make them. I love a challenge, it fuels my creativity. Game on!
That was many years ago, now I teach and demonstrate my techniques and methods to other soap makers on how to create these little gems. There is a full detailed tutorial on my blog with step by step instructions with photos on how to make gemstone soaps.
Inspirational Beading: Do you have a favorite stone to admire or create with soap?
Bonnie: I love them all. The great thing is each one is a mini work of art, unique unto itself.
Inspirational Beading: What is your all time favorite color and fragrance combination?
Bonnie: That is like asking me which flower in my garden is my favorite or which of my sons do I love the most – impossible to answer. Lavender is high on my list because it calls to mind my spring garden. The purple hues of lavender inspire a poet’s voice, an artist’s hand and a gardener’s eye, and purple has always been one of my favored color palettes.
Inspirational Beading: Do you have any other favorite soap inspirations?
Bonnie: I find great satisfaction in formulating products that pamper the skin and care for my customers. Working with the many aspects of the craft, I am able to be a mad scientist as well as an artisan. Nature is my muse: my garden, the spectrum of colors, the textures, the herbs and flowers, the trees, the fragrances – all of creation. My home is located on 5 wooded acres surrounded by the glorious Allegheny Mountains, they provide the muse.
More About Bonnie:
In all aspects of my life, I am known for my organization and attention to detail. That attribute greatly contributes to my success in my family life, career, business and volunteer work. I manage my time carefully in order to meet the demands of a busy life. My life in general is my success. I have wonderful family, friends, co-workers and customers. I am able to lead the life style that suits me, in a home and community that I enjoy, with my life’s work fulfilling my dreams. Simple pleasures adorn my day.
My customers are my greatest promoters. They are the greatest. Many of them are so kind to take the time to write me notes and emails thanking me for the results they get from using my products. They sing my praises to their friends and neighbors, which grows my business. I am grateful and dedicate my efforts to them. I draw my inspiration from them. To cultivate that base I am sure to offer the most outstanding customer service I can.
I am dedicated to the advancement of the craft. I am always open to sharing my techniques to others in soap making communities, forums, classes, symposiums and gatherings. For me, soap making is much more than a means of financial gain. I carry the traditions of old time soap makers in my soul married to today’s modern methods. That builds my reputation, thus my business as well.
I am part of a great community of soap makers. I do develop my own recipes and techniques, and I am willing to share them with my fellow soap artisans. We all learned from those who came before us, I try to carry on that tradition.
You can see more unique soap creations and get to know Soapsmith on Facebook. Check out Bonnie’s ArtFire blog for tips on making, using and selecting handmade soaps.