Mermaid beads

April 26, 2020

Last year I was lucky enough to be given a hoard of beautiful salt-glazed ceramic beads. They had been handmade by Joan and Guy Sydenham at their island home on Green Island, Poole Harbour in the 1960’s.

Sadly Joan Sydenham passed away in January 2019. She was the widow of Guy Sydenham, a master potter, famous for his Poole Pottery and his beautiful ceramic mermaid sculptures. They started married life just after the war, living on a converted naval motor torpedo boat, MV Oklahoma, in Poole Harbour. After their son, Russell was born, the family moved to Long Island where Oklahoma was berthed.

Here, Guy was able to use a seam of Dorset blue clay for his work. He built a kiln and studio using driftwood and other salvaged material. Later the family moved to Green Island where Guy produced his wonderful salt-glazed work. He created a unique effect to the surface of his pots by introducing sea water to the kiln when the pots are white hot. He took his inspiration from the sea, the strand line and natural forms such as shells, barnacles and other molluscs.

His wife, Joan, was a dancer. She was very adaptable and resourceful and soon she started making beads and buttons using the salt-glazed process. She patiently created hundreds of individually designed beads in the colours of the sea, sand, rocks and sky, inspired by their island home. Guy also decorated some of these with his iconic images. These beads became sought after for their unique beauty and tactile qualities.

In 1988 Guy and Joan moved to a cottage on Portland where they established their Mermaid Studio. At this time Guy’s work became influenced by the rugged terrain of Portland. He created mermaid sculptures from clay, many in graceful poses inspired by Joan’s love of dancing.

Twenty years ago I had the privilege of making bracelets and necklaces from Joan’s beads while running a gallery on The Isles of Scilly with my daughter. It seemed the perfect place to create sea-themed jewellery and everyone loved Joan’s beads. Russell Sydenham had kindly given me some trays of beads to work with and, it was then, I found how much I liked handling these beautiful beads.

When Joan sadly passed away last year, Russell gave me the remaining boxes of her beads as he knew how much I love them. This was such a kind gesture. I spent some time sorting through and dividing them into colours, shapes, types etc and now have them in a little wooden chest labelled and catalogued.

I have now started to make a limited number of bracelets which are available on my online shop. I also have a few necklaces actually threaded by Joan herself and will be posting some of these soon. Do email me if you would like to know more. I have worn my bracelet every day for the last 20 years and feel it has a special aura from the creativity which went into making the beads. When I put it on in the morning, it is cool on my skin and, I suppose, a bit like a comforter! Not a bad thing to have in these troubled times!

< < back to blog home