PET PROJECTS Doretha Jones, creator of Dr. Meow Art Glass Beads, jumped head first into glass working with total abandon, stretching the limits of her imagination with the shapes she creates for her beads – including cats. Photo by Scott Holstein.
Veterinarian, Quilter, Bead MakerDr. Meow Follows a Path that Nurtures Her Creative Side
By Joyce Owen
When she has even a spare half-hour, Dr. Meow, a.k.a. Dr. Doretha Jones, heads to her lampworking studio.
“It’s not economical, but I’ll fire up the kiln for one bead, which I know is not good for the electric bill,” Jones, of Fort Walton Beach, says. “I’ll read or see something about a new chemical reaction working with the glass and have to try it. Because it has to stay in the kiln overnight, I never see the result until the next day, but then I’m like a kid at Christmas. The next morning, I run out to the studio in my PJs to check it out.”
It’s that exuberance that permeates every moment with Jones. She’s a live wire, with boundless energy and an over-the-top laugh that rarely goes unnoticed.
Treating sick animals gives Jones a sense of purpose. She knows not every animal will survive, but she is there offering comfort and giving each family pet her best effort.
Sensible Doc Open to Creativity
Jones is one of two veterinarians who work nights every other week to provide emergency care for animals.
“I was blessed to find this niche,” she says. “I wasn’t happy with 8 to 5. I never had a life. This gave me freedom.”
However, the vet with the type-A personality isn’t satisfied just with working long hours at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Niceville – she also handles relief work at other clinics in the Panhandle.
FLAME WORKER Jones uses “off mandrel” techniques to form glass into sculpture and pendants. This piece is a reflection of the blue-green waters of the Emerald Coast. Photo by Scott Holstein.
But once she’s finished working an astonishing 108-hour work week, Jones heads home to Fort Walton Beach. There, in the solitude of her glass studio, situated in a Victorian-styled greenhouse in the backyard, she immerses herself in the work that stimulates her creative side.
Jones’ supportive husband, David, and a host of family and friends help out with their 7-year-old son Julian, providing time for Jones to develop her Dr. Meow Art Glass Beads. Her unique one-week-on, one-week-off schedule also gives her the time to travel to lampworking classes, where she alternately teaches and studies, and to attend arts and craft shows, where she sells her beads and jewelry.
Perhaps surprisingly, it all started with quilts.
Jones took her first quilting class in 2000. There, she learned to piece quilts. In her off-time hours, she managed to finish a new quilt each month. Jones eventually started a quilting business, Tomorrow’s Heirlooms by Doretha, marketing her quilts as “creating quilts today that would become tomorrow’s heirlooms.”
In 2003, during a quiet time at the veterinary clinic, Jones was thumbing through Bead and Button magazine and “an antique bracelet caught my eye,” she says. She enlisted the help of a co-worker who was already into beading. The co-worker taught Jones how to weave beads to make the bracelet. She found a supply of beads and began making the basic bracelets.
“Now, making the bracelets is like eating potato chips – I can’t stop at one,” Jones says.
Through quilting groups, she knew that many quilters embellished their quilts with beadwork. That appealed to Jones so much that she began purchasing more beads to adorn her quilts.
But buying beads was not enough. Soon she was searching the Internet for a way to create beads with colors and designs that matched her quilts. This led to Jones’ discovery of working with hot glass, or “lampworking,” to make her own beads.
On eBay, Jones found a lampworking kit for $115. It included everything she needed, except the fuel for the torch and a kiln.
In her sunny greenhouse-turned-glass-studio, David Jones has organized his wife’s messy workspace with cubbyholes that are now filled with the brightly colored glass she transforms into beads.
The majority of Jones’ lampwork beads are made with Effetre and Vetrofond glass from Murano, Italy, a much softer glass than many artists in the United States are learning to use, she says. For strength, the beads are annealed, or baked, in one of her two kilns.
But her creations are not simple, round beads. In the five years she has been perfecting her skills, Jones has stretched the limits of her imagination and the glass to develop beads of all shapes – seashells, hearts, bees, turtles, fish, mermaids and, of course, cats. Two popular beads are “Sand and Surf” and “Sand, Sea and Surf,” both of which reflect the beauty of the Florida beaches.
“Each one is an original painting in miniature done in hot glass,” Jones says. “No two pieces are ever the same.”
While many lampworkers sell their beads to retailers, Jones uses hers to design one-of-a-kind jewelry. She is always on the lookout for findings that can be used to create something new and different. Currently her favorite design is a “key through a heart,” using old keys she has collected that appear to pierce heart-shaped beads and can be worn as a pendant.
Learning From a Master
In 2004, with three weeks of vacation time, Jones made her first visit to Murano, where lampworking began. Murano also is home to Lucio Bubacco, one of the world’s top lampworkers. She enrolled in one of his training sessions and came home inspired by the elegant and amazing glass she saw there.
Jones has spent thousands of dollars in training, but the return on her investment has been a greater appreciation for the art and an improvement in her skills.
“There are a lot of good books out there, but nothing replaces watching an expert lampworker at the torch,” she says. “I picked up so much just watching how he moves his hands and what he does with the glass.”
The Jones’ son, Julian, frequently asks why they do so many shows. Jones estimates that they attend about 26 a year. She has a ready answer: “So we can go to Venice.”
It is during trips to Italy, home of the Murano glass that she prizes so much, that she sees her skills grow.
On a trip last year, Jones graduated from making beads to creating a sculpture.
“Lucio makes it look like a magic trick,” she says, demonstrating an almost sleight of hand that he uses effortlessly. She shakes her head in amazement.
Jones wanted to take home some kind of sculpture from last year’s trip. Knowing some attempts would be ruined in the process, she began with four pieces.
“There’s much garbage when creating sculpture,” Bubacco told her. And for her there was much loss in the process: Two sculptures were destroyed, although she did make it home with two.
Her goal for the next trip to Venice, which is still in the planning stages, is to improve her sculpture techniques.
FULL CIRCLE Jones calls this bracelet “Full Circle,” which displays her early skill in small bead weaving and her more developed skill in the art of glass artwork. Photo by Scott Holstein.
Seeking a Balance
Working with glass is so much fun, Jones says. She could limit sales to her Web site, but she enjoys going to the shows.
“Doing a show is like throwing a big party,” she says. “There’s a lot of work to get ready, but then there’s the payoff. It’s a nice break from the emergency clinic, where people are upset and frantic. At the shows, everyone is happy. The shows are what we do for fun. It’s brought me a lot of balance.”
At her Web site, drmeowbeads.com, Jones posts the arts and craft shows she has scheduled between workdays and travel to training classes to improve her lampworking and jewelry-making skills.
Known as Dr. Meow to pet owners, and now to customers who purchase her quilts, beads and unique jewelry, Jones has developed quite a following at arts and crafts shows. When she hears someone walking by her booth say, “OK, Dr. Meow is here,” she beams. She knows a flood of ladies will soon be at her booth. Many are regulars, showing friends the source of their unique jewelry.
Jones lights up when customers enter already wearing her latest jewelry creations – they are her best advertisement. There is always a special reward for those who show off her work.
None of the promotion that this business requires came easily.
“They don’t teach marketing at vet school,” Jones jokes.
The dynamic designer went back to the Internet and found Bruce Baker, a consultant who helps artists market themselves. She attended his class and has improved the look of her booth, as well as learning techniques to help promote her products.
“There are a lot of people selling jewelry at these shows, but I’m developing new ways to set my booth apart from the others,” Jones says.
She hopes to add a demonstration booth, bringing her tools to set up a hot shop on site and make beads at the torch while people watch.
Jones also is working on a portfolio with more photos of her work for her Web site. And, true to form, the ever-reaching Dr. Meow has set her next goal.
One day she’d like to have a boutique – but even that will have a twist. By day she will sell her jewelry and by night, she plans to treat pets in a space set up for a small emergency veterinary clinic.