It TAKES A VILLAGE
In 2017 Rudolf and Lada Nikl celebrated their 70th birthdays, 50 years of marriage and 20 years in together in the business that had run for generations through both thier families. Their showroom is in their home and production in the two-chimneyed barn behind the house where her parents and grandparents fire-polished beads.
I learned of them through Lenka, my wholesale importer, who had been buying from them for more than a decade when I met her. Their Goddess beads and the history of the Venus of Dolni Vestonice ( Vestonicka Venusa) entranced me.
Their son had the idea for the mold featuring the Vestonicka Venusa several years ago , they explained, but like nearly all of Jablonec’s sons and daughters, he isn’t interested in the hot, hard, exacting processes of traditional bead pressing. Today the Nikkls shut down production for the coldest and hottest parts of the year and produce what they can when they can. When they make beads, they work 10-12 hours a day for as many consecutive days as it takes it get the job done.
“If you want to earn money, you have to work hard,” Mrs’ Nikkl explains. “The price of glass is up but we can’t charge what we want or we wouldn’t sell anything.” Neither of them have known any other type of work
In the traditional division of labor in Jablonec, beads and buttons are moved in wooden carts between homes for various steps of the process. One neighbor may have excess capacity for “smoothing” the rough pressings in rotating vats of silt and water , while another may do the finish and another the stringing and packaging. Today the spaces between the maker homes are much farther apart so the boxes and bags are loaded in vans, but the community spirit of cooperation allows very small operations like the Nikkls to continue to produce.
They are practical about their work and somewhat perplexed as to why a stranger would be so enthusiastic about one of their beads, but they indulged me for Lenka. We were met with a table groaning with snacks and an early morning toast with Slivowitz ( a traditional plum brandy) before the bead talk got started.
Their driveway was covered with snow when we were there, but I had heard the accumulation of generations of glass bead culls in the driveway make it a kind of yellow brick road for visiting foreign beaders who come upon their home in the twisting roads of this mountainous area. “Sometimes the will want to lay down in the driveway ,” Mrs. Nikl says shaking her head. She is far too practical for such nonsense.
They produce a product and take pride in doing it well. They don’t try to follow trends. They live simply and continue to do the work their parents and grandparents did — largely by the same methods with a clear commitment to quality
I had plenty of goddess beads at home and they didn’t have any for sale, so I picked out several handfuls of heart-shaped beads from a brown paper sack in the small, dimly lit anteroom of their home that serves as their shop. It was only when I got back the the light of the our hotel room that I realized how beautiful they were — and wanted more. Thanks to our guide Keith, on his next trip to Jablonec I was able to buy the bag and he shipped them for us.
I was told the Nikkl’s were pleased with my additional purchase. But didn’t really understand what I, like those crazy Brit tourist ladies who stop to photograph the sleeves in their driveway, was so excited about.
Of course, the hearts were beautiful. That’s what they do.