What Started As Therapy Became a Jewelry Business
May 7, 2003
Gaye Maxson, Corresponent
The State Journal-Register Springfield
Mary Duitsman of Mackinaw made something beautiful out of her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis - many beautiful things, in fact.
Duitsman, 35, gave up her work as a paralegal and office manager to create jewelry using art glass and gemstones.
"I found working 50, 60, 70 hours per week didn't work for me," she said. Sometimes she went for days barely seeing her twin sons, Pat and Nick, now 14.
"It's amazing how you get caught in a pattern like that and don't see what's happening," she said. "In my case, it took something like MS to wake up and see there are things that are more important."
Duitsman was diagnosed in 1999 with the progressive disease that impairs coordination, strength and vision. When Duitsman's left hand grew so clumsy that she started tucking it in her pocket, her doctor recommended physical therapy. A therapist friend suggested knitting or other repetitive small-object manipulation, and Mary knew just the thing she would enjoy: stringing beads.
"I show horses," she said. "A lot of the kids at the time used what they called 'speed beads.'" The kids adorned their horses with the necklaces of beads strung on leather strips, saying they made their horses run faster.
"I started making them and selling them and thought, This is great!" Duitsman said. "Out of the blue one day I thought, If I could make a necklace for a horse, I could make a necklace for a person."
She started creating more delicate and intricate versions of the originals. When her husband, Steve, asked what she was going to do with all of them, she began selling them - to friends and shops, and through the Internet and home parties. She has developed a loyal following, and at Tremont Gallery in the old depot on Illinois 9, her work has earned the prime real estate near the cash register.
With a nod to her Irish heritage and mindful of the cloverleaf pattern used in horse barrel racing that nudged her into her trade, she named her business Cloverleaf Creations. Most of her pieces have a tiny green signature stone dangling near the clasp to identify her work.
"It went from therapy to a hobby to a business," Duitsman said.
People admire her artwork because of her ability to arrange just the right mix of varied semiprecious stones, pearls and unique lampwork beads. Lampwork is made by hand and consists of layers of different colors of glass that are melded together for individual patterns and designs.
"It's incredible to me that they can create flowers and shapes," she said. "At one time I thought about trying to make them, but I still occasionally drop things, and the thought of glass and open flames in my hand - I thought, No, I'll just stick with the things I know and love."
Her favorite place to find her ingredients is the Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee.
"I usually go there and just go crazy," she said "That is the most exciting part - when I see a beautiful bead that somebody has already made, and I'll work off the colors they have given me." Some of her work even has shards of 300- to 600-year-old Ming pottery that have been shaped and wrapped in silver.
Most of her work is one of a kind.
"I will not sit down and crank out 20 or 30 of a style because it sold well," she said. "That would be like factory work. To me that wouldn't be any pleasure at all. I try to keep them unique."
Her storage bins hold thousands of different styles of beads and gems: purple amethyst, bright blue and gold lapis lazuli from Russia, rust-colored carnelian, banded green malachite, blue topaz, black onyx. Her work includes rosaries, lanyards, earrings, pins and bracelets that close easily with magnetic clasps.
Duitsman faces good days and bad days with her MS.
"There are days when it's very hard. I get frustrated because there are more beads on the floor than there ought to be." Sometimes the fatigue is overwhelming, and after flare-ups, she doesn't come back 100 percent, but her "therapy" has worked and her hand has improved considerably.
"It's been a real blessing," she said. "I would have been able to sit
back after getting the diagnosis and say, 'Oh, poor me. Why me?' I look
at this as a gift from God, saying this is the way he is going to help
me though this. He's given me a whole new career that allows me to be much
more flexible and have more time with my family. I think it's important
to remember even through horrible things like that, something good can
come out of it."
© 2003 The State Journal-Register Springfield, IL