Mathematics and Bead Design Add up to Fun
June 2, 2002
by Susan Murphy
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Rochester Institute of Technology professor David Farnsworth is a mathematician and a statistician by trade, and a "beader" by design.
The Brighton resident has taught at RIT for 31 years and is as passionate about his vocation as his avocation.
Farnsworth has published in both fields of interest. Features of his bead work in the prestigious Lapidary Journal, Jewelry Crafts and Beadwork top off his numerous academic publications, most recently in The College Mathematics Journal, Teaching Statistics and Mathematics and Computer Education. The fall volume of Teaching Statistics featured Farnsworth twice: as the author of a scholarly article and the beadwork on the magazine’s cover. And with two upcoming articles in Beadwork, Farnsworth is beginning to have a voice in the beading community.
Farnsworth’s approach to beading is as careful, methodical and well thought out as his research in mathematics and statistics. Creating a bead design can be much like finding the solution to a mathematical problem: the answer is in the intricacy of the executed design.
"Mathematics and beading are very precise, but they have huge choices," Farnsworth says. "There are choices all the time to be made in math and statistics. Same as in beading. There are constant choices, and I like that."
In beadwork, the artist must select color, bead size, the size of the object, whether to use wire or thread, as well as a host of other considerations.
"Believe it or not, there are choices like that in mathematics and statistics," he says.
"For example, there are many ways to identify the center of a data set-by determining the arithmetic average, the middle value, the most frequent value and so forth."
Farnsworth likes the tactile aspect of beads. He knows that if people really like a bead piece, they will touch it. So, he makes his work strong by using durable construction techniques.
For Farnsworth, however, there is more to beading than the beads.
"Beading is meditative," he says. "The rhythm is most compatible with unencumbered and pleasant thoughts. It clarifies things."
His foray into bead design began 11 years ago at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Intrigued by the Native American tradition of bead design, Farnsworth had enrolled in a one-day workshop. Since then, he’s taken a few more classes. He also co-founded a local bead group seven years ago, which meets twice monthly.
Mostly self taught, Farnsworth follows his own muse, moving away from traditional jewelry pieces to objects, tiny bead tapestries and bead balls, and incorporating traditional and nontraditional materials such as wood, plastic and found objects into his designs. For now he is content to bead for himself and his friends in his spare time, exploring new materials and design.