Leigh Funk loves glass beads. I could tell from her appropriately named Web site (http://www.funky-beads.com), a kind of glass-bead heaven that features photos of Funk's original designs, including sea creatures, food & drink, animals, holiday themes, and whimsical pieces. I also got a strong sense of Funk's artistic passion as she enthusiastically described to me the process of lampworking, her development as a glass-bead artist, and her love of a challenge.

While Funk began making glass beads as a kind of hobby more than five years ago, she now sells her beads (ranging in price from $5 to $15) from her home through the Web site, at craft shows (such as the annual well-known Bead & Button show in Milwaukee), and at music festivals in Illinois.

Originally from Missouri, she became interested in the process of lampworking - during which glass beads are formed by melting and shaping pieces of glass over a flame into designs - while working at a stained-glass supply store.

"My boss received a book about lampworking," Funk explained. "I loved the colors and shapes of the glass in the book and wanted to learn how to make my own."

Eventually, Funk's boss purchased a torch so they could practice. Funk practiced so often she had suddenly accumulated a large supply of designs, which ranged from dogs, cats, and dolphins to job-themed pieces (e.g., an apple for teachers) to color-themed bracelets. The artist decided to hold parties where she sold her beads. She also displayed the works at Thursday-night Twilight Festivals in Missouri, where she said observers were fascinated by the process of lampworking. Some people began requesting specific designs. "One person asked me to make a martini," she said. "I had never made a glass martini before, but I tried it, and it turned out."

Currently living in the Quad Cities, Funk works at business and hobby in her basement, where she is equipped with her own kilns, torches, propane and oxygen tanks, glass rods, shaping tools, and, of course, colored glass pieces. Just having completed school in December, Funk now hopes she can dedicate at least a few hours daily to her glass beads.

In addition to making her own glass beads, Funk also offers lampworking classes at Your Design in Bettendorf. While the upcoming time slots have already been filled, Funk will be offering more classes soon. Though previous lampworking experience is not essential, she hopes participants have at least seen a demonstration before they sign up. "Usually a class watches me first, then each member will have several chances with the torch to make a single-color bead, a double-color bead, and then a bead with spots or stripes."

And while she has made a variety of designs over her years as a lampworker, her favorite is always the design she has not yet made. She explained, "When someone asks, 'Can you make this?' I always try. I love a challenge."

Examples of Leigh Funk's beads can be viewed at (http://www.funky-beads.com) or ordered from (beads@funky-beads.com) or (563)355-8875. For class information, call Your Design at (563)355-1519.

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