CASPER — One of Beartrap Summer Festival’s longest-running regulars is beadmaker Sheryl McLaughlin, who has been coming to the music and arts festival as a vendor for 25 of the festival’s 30 years.
“My first setup here, we had a card table and an umbrella,” she recalled. What would fit on that card table “was the amount of stuff that we had. And the umbrella would always blow over.”
The camping spots then weren’t necessarily ideal, either, McLaughlin added.
But she’s been coming every year since, through good weather and bad.
She’s watched the festival grow up, as she herself has grown alongside it as an artist.
McLaughlin is the other half of the Beartrap Summer Festival, which is so much more than just a big music party on a mountain under a blue Wyoming sky.
That other half are artisans like McLaughlin, who find in it a venue that not only exposes them to other artists, but helps sustain their spirits through the years.
“This cold stuff is miserable to my bones,” she said, referring to the colder-than-average weather for this year’s festival. “But I love doing it, and I guess that is why I keep doing it, because I do love it.”
Start With The ‘Basics’
McLaughlin first learned how to work with beads from a sister-in-law who taught her what she calls a “basic” earring.
Even though she calls it a simple pattern, the earring looks quite complicated. It’s a diamond pattern with a pretty, dangly fringe.
“I had another friend who taught me how to do more intricate designs,” she said, gesturing to several sets of earrings that are much longer. One is a picture-perfect pair of bald eagles.
“Those are very hard to do,” McLaughlin said. “Very hard.”
Nearby is a beautiful purse with an intricate pattern.
“The work on leather is a completely different technique,” she said. “And a lot of it, I just have self-taught, because there was no one to teach me. I read a lot of books.”
Over the years she’s been coming to Beartrap, McLaughlin has met many fellow beaders, some of whom would seek her out at her store, or later at her home, to talk about beads, share techniques and sometimes offers her one-of-a-kind beads.
“There’s one lady who came, she was from West Germany, and they had discovered a factory that wasn’t destroyed in World War II,” McLaughlin said. “So those beads were pre-World War II, and they were fantastic beads.”
Fantastic, and very expensive. McLaughlin bought several to make projects from and quickly sold them all.
A Place For The Music Inside
McLaughlin often sees people who have bought her jewelry return to Beartrap Summer Festival year after year wearing a piece of art that she made.
Nothing makes her feel happier than seeing that.
It is fuel for the creative fire, and it helps spur future work.
“I find that most everything I make is for someone, and it’s just waiting for that someone to come along,” she said. “And, when they see it, they know it, and it is theirs.”
But it’s also just about conveying a certain sense of the inner world and sharing with others.
“Because I do love the beadwork so much, I just hope that it conveys to the customer when I sell a piece,” she said.
That love of beading is one reason that, even though she’s paring down her collection these days so she can focus on more of the intricate work she likes best, she also makes little bead kits in case there are any young beaders out there who want to learn the craft.
“(Most) of the younger people aren’t interested in doing their own jewelry these days,” she said. “They want it ready-made.”
But even as she’s speaking, she hears a teenager looking at the bead kits exclaim, “I want one!”
It’s clearly music to her ears, and a smile spreads across her face.
Beartrap Summer Festival may be more well-known as a music festival, but for the artists, there’s a silent music inside that’s fighting to get out into the world.
Beartrap is a place where that can happen, too.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.