TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Afghan Tribal Arts: On the Way to the Tucson Bead Show!

Abdul Wardak owns and operates Afghan Tribal Arts

Every January thousands and thousands flock to Tucson, Arizona. Birds? No. Bead lovers. Bead fanatics. Bead addicts. Tucson hosts THE definitive bead show for stores, dealers, web outlets, and collectors. Vendors from all over the world spill out their wares... glass, stone, shell, pearls, silver, brass, copper, seeds, polished, raw, mass produced, hand made, collectible, tribal- you name it.

My dear friend, Abdul, will be there. Abdul and I have been friends for a long time and shared a partnership in a gallery in Chicago, Dara Tribal Village, for four years. I moved to Kentucky and continue to sell online, while he remains based in Chicago, but spends most of the time in his van, wholesaling his beads and textiles to galleries and specialty stores around the South East.

Abdul Wardak at a bead show in North Carolina

The love of beads is a nasty addiction and affliction. Once you have been bitten by the bug, the romance blossoms until the little orbs call you in the night, whispering... "You need more of me, more, more, more..." Most people buy beads for their obvious use in jewelry making. I've done my share of making necklaces and earrings, but I prefer to incorporate them into my quilts, garments or other objects I might work on. I've never had the patience to weave them, but have great admiration for Native American skills and others who use beads as a surface cover. Yes, I have my stash... Fortunately, beads don't take up as much space as fabric, but those little buggers can end up costing a lot more! Prices are all over the board, depending on the material, origin, and context of how they were made.

Hand carved carnelian beads from Afghanistan
so rich in color you could eat them!

Afghan Tribal Arts specializes in two kinds of beads: old collectible tribal beads and new metal or semi-precious gemstones made or carved by artisans in Peshawar and other parts of Central Asia. Afghanistan may seem poor and devastated, but it has great mineral wealth. Although I sometimes shudder at the thought of mountains being blown up for carnelian, lapis or jade, the stone industry is a great source of employment which helps provide stability in a country devastated by war and drought. Abdul immigrated to the United States in the early 1980's. He brought back some samples of handicrafts from Afghanistan on a couple of visits, found that there was a market in the US for them and began bringing more and more until he established Afghan Tribal Arts as one of the largest US importers of beads, carpets, textiles, and other handicrafts from Afghanistan and the region. He has an intimate relationship with his suppliers and has designed many of the cuts of the beads he carries.

Abdul Wardak on a visit to Afghanistan

Where we get things counts. Paying fair wages counts. Quality counts. Bead shows are flooded with imitation beads or beads that were made with cheap labor. Is it really turquoise? Blood red coral for how much? In this lean economy, quality beads often get passed over for cheaper imitations, a fact that has had an impact on Afghan Tribal Arts and other quality bead suppliers. But, once you develop a love for the genuine, replacing it with cheapness feels like a betrayel. Take a close look at just some of the beauty given to us by Mother Earth:

The greens of jade, citrine and malachite...

Deep oranges and buttery tones of carnelian and agates...

Fluorite, a veiny stone that ranges in shades of purples and blues...

And, the royal stone, lapis lazuli,
a treasure found only in Afghanistan and Chile.

Afghan Tribal Arts also carries tribal beaded remnants and vintage pendants and jewelry. The beaded disc below is found on all kinds of Pashtun apparel, in hats, on garments and on bags. Some call it a "Kabul disc".

Kabul disc from Afghanistan.

Jewelry from Central Asia shows centuries of craftsmanship.

Afghanistan and neighboring countries have embellished their garments and utilitarian objects with beads for centuries. The photo below shows a display we had in our gallery.

Afghan Tribal Arts on display at Dara Tribal Village.

So, if you are one of those heading towards Tucson, make sure to look up Afghan Tribal Arts. There are two shows, back to back, organized by the same group where you will find him. The links will take you to the show's website:

To Bead True Blue
February 1st-6th

Abdul Wardak of Afghan Tribal Arts.

Abdul is on his way!

The night has come to an end,
Dawn awaits the ship to depart.
It’s a new day in the making,
Two friends dear and one say goodbye-
Very hard, but wise.
As he looks back in his mind
He knows that the memory of the past
Is the only untouchable and priceless treasure
That he took and left behind
And the simple wish is that someday
If he returns to shore
A friend may remember who he is.

Abdul Ahad Wardak



  1. The carnelian looks like a bowl full of apricots! Lovely!

  2. What a beautiful post! I hope things go well for Abdul in Tucsn this year. I wish I could be there...

  3. I too have a passion for beads, I attend our local bead shows and always come home with way more than I need but they're lovely to look at and even better to use. Love your images, the carnelian beads look like jelly jubes

  4. Here's wishing Abdul..and everyone else a wonderful season at Tucson this year.

  5. Fantastic post! The photos are beautiful. I am inspired to find some carnelian beads,& create something unique.... they look gorgeous:))


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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