Bamboo came into jewelry maker’s life; been creating with it ever since

Abe Lavalais isn’t sure how he would be described. Is he an artist? A maker? An inventor?

“I do all those things,” he said. But he tends to stay more towards the maker side of things.

The jewelry maker works primarily with bamboo though he does at times work with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his material of choice.

Jewelry maker Abe Lavalais works primarily with bamboo though he does at times work with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his material of choice.

Jewelry maker Abe Lavalais works primarily with bamboo though he does at times work with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his material of choice.

Lavalais is the Rapides Parish Library featured artist of the month for August. His work is on display at the Main Library in downtown Alexandria. Starting at 10 a.m. on Monday, he is teaching a jewelry-making workshop at the Westside Regional Library located on Provine Place.

“I’m very much of the culture and I have a lot of friends who are from Africa and I buy a lot of African beads and recycled glass – glass beads, bone beads – so we’re going to use a lot of that in order to make the jewelry that we’re going to make,” he said.

Lavalais said he used to be a photographer who worked in New Orleans and New York. He started out enjoying it and it didn’t seem like work, but it later became a job and he didn’t like that.

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“I was looking for something else either to do with it or something else to do altogether,” he said. “And the bamboo came into my life and I’ve been dealing with the bamboo ever since 1995 or 1996, I think.”

How that came about is a funny story, he said. It had to do with creating a smoking pipe. He was living in New York City in the 1990s when he started thinking about a way to make paraphernalia for people to use while smoking blunt cigarettes.

While in Los Angeles on a photo shoot, he visited a friend at their home and noticed they had bamboo on the windowsill. And he realized that the hole in the bamboo would be perfect to put blunts in.

“I created paraphernalia for that and started creating bamboo pipes for smokers,” said Lavalais.

He sold pipes at music festivals, concerts and in publications that cater to cannabis users.

“Everything was related to that industry,” said Lavalais. Then a girlfriend of his asked him, “Are you going to do anything other than that?”

“I actually created a pair of earrings,” he said. That’s how he got into jewelry making.

He explained that he would make beads out of bamboo and burn different designs into them. Then he started selling them to various bead shops in New York City.

“Then I made a pair of earrings out of the beads,” he said. “And then everything else just started happening.”

He wanted to created a different kind of earring so he created the ear spear.

Jewelry maker Abe Lavalais works primarily with bamboo though he does at times work with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his material of choice.

Jewelry maker Abe Lavalais works primarily with bamboo though he does at times work with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his material of choice.

“It was two pieces of bamboo that were put together and it looked like it was sticking through my ear,” he said. “So that was my big hit in Brooklyn. The girls really liked that.”

Someone who was wearing one of his ear spears was featured in The New York Times. For him, that exposure led to fashion shows in Bryant Park and other things such as being noticed by Essence.

So because of the ear spear, he started making jewelry. He sold it wholesale for a while before he started selling them at craft and art shows.

Over the years, he has attended different schools to study jewelry making including the 92nd Street Y in NYC and Stephen F. Austin University State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he said he was able to better his skills as a jeweler.

Besides bamboo, he also makes jewelry out of other materials like metal and sterling silver with which he’s made rings with gemstones and other things like that.

But even after all these hears, he said his material of choice is bamboo.

To promote his art and the work of other Black artists, Lavalais hosts a Facebook Live every Friday with his friend Ella Isaac, a hat maker from Philadelphia, Pa., called “Lavalais and Ella Live.”

“I show my jewelry and my friend shows her hats,” he said.

Jewelry maker Abe Lavalais works primarily with bamboo though he does at times work with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his material of choice.

Jewelry maker Abe Lavalais works primarily with bamboo though he does at times work with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his material of choice.

“During Covid, when nobody could get around, I started doing these online shows and then I started inviting other artists to come on so that I could promote them and my people could get a chance to buy from them,” he said.

He said he travels around the country a lot so he has a wide audience to which he wants to introduce these artists.

Lavalais also has a website where he sells his jewelry bamboozlejewelry.com.

The Rapides Parish Library Artist of the Month program was started by Karen Riley Simmons. Their artwork is displayed at one of the local library branches. The artists can also teach art classes and workshops. Another program she started was the Cenla Author of the Month to highlight local authors and their works.

Simmons said she started the program to bring awareness about local artists and authors in the area. For more information, call (318) 445-2411 ext. 1026.

This article originally appeared on Alexandria Town Talk: Louisiana Jewelry maker uses bamboo to create works of art

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