CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Topaz, pearls and amethyst are all over Mary Blake's studio; but so are beetles, dragonflies, owls and seahorses.
It's like "Treasure Island" meets "A Bug's Life."
Blake reaches into a storage cabinet in her basement workshop in her South Hills home, and reveals a toolbox of nylon-coated steel, wire cutters and beads -- lots and lots of beads.
"I bead like a complete hobo," she laughed. Most bead stringers favor pre-planning and layout patterns, but Blake prefers to be guided by inspiration.
Blake, 38, founded Studio Lilybean in 2005 after 18 years of working in jewelry design and beadwork. She now creates, markets and sells unique pieces she creates from vintage pins and beads. Her jewelry ranges in price from $25 to $500, depending on the rarity and materials used in the piece.
When she was a little girl, she wanted to be an entomologist, and that early love shows in some of her favorite designs. "I was totally obsessed with bugs."
Turning vintage pins into pendants for her beadwork necklaces is Blake's signature art. "Nobody else does what I do, and I love explaining it to people. A lot of time when I talk about it, people don't understand, but then I pull out a necklace and they're like, "Oh, that's a pin? I never would have thought that."
Blake reflects on the life of the former owner when she buys a piece of jewelry at estate sales. "I will realize a piece used to belong to a 90-year-old woman who wore it to her cotillion, and now I'm breaking it up and making it into more."
Matching the right beads to the perfect pin feels like "a triumph" to Blake, and because she doesn't use patterns or have multiple identical pins, Studio Lilybean art cannot be replicated.
Blake was born into a prominent Chicago family. The Donnelleys owned a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii, and growing up the children spent a lot of time in the islands.
"I would catch geckos and let them bite onto my ears as earrings. We'd be eating out and I'd go racing into the cocktail lounge with these things hanging off my ears and my mom would just shriek. This went on for years," she laughed.
Blake says her mother, Mary Donnelley, adored Asian art, and Pacific culture influenced her memorable personal style. Blake says her mother strengthened their bond by giving her the freedom not permitted in a socialite's marriage. "I was like Mom's free spirit; she let me get away with dying my hair and getting tattoos and piercings because she couldn't do it."